Seattle Thunderbird winger Zack Andrusiak is in the proverbial zone these days.
After recording a hat trick in Tuesday night’s game, Andrusiak added two more goals, two assists and a shootout conversion Friday night in Portland.
“He’s a finisher,” Seattle head coach Matt O’Dette said.
Andrusiak’s goal in the shootout gave the Thunderbirds an important 5-4 victory over the rival Portland Winterhawks. The win reduced Seattle’s magic number to clinch a playoff spot to seven over the Kamloops Blazers, with just nine games left in the regular season.
“Massive two points for us,” O’Dette said. “We would have preferred that one in regulation but we’re happy with the two points.”
It wasn’t easy on Friday night as Seattle (30-24-7-2) watched the Winterhawks score three goals over a three-minute stretch in the third period. The flurry of goals erased a 3-1 lead and put the Thunderbirds on the brink of a tough loss.
Seattle dug in however and it came from a line that was big all night.
Noah Philp would tie the game at four at 15:58 of the third period after a huge scramble in front of Portland goalie Kole Kehler. The puck was loose and as Seattle players banged away at it, Philp was able to dig it out and fling it into the net for his 13th of the season.
“That’s a T-Bird goal for sure,” O’Dette said. “Get greasy, create second and third opportunities around the net and that’s what happened there. I think there were three or four opportunities, but sometimes that’s what it takes.”
Philp played on a line with Andrusiak and Donovan Neuls Friday night and the three were huge.
They scored all four of Seattle’s goals and chipped in with five assists as well. On top of that, both Philp and Andrusiak converted in the shootout.
“The Philp line with Donnie and Andy just willed their way back into the game there,” O’Dette said. “Got that tying goal on the big scramble. Great night by those three guys.”
For Andrusiak, his torrid streak continues.
He scored the first two goals for the Thunderbirds Friday to give him a team high 29 on the year and five in two nights. A streaky scorer all year, he seems to be on a high note at a crucial time of the season.
“When he gets those opportunities he doesn’t miss too often,” O’Dette added. “When the other elements of his game are going well he’s a really effective player. He’s got that going on right now.”
He started the scoring by finishing off a two-on-one with Philp at 14:27 of the first period. That lead didn’t last long however as Portland (38-20-1-4) squared things up three minutes later on Ty Kolle’s sixth of the year.
Andrusiak got Seattle going again two minutes into the second when Neuls found him with a cross-ice feed. Neuls would then extend the Thunderbirds lead to 3-1 at 8:19 of the second when he potted his own rebound for his 21st marker of the year.
The Thunderbirds headed into the third period feeling good, up two goals, but ran into some trouble.
Portland cut the lead on a Cody Glass power-play score at 9:47. On the ensuing face off, six seconds later, Joachim Blichfeld managed to take the puck and streak past the Seattle defense to tie the game at three. Less than two minutes later, Glass would find Ryan Hughes coming off the bench and the Portland winger potted his 15th.
When the dust settled, the Thunderbirds found themselves trailing.
“We knew they’re going to come hard in the third,” O’Dette said. “Sometimes when that momentum hits they’re a tough team to slow down. We took that penalty and they got one on the power play and they crossed us up on the following face off. We made a mistake there and next thing you know, the momentum was fully in their favor.”
The Thunderbirds didn’t fold however and finished the period strong. After Philp tied it neither team could strike in overtime and the contest would be decided in a shootout.
Philp converted first – after a video review confirmed he scored – and Glass kept Portland alive at the other end. Hughes would then stop Dennis Cholowski and the game came down to Andrusiak.
He calmly skated down on Kehler and snapped a quick shot that beat the Portland goalie and earned the Thunderbirds their two points.
For Hughes, it was his fifth shootout win in six tries this season and he picked up the win by kicking away 36 Portland shots.
“What else can you say about him in the shootout,” O’Dette said. “He made unbelievable saves, second effort saves. Where he sticks that toe out at the last second and makes that big save with the toe.”
The win not only inched the Thunderbirds closer to the post season but starts their tough weekend schedule off on the right foot.
They will move on to play Everett Saturday night at the Angels of the Wind Arena in another rivalry game.
“It’s nice to get that first one,” O’Dette said. “Get two points in the bank and create some momentum. It gives us some confidence playing in a tough building and we’ll try to roll that momentum into another tough environment tomorrow.”
• Friday was the third time this season that Andrusiak recorded four points in a game.
• Neuls ended the night with two points giving him eight in his last four games.
• Seattle got Sami Moilanen back in the lineup Friday night. The Finnish import had not played in 14 games after being injured against Everett on Jan. 26th.
• Philp ended with a goal and two assists for his first career three-point game.