Jaimen Yakubowski attempts to chip the puck in while Everett’s Matt Pufahl leans on him during Sunday’s game (Thunderbirds)
By Andrew Eide
KENT — The Thunderbirds found themselves in another grind it out game with the Everett Silvertips Sunday and for the second straight time came up short.
Everett deployed their suffocating trap all night to hang on and beat Seattle 3-1 behind 27 saves from Austin Lotz and three different goal scorers. It was Everett’s second straight win against the T-Birds as they continue their push for playoff positioning. Seattle got a goal from Jaimen Yakubowski but were unable to generate much more against a stingy Silvertips defense.
“They’re a frustrating team to play against compared to the style of game we played last night,” defenseman Adam Henry said , referring to Seattle’s 4-1 win against Portland Saturday. “Last night was probably the best effort we’ve had all year, so it was definitely frustrating.”
The Silvertips excel at playing a neutral zone trap where they lay back and wait for you to turn the puck over. In the last two losses against Everett, Seattle has allowed the Silvertips to dictate their style of play right from the start. That makes it hard to get going against them.
“Our first period, they were better than us, no doubt about it,” head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. “They won the game in the first period. Something we’ve got to get better at, starting games,that was the difference in the game.”
Everett (33-23-7-2) controlled the first period. They out shot Seattle 16-6 and ended the opening frame with a one goal lead.
Already on the power play the Silvertips went up two men after Justin Hickman inadvertently flipped the puck over the glass for a delay of game penalty. With the two-man advantage the Silvertips were able to work the puck around and get a good shot from Mirco Mueller that rebounded right to Ivan Nikolishin on the door step. From there the Russian import had an easy tap in goal past Seattle goalie Taran Kozun.
Seattle (39-20-2-4) seemed to figure out the trap in the second period. They did a better job of getting the puck deep and maintaining possession with a strong forecheck. They generated the first seven shots in the period and drew two power play chances with their strong play.
They got the game even after Yakubowski fired a backhand shot past Austin Lotz. It was Yakubowski’s 10th goal of the year and seemingly was a sign that the T-Birds may be ready to take the game over.
Going against the flow of play however, Everett struck for a big goal late in the period. Matt Fonteyne flew into the Seattle zone on what looked like an innocent rush. He fired a deadly accurate wrist shot that beat Kozun up high and gave the Silvertips their one goal lead back.
“That’s a tough one, late in the period,” Henry said. “There’s not much you can do. We had a good period, we fought back after a lackadaisical first…its tough when you get in a hole, they’re a tough team to play against when they have the lead.”
Everett is extremely tough after getting the lead. In fact, they have only one loss on the season when they head into the third period ahead in the game — going 25-1-0-0 on the year in those situations.
“That’s a tough goal,” Konowalchuk said. “I didn’t think it deflated us but now you’re battling from behind again. I thought our guys did keep coming, I thought they battled in the third, but they’re a good defensive team.”
The T-Birds did battle hard in the third. They played with energy and tried to fight through Everett’s defense to generate scoring chances but just could not find the equalizer. With a one goal lead the Silvertips made things even harder. They dropped their forecheckers back and waited for Seattle to come to them, seemingly more interested in preserving the lead then they were in generating any offense of their own.
“They weren’t forechecking quite as hard,” Konowlachuk said of the third period. “They’re sitting, protecting the middle, it makes it tough…we had a couple chances there, the goalie made some saves. We just didn’t score as many goals as they did.”
Seattle pulled Kozun late to try and get the game to overtime but Carson Stadnyk put an end to that bid when he scored on the empty net to seal the victory for Everett.
Seattle now has the rest of the week off before playing a big three-in-three weekend, starting with a road game in Portland on Friday night.
Konowlachuk mentioned the start of the game. Falling behind Everett, even early, can be deadly as the Silvertips are now 22-6-1-2 when they score the game’s first goal.
Yakubowski was Seattle’s best player on Sunday. He got their only goal and was flying all over the ice all game long.
The trap that Everett uses may not be the most exciting brand of hockey, but it has been effective for them. They have allowed fewer than three goals in eight of their last ten games now and have held their opponents to about 24 shots per game, making it tough to score against them.
With six games left in the season the T-Birds hold a six point lead over the Spokane Chiefs for fourth place, and home ice advantage in the first round, in the Western Conference.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide