By Andrew Eide
It took 72 games but the Seattle Thunderbirds have finally clinched home ice advantage in the first round.
Needing a win, Seattle got two goals from Shea Theodore and walked away from the Tri City Americans in a 6-1 rout. The two goals for Theodore set a new franchise mark for career goals by a defenseman. More importantly, the win allowed the T-Birds to edge out Everett for fourth place in the Western Conference standings.
“It was a good win,” head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. “I thought our guys went out and just played the way we needed to play. We were more desperate than the other team.”
Seattle took any drama out of this one early as they built a two-goal lead in the first period. The T-Birds got on the board first when Theodore notched his first goal of the night with a power play point shot that beat Tri City goalie Evan Sarthau.
They would score another power play goal in the first as Alex Delnov beat Sarthau with a wrist shot.
The game’s only real moment of drama came early in the second period when the Americans scored a goal by 15-year-old rookie Morgan Geekis – his first WHL goal. That goal came less than two minutes into the second period and seemed to give the home standing Americans some life.
The T-Birds didn’t let that goal get them down and built their two-goal lead back shortly after when Keegan Kolesar made a nice centering pass that Mitch Elliot banged home for his fourth goal of the year.
“That was a really big goal,” Konowalchuk said. “When you’re not winning, you’re not quite as confident but they came right back. I thought that line was really good, Delnov was really good defensively. Mitch was good, moving his feet on the forecheck. Keegan played his best game of the year.”
For Elliot, who also picked up an assist in the game, scoring a goal in his last regular season game for Seattle was a nice touch to the end of the year.
“It’s good to see those kind of guys get rewarded,” Konowalchuk said about his big winger. “He does a lot of tough work that goes unnoticed.”
Up 3-1 the rout was on for Seattle. They would score three more goals as Justin Hickman, Theodore and Branden Troock all found the back of the net. Theodore’s second goal moved him past former T-Birds defenseman Deron Quint with 45 career goals — a team record.
“It was nice to see Theodore get the milestone he was looking for there,” Konowalchuk said about his defenseman, who also added an assist. “All our guys got a little bit of success to finish the season strong by working, its good to see.”
While the T-Birds had Sunday’s game wrapped up without any question, there was still plenty of drama on the night. Seattle needed Portland to beat Everett Sunday to secure the fourth seed and have home ice advantage. Those two teams played a back-and-forth affair that was tied at four and headed into overtime.
Overtime didn’t solve the matter so the two teams had to go to a shoot out that Portland won, sending Everett home with fifth place and giving the T-Birds their home ice advantage.
Seattle now will move on and prepare for what will be a grueling series against the stingy Silvertips. The best-of-seven series will kick off at the ShoWare Center this coming Saturday. The two teams will play an unusual schedule as the venue will change with each game — Game 2 will be Sunday at Everett.
After a couple weeks of scuffling the T-Birds managed to come up big when they needed it the most, with their backs to the wall. In the end, they achieved one of their goals from the beginning of the season. They have home ice and will try to build off of a big win on the season’s final afternoon.
“It was a good win to end on a good note,” Konowalchuk said. “Overall it was a pretty good regular season and we’ll get back to work and have some fun here in the playoffs.”
• Theodore’s two goals give him 22 on the season and that represents the third highest single-season total in T-Birds history. Quint had 29 in 1994-95 and Jason McKeee potted 23 in 1999-2000. Theodore ended up leading the T-Birds in scoring with 79 points which was also good enough to lead all WHL defenseman in scoring.
• Mathew Barzal picked up an assist Sunday to end his rookie campaign with 54 points on the season.
• The series with Everett will be the first between the two teams in the eleven years that the Silvertips have been in the WHL. The teams played ten times this year and Seattle was 5-4-1-0 in those match ups.
• Seattle will have their work cut out for them in this playoff series. Everett is the hottest team in the league going into the playoffs and won the last three match ups between the two clubs.
Follow Andrew Eide on Twitter @andyeide.