By Andrew Eide
The city of Portland continues to be a struggle for the Seattle Thunderbirds as they lost 7-3 to the Winterhawks on Friday night at the Moda Center.
Portland got two goals from Mathew Dumba and Brendan Leipsic as they pulled away from Seattle by scoring four unanswered goals late to bury the T-Birds. Seattle struggled managing the puck at times and despite scoring three times on the power play, could not contain the Wnterhawks offense. Seattle has now lost two straight games and is 0-5 in Portland this year — in games that were not competitive for the most part.
The T-Birds managed to erase a two-goal Portland lead in the second period but could not get the go-ahead tally in a game that ended up being a frustrating one for them.
“It was a frustrating game,” head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. “I mean, not all of it…I thought at times we had a chance to take over the game a little bit and get going. There were a couple of key points in the game that we just didn’t finish a chance or made a critical mistake and those things kill you in the end.”
Seattle had their chances in this game.
After falling behind 3-1 in the first period, the T-Birds came out in the second flying. They were forcing the play and drawing penalties on the Winterhawks. They got the game close on a Shea Theodore power play goal and would tie it up a couple of minutes later when Ryan Gropp found the back of the net on another power play.
After the Gropp goal, Portland goalie Corbin Boes came up injured and had to leave the game. He was replaced by rookie Adin Hill who had only played one WHL game prior to Friday. Everything was set up for the T-Birds to take over the game and earn a big statement type win in Portland.
Then, two big momentum swings occurred that ultimately changed the outcome of the game.
Late in the second, with the score tied, Branden Troock snuck behind the Portland defense and had the rookie goalie in his sites. He made a nice move and looked like he was going to give the T-Birds the lead. Unfortunately for Seattle the puck went over the net and harmlessly rang off the boards.
“We had a few chances to go up,” Konowalchuk said. “Troock had the breakaway, we could have gone up 4-3 on a couple of chances.”
A couple of minutes later, with under two minutes left in the period, the puck was in the Seattle zone and the T-Birds had a chance to clear it. They over-skated it and failed to get it out which led to a shot on goal and a big double minor penalty called on the T-Birds. As Taylor Leier and Jared Hauf were fighting for position, Hauf got his stick up and cut Leier’s chin — an automatic double minor.
The Winterhawks wasted no time cashing in as ten seconds later, Oliver Bjorkstrand banged home a shot from the slot to give Portland a lead they would not relinquish.
“We over-skate the puck and end up taking a four minute penalty,” Konowalchuk said. “Difference is they capitalize on the penalty, they go ahead right before the period. Gives them momentum and not us. It was a high stick, we got the penalty because we over-skated the puck and couldn’t get the puck out.”
Armed with a big momentum-swinging goal, the Winterhawks opened the flood gates in the third as they scored three times on two goals from Dumba and one from Leipsic to turn the game into a laugher — something that seems to happen regularly to Seattle in Portland.
“It’s big to always play well and win on the road,” Konowalchuk said about the struggles in Portland. “Its disappointing that we need to execute better at key parts of the game to get wins on the road. We’ve got to play a smarter road game in some areas.”
Portland is a highly skilled club and can smother you by keeping the puck away from you and generating numerous scoring chances. When you turn the puck over, or don’t get it deep, you can find yourself in for a long game.
“At times we got in trouble,” Konowalchuk said. “Especially in that second period we were taking the puck back in our end instead of just keeping it on the forecheck, keeping it on the attack, that’s the difference. You can’t keep the momentum up.”
Portland opened the scoring in the first when Chase De Leo beat Seattle goalie Taran Kozun for his 38th goal of the year. The T-Birds would manage to tie the game on a Russell Maxwell power play goal a few minutes later. Portland, as they often do, then struck quickly for two more goals, one each from Leipsic and Anton Cederholm to build their first period lead.
Seattle will now head home to continue a big weekend as they continue to try and wrap up the fourth seed in the West. The loss drops their lead to four points over Spokane and five over Everett for first round home ice. Seattle has a chance to put Everett further back when the two teams meet at the ShoWare Center Saturday night.
The T-Birds need to shake Friday’s game off and get ready for a tough tilt with the red hot Silvertips.
“We’ll talk about it, we’ll go over some things,” Konowalchuk said about Friday’s loss. “We’re not going to hang our heads and feel sorry for ourselves. We don’t have time, we’ve got a lot of hockey coming up. We’ve got to correct some things, and talk about things and get our compete up real high tomorrow.”
How big of a pick up was Mathew Dumba for Portland? Since being sent back to junior by the Minnesota Wild the defenseman has 17 points and is plus-23 in only 22 games.
The seven goals allowed on Friday was the most given up by Kozun since joining the T-Birds.
Seattle captain Justin Hickman was a scratch Friday as he suffered a hand injury in last Sunday’s game against Everett. Konowalchuk said that he was day-to-day.
Scott Eansor returned to the lineup for the T-Birds. The scrappy center had been out of the lineup since February 1st as he has been recovering from an injury.
All three of Seattle’s goals came on the power play. On the night they were three-for-six.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide