T-Birds take commanding 3-0 lead after OT thriller
By Andrew Eide
KENT – There is just something magical about Tuesday night Game 3s for Seattle.
For the second straight year the Thunderbirds won an exciting Game 3 in overtime, this time against their closest rivals. Seattle beat the Everett Silvertips 4-3 on a Mathew Barzal trickler that somehow got past Austin Lotz early in the overtime period.
The T-Birds also picked up two big goals from Scott Eansor. The win gives Seattle a commanding 3-0 lead in its opening round best-of-seven series with Everett.
As the puck slowly crossed the goal line, the T-Birds bench rushed on the ice and the 5,176 fans went into delirium. There was a lot to like in this game.
“I liked the outcome,” head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. “Those overtimes are exciting. I don’t know if there’s anything more exciting than overtime hockey in the playoffs.”
Tuesday’s game was playoff hockey at its finest as both teams played well.
“In front of a huge crowd, an OT win in the playoffs, that’s something you dream about,” Justin Hickman said. “It was a really hard fought game. They came with everything, we came with everything … it was a hell of a game.”
Seattle got the winner 3:47 into the overtime when Barzal circled the ice with the puck, carrying it from behind the Everett net and out to the slot. He turned and fired an innocent looking shot through traffic. The puck was dribbling along the ice and found its way past a fooled Lotz.
The goal was given to Barzal, but it’s possible that Hickman tipped it on its way past the goalie.
“You know, yeah, I got a little piece of that,” Hickman said with a smile. “It’s a team effort.”
Barzal says the goal was about throwing the puck on net.
“Hicks was just doing what he does down there,” Barzal said. “He won a battle and I picked it up and wheeled around a little bit. We’ve been stressing throwing pucks at the net all game, so I threw one on the net.”
And did Hickman touch it?
“He did,” Barzal said, laughing. “I think he touched it. I feel bad, I kind of stole the [celebration] a little bit when all the guys jumped on me, but that’s all right as long as we got the goal.”
The T-Birds knew the Silvertips were going to come out desperate Tuesday, with their backs to the wall. Seattle matched that intensity, came out strong on the forecheck and gave the Silvertips fits trying to get out of their own end.
“I liked our forecheck,” Konowalchuk said. “That was the kind of forecheck we need. Going out and skating. They were skating the puck … and it was good to see.”
Despite Seattle’s early dominance, the Silvertips managed to score first. On the power play, Patrick Bajkov potted a goal from the face off circle. It was his second power play of the series and broke a string of 10 failed Everett power-play chances.
As they did all night, the T-Birds had an answer. Just after the 13-minute mark, Branden Troock tied the game up with his second playoff goal. The ebb and flow of the game continued as Bajkov notched a second power-play goal with 1 minute left in the period.
The second period saw the T-Birds take their first lead on a play where Scott Eansor deflected a pass from Jerret Smith. The puck fluttered up in the air and found its way over Lotz’s shoulder. Again, however, with under 3 minutes left in the period, Everett took the lead back on a Mirco Mueller goal.
The Silvertips are tough when they have a lead of any kind. They are even tougher when they lead after two periods. During the regular season they were 32-1 in those situations.
Seattle was about to make it 32-2 and got the game even on another Eansor goal as he fired a shot from the slot that beat Lotz. Later in the period Eansor had a chance for the hat trick as he broke in alone shorthanded but could not finish.
After the game, he didn’t mind missing out.
“I’ll take the win,” Eansor said. “That was a big win … it was pretty special.”
Eansor was again part of the shutdown line that was tasked with slowing down Everett’s top line, centered by Josh Winquist. Winquist had an assist but once again did not find the net.
“Two goals, almost had a shorthanded goal,” Konowalchuk said of his scrappy center. “He played a really good game for us.”
Playoff hockey is often about the adjustments teams make. On Tuesday, Everett head coach Kevin Constantine made the first major change. Trying to find some production out of his top line he moved Winquist to a line with Manraj Hayer and Bajkov to start the second period.
That line was able to produce one goal, the Mueller tally, but was held in check for the most part by Eansor and his linemates, Sam McKechnie and Jaimen Yakubowski. It’s always big when a team’s shutdown line also manages to score.
“It is nice to score once and a while,” Eansor said. “Obviously, my line mates helped me out … I don’t know, it’s just fun, it’s a fun win.”
For the second straight year the T-Birds have built a 3-0 lead in a playoff series. Last year they watched Kelowna rip off four straight to come back and take the series. When the T-Birds heads to Everett for Game 4, they hope to avoid the same fate.
“We’re not even worried about what the series is,” Konowalchuk said. “We’re just worried about getting one win. We need one more win, that’s it. You need four to close out a series.”
Seattle has had some success at the Comcast Arean this year, including this past Sunday’s 3-1 win.
“Friday night’s going to be crazy in their barn,” Hickman said. “It’s a really tough team to beat anywhere, especially in their barn. We’re going to really have to come focused and come prepared for a hard fought game. We haven’t won anything yet.”
• Everett blinked first and broke up its top scoring line of Winquist, Jujhar Khaira and Ivan Nikolishin to start the second period. Coming into the game that trio had only two points, both coming on a 5-on-3 power play in Game 1. In the first period Tuesday they were on the ice for six even-strength shifts and the Easnor line held them to zero shots on goal, hence the change. It will be interesting to see how Constantine deploys them on Friday.
• Lost in the celebration was goalie Taran Kozun. He has only given up two even strength-goals in the three games so far and made a huge save in overtime just prior to the game winner.
• Seattle’s penalty kill had killed off 10 straight Everett power plays, but gave up two goals on seven chances Tuesday night. They have been shorthanded 18 times so far in the three games, which is something they may want to clean up.
• Bajkov has turned into a power-play machine for Everett in this series, and may be the Silvertips’ best player so far. He now has three goals in the series and all came on the power play.
Follow Andrew Eide on Twitter @andyeide.