KENT – With their magic number down to two points heading into Friday night, the Thunderbirds left nothing to chance against the Spokane Chiefs.
Midway through the third period it was announced that the Kamloops Blazers had lost which officially put the Thunderbirds in the playoffs. They were locked in a 2-2 tie with Spokane and wanted to win their way into the playoffs rather than rely on other teams to lose.
“We wanted to win tonight to get that X ourselves,” Seattle head coach Matt O’Dette said about the indication in the standings signifying a clinched playoff spot.
Seattle scored twice in the third period on goals from Austin Strand to break open a tie game and clinch the playoff spot in a 4-2 win over the Chiefs at the accesso ShoWare Center. Strand scored twice, as did Zack Andrusiak, while Nolan Volcan chipped in with three assists.
Volcan set up Strand for his first of the night at 6:16 of the third when he lugged the puck deep and found Strand pinching in at the other side of the ice.
It was nice play and turns out, was inspired by a recent NHL game. After the game Friday, it was being referred to as the ‘Buffalo goal’.
“I don’t want to give away any secrets,” Volcan said of the play. “I was just watching highlights one night. I was watching Buffalo play Toronto and they tried it and actually got a lucky bounce off a skate. Just roll around the circle there and once I got to the goal line, I didn’t see Strander, I just sent it over there. He timed it perfectly.”
The goal put Seattle (32-25-8-2) up 3-2 and Strand would score again, on the power play, with five minutes left to seal the deal for the Thunderbirds.
With the win, the Thunderbirds are in the playoffs for the sixth straight season and got in the way they wanted to, with a victory.
“We’re trying not to watch what’s happening around the league,” O’Dette said. “I know that’s hard but we’ve been saying all along that we’re going to handle our own business. Take care of the magic number ourselves. We’re trying to play our best hockey and climb the ladder.”
Andrusiak had another big game, potting two more goals to give him a team-high 33 markers. He’s been red hot and extended his point streak to six games and has scored nine times over that span.
“I’ve just been trying to play the same way I have all year,” Andrusiak said. “Try to play consistent and sometimes you’re going to get those bounces where you get a good pass and the puck goes in.”
Spokane (39-23-3-2) was playing its last game on a six-game road trip and hadn’t lost in regulation in its last 10 games. It looked like the Chiefs would continue their hot streak as they took the early lead after Filip Kral was able to weave his way through the Seattle defense to score his eighth at 2:14 of the first period.
As they did all night, the Thunderbirds would answer.
Andrusiak scored his first of the night on a Seattle power play. He flubbed his first attempt at a shot but was able to get off a second one that found its way past Spokane goalie Donovan Buskey.
“I kind of whiffed on it first because I saw (Ty) Smith right in front of me,” Andrusiak said. “I kind of stopped and was lucky to find the corner.”
The Chiefs would take the lead back in the second period when Riley Woods tipped a shot past Liam Hughes to make it 2-1 at 2:28. Seattle would get that goal back six minutes later when Volcan picked off a pass in the Chiefs end and fed Andrusiak in the slot. Andrusiak buried his second of the night to tie the game back up.
Each time Spokane took a lead, the Thunderbirds had an answer.
“Momentum shifts in games are important and you have to know when you can try to seize it back,” O’Dette said. “Shifts after goals, a series of shifts after a goal…things like that. Against good offensive clubs like that, they can get rolling.”
Seattle was able to contain Spokane’s big guns. Most notably, Kailer Yamamoto, who came into the game with 49 points in his last 24 games. He started on a line with Jaret Anderson-Dolan and Ethan McIndoe.
The three big scorers were held off the scoreboard.
“They shuffled their lines a little bit,” O’Dette said. “I’m not sure if they were trying to avoid some of our D. We had to shuffle to balance our lines a little bit there because they ended up having three really good lines. Tough guys to shut down when they have them all separated like that. Guys stepped up and did a good job.”
With a playoff spot secured, the Thunderbirds now have their sights set on Tri-City and the first wild card spot. They trail by one point with five games left on the regular season schedule.
“You always want to put in your own hands and we’re still trying to catch Tri,” Andrusiak said. “We still believe we can do that and we’re pushing. We’re not content with just being in the eight spot.”
• Volcan had his three-game goal scoring streak snapped but now has a four-game point streak.
• Andrusiak is two away from tying last season’s leading goal scorer, Ryan Gropp, who led Seattle with 35 goals.
• With two goals on Friday, Strand is now second among WHL defenseman in goal scoring with 23.
• Hughes made 25 saves to win his 14th game of the year. He was at his best in the second period when the Thunderbirds were outshot 10-5.