Seattle’s Branden Troock celebrates his third period goal Sunday against Everett (Christopher Mast photo)
By Andrew Eide
EVERETT — The Seattle Thunderbirds turned in another gritty playoff effort Sunday night and have put themselves in the drivers seat.
Seattle scored three unanswered goals at the Comcast Arena in Everett to beat the home standing Silvertips 3-1. The win gives the T-Birds a two games to none lead in their best-of-seven opening round playoff series with Everett. Seattle’s goals were scored by three different players and they got another outstanding performance by Taran Kozun in net, as he made 38 saves in the win.
This win was anything but easy for Seattle.
“You’ve got to work for it,” head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. “That’s a darned good hockey team over there, you’ve got to work for every inch of ice and battle and battle and battle.”
For the second straight game the T-Birds were out shot by Everett, but for the second straight game they were able to come out on top. They once again got great special teams play, and some great goaltending from Kozun.
“It’s been key to both victories,” Konowalchuk said. “They’re a very stingy team over there, five on five. Probably one of the stingiest teams in the league…when you get a power play you need to bear down and be really good on the penalty kill. They’ve got a dangerous power play.”
Seattle needed both their penalty kill and power play to come up big on Sunday.
The Silvertips got on the board first during a pretty even opening period. Seattle was a little casual with the puck behind their own net as Kozun and his defensemen misfired on an exhange. The puck then was sent to Everett’s Carson Stadnyk who had a whole net to shoot at. He buried his shot to give the home team the win.
“They got that first goal there,” Konowalchuk said. “I didn’t think we let them really come at us. We didn’t go at them either, I thought it was a fairly even first period.”
In the second period the T-Birds got going.
In a reversal of fortunes from the night before, it was Everett that took some early penalties in the second to give Seattle some momentum. After the second penalty the T-Birds found themselves with 48 seconds of a five-on-three advantage. They used that short time well as Shea Theodore sent the puck to Adam Henry who in turn found Roberts Lipsbergs at the side of the net. Lipsbergs potted a wrist shot over a sprawling Austin Lotz to tie the game up.
The Silvertips pushed back a bit but Kozun stood tall.
He made several good saves and one spectacular save. With 6:24 left in the period, Everett’s Jujhar Khaira had the puck and a wide open net. It was a certainty to everyone in the building that the Silvertips were about to take the lead back. As Khaira shot, Kozun dove back in front of the net and somehow found the puck.
“When he’s playing hot every night, it’s really hard to lose those games,” Theodore said about his goalie. “He’s getting those key timely saves, I don’t even know how he made that one, just diving across.”
Kouzn had been bumped by Josh Winquist on the play which caused him to leave the opening. From there, it was just a reaction for him.
“I made it,” Kozun said of the play. “I was more mad that Winquist hit me there, before. I was more focused on that than the save. I wasn’t really thinking about it.”
With their goalie stoning every Silvertips chance, the T-Birds went to work in the third to put the game away.
Playing four-on-four, Mathew Barzal made a pretty lead pass that sprung Branden Troock into the Everett zone. Troock bore in on Lotz alone, made a nice move, and slid a back handed shot into the net. The goal gave Seattle the lead, one they would not relinquish.
“He [Barzal] made a very skilled play,” Troock said of the play. “That was a nice saucer pass, he saw me going back door. I saw him going wide and I just drove the net, drove between their d-men. So he made a really nice play through them and I just finished it off.”
Troock, playing in his first playoff series, has now played two strong games in as many nights. While he didn’t score in Game 1, he was a force. He turned in a similar performance Sunday, getting rewarded with a big goal.
“He’s a key to our team,” Konowalchuk said of Troock. “He was playing really well the last five to seven games of the season and it’s carrying through. I think he’s even playing a really good team game, leading the way, as he was before he got hurt.”
The T-Birds added to their lead later in the period when Russell Maxwell knocked home a loose puck just as a Seattle power play was ending. That gave them a big two-goal lead and in essence, put the game away.
Coming into the series a big key for Seattle was handling Everett’s big scoring line of Khaira, Winquist and Ivan Nikolishin. Responsible for over a third of Everett’s goals this season, the T-Birds have held them to just two assists (both in Game 1). Without last change on the road, Konowalchuk could not ensure that his shut down line was on Winquist Sunday night.
He did manage to get the defensive pairing of Theodore and Jerret Smith out against them all game long Sunday. The pair did a great job as Everett’s top line was shut out.
“We like them out there,” Konowalchuk said. “Theo’s been against top lines all year, with Smith. We try to get that, its a little bit tricky on the road. I though Matt [O’Dette] did a good job of getting them out there.”
Known for his offensive game, Theodore has shown in this series that he can be effective taking on a top scoring line.
“Just staying tight to our checks and not getting lost in our D-Zone,” Theodore said of the challenge. “They’re good smart players and you’ve just got to try and make reads on where they’re going to play, I guess we did a good job tonight.”
The T-Birds now will try to put a strangle hold on this series on Tuesday at the ShoWare Center. Despite the lead in the series, they aren’t counting the Silvertips out.
“It’s nice to get a little bit of momentum,” Konowalchuk said. “But, we just go one day at a time here. We know that we’re going to get a real desperate team [in Everett].
Seattle’s penalty kill has been outstanding so far in this series. They blanked Everett on five attempts Sunday and now have killed off ten out their eleven short handed situations. The Silvertips only power play goal came Friday on a two-mad advantage.
Conversely, Seattle is getting good production out of their power play. They scored two power play goals in Game 1 and unofficially scored two again on Sunday. They only get credit for one power play goal Sunday however as Maxwell’s goal was scored just after the power play had ended.
Playing in his first playoff games, Kozun has relished the chance. He has stopped 64 of the 66 shots he’s seen and been a calming influence on Seattle’s defense. He even attempted to score a goal at the end of the game Sunday. With the Silvertips net empty and the clock winding down, he flung the puck up ice. It didn’t get too far however as it hit players a few feet in front of him.
There was a lot of talk from both coaches prior to this series about there being no distinct advantage in the odd playoff format. However, now that Seattle has won the first two games, they get to return home for Game 3. That is not normally a luxury for the team with home ice advantage and feels like it could be big if they can win it.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide