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Thunderbirds hammer Americans to snap four-game losing streak

Seattle goalie Matt Berlin makes a save during the T-Birds 5-1 win in Tri-City Friday night (Judy Simpson)

The Thunderbirds felt they had a game like Friday night’s coming for a while.

After four frustrating, late one-goal losses, the Thunderbirds left no doubt at the Toyota Center as they hammered the Tri-City Americans 5-1. Matt Berlin backstopped Seattle to pick up his eighth win of the year by making 23 saves while Zack Andrusiak scored twice.

For the first time on their five-game road trip, the Thunderbirds were rewarded for their hard work and good play.

“It feels good,” Seattle head coach Matt O’Dette said. “Really proud of the guys. It’s been a tough week. Guys stayed mentally tough and got back on track tonight.”

Friday night was Teddy Bear night for Tri-City (14-9-2-0) and Berlin raised the anxiety level amongst the fans as they weren’t able to throw their bears until late in the third period, in a game that was all but decided.

The bears are collected and donated to local charity but Seattle (12-12-2-1) nearly took all the fun out of the night.

“It gives us more incentive,” O’Dette said about being the visiting team on Teddy Bear night. “It would have been nice to get the shut out but I think just the larger crowd in the building gave us more energy.”

Andrusiak’s two goals give him 14 on the season but he wasn’t alone in the offensive outburst. Sami Moilanen scored, despite taking a high stick to the chops early in the game, as did Noah Philp, and Tyler Carpendale.

“Andrusiak is a dangerous player when he gets that puck on his stick,” O’Dette said. “But it was a team effort tonight. Sami lost all his teeth there, came back with the cage on, and gave us good minutes.”

Moilanen, with his teeth still intact, would open the scoring at 11:51 of the first period when he tipped a shot from Nolan Volcan past Tri-City goalie Beck Warm. It was Moilanen’s team leading 15th of the year as the Thunderbirds were off to a strong start.

The lead might have been bigger if not for three posts that Seattle skaters hit in the first period. With the way things have been going for the club late, those missed chances had to be worrisome.

“To be honest, yes,” O’Dette said about whether he was worried about the missed opportunities. “But we kept working and created chances and we finished. We finished our chances tonight.”

They continued that strong play in the second, when Andrusiak gave Seattle a 2-0 lead at 1:54 of the second period after he got a shot over Warm’s shoulder on the short side. It was the first time during Seattle’s road trip that it was able to build a two-goal lead.

After four games when every conceivable bounce went against Seattle, the Thunderbirds finally had one go their way, and they cashed in midway through the middle frame.

A bad bounce off the end boards knocked the puck to Noah Philp at 9:28, who was right in front of the Tri-City net. Philp calmly deposited the puck past Warm to give Seattle a 3-0 lead.

“That’s what we keep telling them,” O’Dette said about finally getting a bounce. “Keep working and keep generating chances and the law of averages will break for us.”

With the three-goal lead, Andrusiak and the T-Birds weren’t finished with the second period.

With the clock winding down, Austin Strand worked the puck down low and found Andrusiak in the slot where he buried his second of the night with just three seconds left in the period. It gave Seattle a commanding four-goal lead and ended the night for Warm who was replaced by Patrick Dea to start the third period.

Tri-City avoided the embarrassment of getting shut out with its fans waiting to throw bears on the ice when Dylan Coghlan found a way to beat Berlin at the 12:47 mark of the third period.

Tyler Carpendale would ice the game with his second goal in as many nights with 5:21 left in the contest to make it 5-1.

The Thunderbirds will now return home after a grueling road trip and get set to host the Kamloops Blazers Saturday night at the ShoWare Center.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been through a week like this as a coach or a player,” O’Dette said. “We got our hearts ripped out a few times. It’s a big sigh of relief and we’ll have a good bus ride home to play in front of our fans tomorrow.”

Notes

• Both Strand and Donovan Neuls chipped in with two assists in the win.

• Russian import Nikita Mahlukin was given an assist on Philp’s goal in the second period. It was the rookie’s first WHL point.

• Seattle ran its record to 2-1-0-1 against Tri-City this season with the victory.

• The only blemish on the night for Seattle was the power play, which continues to struggle. The Thunderbirds were 0-for-6 on the night and are now 2-for-26 over the last five games.