The Thunderbirds were able to get the split they wanted in the first two games of their first-round, best-of-seven series with the Everett Silvertips over the weekend.
As the series shifts to the accesso ShoWare Center, the Thunderbirds have a chance to take control of the series by protecting their home ice. That will be easier said than done as Everett won the last three games the two clubs played at Seattle in the regular season.
With the change of venue, the Thunderbirds and head coach Matt O’Dette will get last change and be able to dictate the line match ups. This could be key as the Silvertips have heavily relied on their first line so far in this series.
Patrick Bajkov and Garret Pilon, on a line centered by Matt Fonteyne, have been responsible for six of Everett’s eight goals over the first two games.
Who O’Dette chooses to deploy against the Fonteyne line will be key over Game’s 3 and 4.
During the season, O’Dette tended to use the Nolan Volcan line against the opponent’s top line. Volcan is the best defensive forward on the club and along with center Matthew Wedman and Sami Moilanen, are also Seattle’s best puck possession line. Sometimes, the key to stopping a good line is to keep the puck away from them and the Volcan line may be O’Dette’s best option.
On the blue line, expect Turner Ottenbreit and his partner Reece Harsch to also be matched up with the Fonteyne line over the next two games.
Volcan was not happy with his, and his line’s, performance in Game 1 as they were on the ice for three of the four Everett goals. His line improved in Game 2 and were only on the ice for Pilon’s extra-skater goal in the last minute but also produced a goal themselves as Moilanen found the back of the net.
If Seattle is going to win it will need to get a good defensive, and offensive, effort from its top line and defensive pairing.
With Game 3 set to go Tuesday, here’s the latest surrounding the T-Birds.
The special teams battle
Coming into this series, special teams were a big focus. Everett drew the second most power plays in the WHL during the regular season and scored 31-percent of its goals with the man advantage. They also featured the league’s top penalty kill unit, killing off over 84-percent of the power-plays against.
So far, Seattle has managed to hold its own on the special teams front. The Silvertips have only converted on one power-play chance in nine looks over the first two games. Everett did score a big shorthanded goal in Game 1 but Seattle was 2-for-5 on the power play over the weekend.
Playing with discipline and capitalizing on chances will continue to be a key moving forward.
The Thunderbirds leading goal scorer, Zack Andrusiak, turned in a game-winner for the ages in Saturday’s Game 2. He split two defenders and scored on the back-hand to give the Thunderbirds the much needed victory in overtime.
It’s a continuation of the breakout season the 19-year-old has had with Seattle. After a 36-goal campaign he’s stayed hot with a goal in each of the first two games of the playoffs.
Getting Andrusiak on the board in this series was something O’Dette says was a focus coming into the series.
“We challenged him going into the series to produce against Everett,” the head coach said after Game 2. “It hasn’t been his team this year and so far in the playoffs he has two goals in the series.”
In the 10 regular season contests with Everett, Andrusiak didn’t find the back of the net and only had two assists. His ability to continue to score will be a big asset for Seattle as the series progresses.
Hart versus Seattle
Everett goalie Carter Hart is coming off one of the best statistical seasons the WHL has seen. So, to see Seattle put five past him on Saturday night was a bit eye opening. Surprisingly, it’s not the first time that Seattle has done so in the playoffs.
The Thunderbirds have done it three times in the postseason, once in each of the past three years. In fact, over his last four playoff games against Seattle, going back to last year’s second-round series, Hart has a .878 save-percentage against Seattle with a goals-against of 3.92. His record in those four games is 1-3.
While those numbers are interesting, it would be a stretch to suggest that Seattle has ‘solved’ Hart. He still is the top goaltender in the league and the Thunderbirds teams that gave Hart fits over the past two playoffs was a different team than the current group.
But, it has to be encouraging for the Thunderbirds.
A top goalie can get into shooters heads and make them look for the perfect play, something that hurt the Thunderbirds in Game 1 on Friday. Seattle did a better job at getting traffic and shots on Hart in Game 2 and that made the difference.
“Its definitely not a regular night to do that,” O’Dette said about the five goals in Game 2. “He’s tough to beat and we just have to take multiple attempts and create those second and third opportunities. I thought we got a lot more rebound chances and he was up to the task, made a lot of big saves but I think our perseverance paid off.”
Look for the Thunderbirds to try and duplicate Saturday’s game plan during Tuesday’s Game 3.