KENT – The month of February has been a struggle for the Thunderbirds but they finished it in style Tuesday night.
It looked like it was going to be a long night after Seattle surrendered three goals to the Vancouver Giants in a tough four-minute stretch in the second period. The Thunderbirds dug deep, fought back, and not only tied the game late on a Nolan Volcan goal but won it in overtime 5-4 on Zack Andrusiak’s third goal of the night.
“I think that was the biggest one of the year considering the circumstances,” Seattle head coach Matt O’Dette said. “It was looking pretty bleak in the second period.”
Down 4-1, the Thunderbirds would strike twice to cut the lead but were still down a goal as the clock wound down to under two minutes.
With goalie Liam Hughes on the bench for the extra attacker, Volcan would bang home his 27th goal of the year after a crazy scramble in front of Vancouver goalie David Tendeck with 1:07 left on the clock.
“In the third period we were just preaching getting pucks on net,” Volcan said of the goal. “I didn’t see who shot it, I think it was (Donovan Neuls) but he put in a nice little shot and I was lucky enough to find the rebound and put it in.”
It was Neuls who took the initial shot and the 20-year-old ended the night with four assists for a Seattle (29-24-7-2) club that needed points desperately. Volcan got the Thunderbirds the first point and it didn’t take Andrusiak long to secure the second in overtime.
Vancouver (32-21-6-3) would be called for a delay-of-game penalty for shooting the puck out of play. That put the Thunderbirds on a power play and Volcan and Neuls worked the puck to Andrusiak who blasted his 27th of the year to complete his second career hat trick.
The goal came just 34 seconds into the overtime and emptied the Seattle bench in jubilation.
“We’ve botched a couple overtime power plays recently,” O’Dette said. “We’ve spent a ton of time working on a couple of plays there. That play is designed for three different options and repetition paid off.”
Andrusiak had scored two games ago in Kelowna which broke a nine-game goalless streak and helped get his confidence back.
“Went through a little bit of a slump there,” Andrusiak said. “It happens to everybody and you have to keep working hard and eventually you get some bounces like I did tonight.”
It was a resilient comeback for a Thunderbird team that ends the month with a 3-6-3-0 record.
“Yeah, February can go,” a relieved O’Dette said.
It was looking bad in the second period for Seattle after playing to a 1-1 tie in the first. It started by allowing a short-handed goal to Tyler Benson. Ty Ronning then scored his 54th of the year a minute-and-a-half later to extend the Giants lead. Just 54 seconds after that, James Malm walked around the Seattle defense and beat Hughes to make it 4-1 in what felt like the blink of an eye.
Down 4-1 it was looked like the Thunderbirds were on their way to a ninth loss in the last 10 games.
“We weren’t playing really well at all in that stretch in the second period,” O’Dette said. “Guys looked a little lackluster, out of sorts during that time. After that timeout we talked about getting back to playing our style, making them play in the D-Zone and not trying to be too cute in order to get there.”
The team responded and Nikita Malukhin scored his fifth of the season after he converted on a no-look, between the legs pass from Matthew Wedman at 13:57 of the second period.
That cut the lead to two heading into a third period that Seattle would dominate.
They outshot the Giants 14-5 in the final 20 minutes and would get close on Andrusiak’s second of the night six minutes into the period. That set up Volcan’s dramatic finish to send the game into overtime.
“We pride ourselves on being a resilient team,” Andrusiak said. “We fought back all year and we knew we needed to do it again. It just helps get our confidence back up there. It reminds us that we’re a good team and we can win games.”
Andrusiak opened the scoring for Seattle at 2:22 of the first period when he knocked home a slap-pass from Turner Ottenbreit. Vancouver would tie it up at 16:24 of the first when Tyler Popowich scored from the slot.
With the win, the Thunderbirds moved eight points ahead of Kamloops for the last playoff spot in the Western Conference. Their magic number is now nine points to clinch a playoff spot. More importantly, they gained some momentum heading into a big weekend.
“If that game had got away from us there, it would have been a challeange to pick our sevles back up for the weekend,” O’Dette said. “Credit to the guys and the leaders in there, they led the way.”
• Seattle’s power play had been struggling before the Andrusiak marker. That goal snapped an 0-for-13 stretch with the man advantage.
• Hughes made 24 saves to get the win but none were bigger than a late save he made on Ronning right in front of the net.
• Ottenbreit’s assist on Andrusiak’s first goal was his 100th career WHL point.
• Tuesday was Seattle’s team photo day. The team came back onto the ice after the game to pose for a series of photos. It was the sixth straight year that Seattle has won on team photo night. “It definitely makes it more fun,” Volcan said. “A few guys are probably smiling more than if you get the loss.”