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T-Birds top Spokane for fifth straight win

Zach Andrusiak and Jarret Tyszka hug Donovan Neuls after one of his two goals Saturday (Brian Liesse/T-Birds)

KENT – Thunderbirds forward Donovan Neuls is having himself quite the weekend.

A night after scoring two goals in Kelowna, he was back at it Saturday night in the ShoWare Center against the Spokane Chiefs. Neuls potted two more goals while adding an assist as the Thunderbirds won their fifth straight game by beating Spokane 4-1.

While Neuls was leading the offense, goalie Liam Hughes was keeping the Chiefs at bay by making 39 saves to win his fourth straight start. After being injured, Hughes has been huge since returning last weekend.

“It’s really good to play in front of a team that plays a full 60,” Hughes said. “It’s nice to come back to that, just worked hard and came back. The (athletic trainer Phil Varney) gave me the go and I just went out and played.”

Special teams were key for Seattle (20-14-4-1) who killed off six Spokane (21-16-1-2) power plays, while converting on two power-play chances of its own.

“It was kind of a business-like type of game,” head coach Matt O’Dette said. “We did what we had to do, nothing flashy outside of special teams. Hughes shut the door.”

Hughes was at his best when Seattle was short-handed and found the puck through several mad scrambles in front of him. The biggest save of the night came just after a Seattle power play however.

With Seattle ahead 1-0, Spokane’s Jaret Anderson-Dolan came out of the penalty box and got behind the Thunderbirds defense. He got the puck and was in alone on Hughes. He made a move and tried to slide the puck between the goalie’s legs, but Hughes squeezed the pads to make the save.

“I’ve seen a couple of videos of him on shoot outs and breakaways to see what he likes to do,” Hughes said of the play. “Just be confident in myself and waited on his move.”

Seattle opened the scoring with a typical scramble play in front of the Chiefs net. Banging away at a loose puck, it would be Neuls who would find it and pot his 12th of the year at 18:08 of the first period.

Jarret Tyszka would extend the Thunderbirds lead 6:36 into the second when his shot from the point hit goalie Dawson Weatherill but landed in the net. The Chiefs cut into the two-goal Seattle lead six minutes later when Anderson-Dolan fired his 22nd marker from the high slot.

The Thunderbirds had an answer less than two minutes later however, and it would be Neuls again.

On the power play, the 20-year-old smacked a one-time shot from the top of the circle for his second of the night and fourth on the weekend.

“He was great,” O’Dette said of Neuls. “Obviously, a heart and soul guy for us. He’s got the skill to back it up as well. It’s nice to see him get rewarded.”

The two scores give Neuls 13 on the season and comes after a stretch where it seemed that he couldn’t catch a break. He had chances, but would either hit the post or have a great save made against him.

This weekend, the puck is going in.

“That’s how it works,” he said. “Sometimes you get the breaks and sometimes you don’t. You just have to stick with it and it’s nice to see them finally going in.”

Up two goals, the T-Birds would add another early on in the third period when Matthew Wedman knocked home a rebound for his seventh goal of the year.

The Thunderbirds are playing some of their best hockey over this stretch that has seen them earn points in eight straight games and jump over Spokane in the U.S. Division standings.

“Winning is always better than losing,” Neuls said. “It makes things better coming into the rink, joking around with the guys. It’s all business when it comes to the games.”

Notes

• Neuls wasn’t the only T-Bird who picked up multiple points on Saturday. Zack Andrusiak and Turner Ottenbreit each chipped in with two assists.

• For Andrusiak, it was the second straight night with double assists and he has points in 11 of his last 12 games.

• Neuls has 41 points on the season which ties his career high, set last year.

• Seattle pushed its season series record with Spokane to 3-1-1-0.