KENT – Despite being heated rivals, the Thunderbirds and Portland Winterhawks have been spending a lot of extra time with each other.
For the third straight time the two clubs went into overtime Tuesday night at the ShoWare Center. The Winterhawks would get a shootout conversion from Ryan Hughes and that would turn out to be the difference as they skated away with a 3-2 win.
The Thunderbirds survived a sloppy first period that saw them fall behind by two goals and were able to get to overtime which extends their point streak to nine games. For the head coach, that was a minor consolation to a game that could have gone differently.
“We were maybe feeling too good about ourselves and had a sleepy first period,” Seattle coach Matt O’Dette said. “We picked it up in the second and in the third did some good things but you can’t take a period off at a high level like this.”
The loss snaps a five-game win streak for Seattle (20-14-4-2) but the point does move the Thunderbirds to within four points of first place in the U.S. Division.
Seattle’s troubles in the first period centered around poor puck management. That resulted in turnovers and allowed Portland (24-13-1-2) to score twice, the second coming with just over one second left on the clock.
“We weren’t really going and obviously it bit us,” Nolan Volcan said. “If we play a full 60 it might have been a different outcome.”
After an intermission speech from O’Dette, the T-Birds were able to turn the tide in the second period to get the game even. They managed the puck better and controlled the play throughout the period.
“We knew we had to respond and Oddie definitely reiterated that in the room,” Volcan said. “We came out hard and started playing our game. We started to take over the game a bit and we just have to do that for a full game.”
Portland’s Skyler McKenzie scored first in the last two games between the two clubs and he did it again on Tuesday. A failed Seattle clearing attempt ended in a quick passing play that McKenzie finished at 1:31 for his 29th of the season.
Seattle continued its struggles managing the puck and a late turnover would result in the Winterhawks extending their lead. Alex Overhardt picked up the miscue and wired a shot over Liam Hughes’ shoulder with just 1.2 ticks left on the clock.
“That can’t happen,” O’Dette said. “That’s a veteran defense pair out there.”
The Thunderbirds wasted little time in the second period to cut into the Portland lead. Sami Moilanen scored his 17th of the season at 57 seconds on a shot that goalie Cole Kehler got a piece of but couldn’t keep from falling over the goal line.
With new energy, the Thunderbirds continued to push the pace and would get the game square on a power-play goal at 11:48 when Nolan Volcan found Reece Harsch pinching in from the point. The defenseman buried his ninth of the season but would leave the game after the second period with an apparent injury.
“We’ve got to execute and play the right way, that works for us,” O’Dette said about the second period. “We’re very good at it when we commit to it. If we cash in on a couple of chances maybe it’s a different game but when you have to claw your way out of a 2-0 hole, a lot of times it’s not going to go your way.”
Neither team was able to generate much offense in the third period and the game would go into overtime where Hughes would make a couple of big saves to keep Seattle in it. He ended the night by stopping 26 shots.
“We’re happy to get it to overtime,” O’Dette said. “We didn’t have the same kind of success in the overtime against these guys and then lost the skills competition at the end.”
Things won’t get easier for Seattle as teams like Portland will get back several key players into its lineup. The rest of the division also has been stacking up with trades so the Thunderbirds know that they will have play a more complete game.
The division standings are also packed, with every team in the race.
“Ever since I’ve been in the western league the U.S. division has been strong,” Volcan said. “You don’t really see a big spread from the first team and the last team and that’s the way it is. We’ve got to learn to come out every night and if you take a night off, you’re going to lose games.”
• After the game, O’Dette said that Harsch ‘tweaked’ something and wasn’t sure how serious the injury was.
• Seattle had five power play chances on Tuesday and scored on one of them while they weren’t called for one minor penalty themselves.
• Donovan Neuls picked up an assist which establishes a new career high in points for the season with 42.