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T-Birds run out of steam against Spokane

Austin Strand, sporting a full cage, lugs the puck up ice during Seattle's 5-1 loss to Spokane (Brian Liesse/T-Birds)

KENT – Playing their third game in three nights, the Thunderbirds gas tank was on empty Sunday night against Spokane.

Seattle struggled to find energy against a red-hot Chiefs squad and that resulted in an early deficit that the team was unable to recover from.

Kailer Yamamoto led Spokane with a pair of goals and an assist as the Chiefs won their 11th game in their last 14 by skating away with a 5-1 win. Yamamoto, an Edmonton Oilers first-round draft pick, continued his stellar play of late, notching his 37th point in his last 16 games.

Seattle (28-21-7-2) got a goal from Austin Strand but could not overcome the early hole and ends its weekend with only three points out of the possible six.

“It was their type of game,” Seattle head coach Matt O’Dette said after. “It was up and down the ice, line rushes, run and gun. They had several odd man rushes and we tried to play that game with them which is not going to work. We need to be more efficient and play more in their end.”

The Thunderbirds were already dealing with some fatigue early on and would lose a couple players, which didn’t help them keep up with the high-speed Spokane offense.

“There was a sequence of events there that cost us,” O’Dette said. “When Strand got high-sticked and had to go off, he lost some teeth and stiches. We lost him for the rest of the period and then (Blake Bargar) went down and our depth took a bit of a hit.”

Strand took a high stick from Riley McKay of the Chiefs but it went undetected by the officials. As he was cut, it should have led to a four-minute power play for Seattle. Instead, Strand headed to the dressing room for repairs and his absence contributed to a Spokane strike later in the period.

With Seattle on a power play late in the first period, a mix up at the blue line led to a breakaway for Spokane’s Hudson Elynuik who made a nice deke to slide his 24th past Liam Hughes.

“It was just a missed call,” O’Dette said. “Instead of a four-minute power play it ended up being our guy out for the rest of the period and most of the second. Not ideal but that happens.”

Another big momentum swing happened early in the third period.

Seattle had cut the Chiefs lead to 3-1 late in the second after Strand, who returned with stitches and a full cage, struck on a wrist shot for his 19th of the year. That gave the Thunderbirds some life heading into the third period but Yamamoto and Jaret Anderson-Dolan would team up early in the third to take the momentum back and essentially put the game away.

After another mix up at the Seattle blue line, the two Chiefs guns were off on a two-on-one break that ended with Anderson-Dolan potting his 34th of the season to give Spokane (33-20-3-2) a commanding 4-1 lead and came just 1:02 into the period.

“We’re down two goals there going into the third and we felt like we were in good shape,” O’Dette said. “Giving up that goal to start the period obviously not the plan. Not a smart play on the d-to-d there, it got intercepted. Just some mistakes, fatigue set in and we didn’t find enough juice to play our style of game.”

The T-Birds were outshot 36-26 by the Chiefs and O’Dette felt that Spokane was able to dictate the pace of play.

“We knew we had the three in three and they didn’t,” he said. “We needed to play a smart game where we make them play some d-zone and try to wear them down a little bit more. We didn’t need to get into a track meet with our level of fatigue, we got caught up in that game.”

After Spokane opened the scoring in the first period on the Elynuik score, it would add to its lead just over a minute later when Nolan Reid flung a puck at the Seattle net and it deflected in to make it 2-0.

The Thunderbirds couldn’t generate any offense early on in the second period and would fall behind by three goals when Yamamoto slammed a one-time shot on a Spokane power play at 17:01 for his first of the night.

Strand would then bring Seattle back but it would fall down by three goals again on the Anderson-Dolan score. Yamamoto would finish off the scoring midway through the third period when he fired his second of the night and 16th of the season from right in front of Hughes.

Hughes ended the night with the loss while making 31 saves but the game was more about Seattle’s fatigue level. It was fatigue that was physical and perhaps mental, coming after two emotional games against Everett.

“Those were emotional games,” O’Dette said. “Guys laid it on the line and took every ounce of what we had to win (Saturday) and we needed a special effort against a fresher team and it wasn’t there for us.”

The Thunderbirds lost ground to the Chiefs in the division with Sunday’s loss but maintained their eight-point lead over the Kamloops Blazers for the Western Conference’s last playoff spot.

Notes

• Dawson Weatherill made 25 saves in net for Spokane and is 9-0-2-0 in his last 11 starts.

• O’Dette didn’t have an update on Bargar’s status after the forward left the game during the second period.

• The Thunderbirds will not have to play a third consecutive three-in-three weekend but will be back on the ice Wednesday when they head to Kennewick for a match up with the Tri-City Americans.

• Strand’s 19th goal has him third among WHL defensemen in goals scored this season.