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Thunderbirds can’t overcome early deficit in loss to Winterhawks

KENT – There’s an old cliché in sports that says it’s not how you start a game but rather how you finish that is important. The Thunderbirds proved that cliché wrong against Portland Sunday night at the accesso ShoWare Center.

Seattle gave up two goals to the visiting Winterhawks in the first five minutes and eventually fell behind 3-0 in the first 11 minutes of the game. Despite a charge in the third that saw the Thunderbirds pull to within one, they would never be able to climb out of the hole and fell 7-4.

“It was not a good start,” Seattle head coach Matt O’Dette said. “They were more ready to play than we were. Came out of the gates hard and some of our guys were asleep, particularly our defensemen.”

Portland (40-20-1-4) had big nights from its two brightest stars as Cody Glass scored a goal to go with three assists and Keifer Bellows picked up a hat trick in the win.

Glass and Bellows made Seattle pay early after an errant centering pass was intercepted by Bellows just a minute into the game. That lead to an odd-man rush and Glass fed Bellows on the door step where he easily scored on goalie Dorrin Luding.

“We’ve got veteran D, drafted guys, and you can’t let their guys behind you,” O’Dette said. “Its pretty simple. A turnover for their first goal, on the second shift. We throw it to the front of the net to nobody and an odd-man rush and we’re down 1-0. It’s not good enough.”

Seattle (30-25-8-2) would pay for another turnover four minutes later as Jake Gricius would cash in for Portland. Five minutes after that, Glass would strike for his 34th and the Thunderbirds found themselves in trouble.

Portland had the goals, shots and possession all in its favor for the majority of the first period.

“We know they’re going to try and fly and get behind us,” O’Dette said. “We know that, not mentally ready to go.”

After getting one goal back off the stick of Mike MaClean late in the period, the Thunderbirds started to build some momentum. The last five minutes of the first saw them getting back into their game.

The first shift of the second period saw much of the same, but then Seattle started taking penalties.

Three penalties over a three-minute stretch early in the second gave Portland two prolonged five-on-three advantages. Bellows would pot his second of the night on one of the power plays and then complete the hat trick, and record his 38th goal, just as another penalty was ending.

Just as they did in the first period, the Thunderbirds gave up two scores to start the second.

“You give a full two-minute five-on-three to that team, that’s not a good situation,” O’Dette said. “Then we gave them another one by shooting the puck over the glass. That was obviously a stretch that we’d like to take back.”

Down 5-1, the Thunderbirds started to find their game.

Nolan Volcan tipped a Donovan Neuls shot past goalie Shane Farkas at 8:06 of the second while Seattle was on the power play to cut the lead to three. The Thunderbirds ended the night 1-for-3 with the man advantage but the two misses came at the start of the third period, hindering Seattle’s comeback bid.

Volcan would strike again however, at 10:12 of the third, to give Seattle hope and cut the deficit to two. Zack Andrusiak would score his third goal of the weekend, and team-leading 30th of the season, at 16:41 to pull the Thunderbirds to within one.

While that brought life to the home crowd, the Winterhawks would squelch that excitement with two late empty net goals, off the sticks of Ryan Hughes and Brendan De Jong to put the game away.

“Too little too late,” O’Dette said of the comeback. “You can’t fall down 3-0 and expect to come back. We fought hard at the end and we can play with these guys, but not when you spot them three goals.”

It would be a frustrating night in all for the Thunderbirds as they failed to improve their playoff positioning. The magic number for Seattle to clinch a playoff spot remains at four and the Thunderbirds failed to gain ground on idle Tri-City for the first Wild Card.

Playing three games in three nights is already hard enough and digging a three-goal hole doesn’t help. The Thunderbirds were extra frustrated that if not for a couple of stretches Sunday, they may have come away with two big points.

“When we woke up, we started to take over that game,” O’Dette said. “If we’d come out in the first with that type of jump, we would have won the game.”

The Thunderbirds will have a chance to move closer to Tri-City on Tuesday when they host the Americans at the ShoWare Center.

Notes

• The hat trick for Bellows was the first in the WHL for the New York Islanders former first-round pick.

• With Seattle playing four games in five nights, Luding got the start in place of Liam Hughes on Sunday. He stopped 31 shots in the loss.

• Andrusiak continues his hot streak and has seven goals in his last six games.

• Noah Philp recorded an assist on Sunday, extending his point streak to six games.