Mathew Barzal celebrates his second goal of the night during Seattle’s 4-3 overtime win Tuesday (Thunderbirds)
By Andrew Eide
KENT — If Tuesday’s game between the Thunderbirds and Prince Albert Raiders are an indication of what the playoffs are going to be like, Seattle is in for a fun ride.
Seattle out lasted a tough Prince Albert squad 4-3 in overtime to snap their three-game losing streak in front of 5,044 fans at the ShoWare Center. Alex Delnov scored the game winner 2:35 seconds into the extra frame, leaving Raiders players laying on the ice in disbelief while sending the T-Birds bench into delirium.
This game had a little of everything.
Seattle twice came from behind to tie the game before taking a lead, only to see Prince Albert tie it up late.
“More exciting than it had to be,” head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. “They (Prince Albert) played a hard game over there, they played a really hard game and they’re fighting for their lives, they’re playing playoff hockey.”
The two teams played an even first period, one that saw the T-Birds miss a couple of chances and have to kill of a crucial five-on-three advantage after the Raiders took a one goal lead on Tomas Andrlik’s unassisted goal.
“We weren’t our best early on defensively,” Konowalchuk said. “I thought again we were working harder in the offensive zone, not everybody, but a few working harder in the offensive zone than in the defensive zone.”
The game picked up steam in the second period, as both teams started hitting each other and generating chances. They combined for three goals and 33 shots, many of which were quality chances.
Seattle got the game tied when Mathew Barzal picked up the puck and walked it out from behind the Raiders net. He quickly swept a back hand shot that seemed to fool goalie Nick McBride as the net minder was unable to stop it.
The goal was Barzal’s 11th of the year and he may have the inside scoop.
“I played with the goalie on that team for a few years back in Vancouver so I kind of know what he does a little bit and I think I caught him,” Barzal said. “He usually stops those, he’s a good goalie.”
Prince Albert wasted no time getting the goal back however. Playing four-on-four Leon Draisaitl snuck behind the Seattle defense and Dakota Conroy was able to find him. He raced down the ice and beat Taran Kozun with a nice move for his 29th goal of the year.
The game got physical from there as several scraps broke out between the two clubs, who only play once a year.
Seattle again tied the game after a nice rush from Alex Delnov. He fired the puck on net where Keegan Kolesar banged away at it. Kolesar didn’t score but the rebound went to Roberts Lipsbergs who calmly skated in front and scored.
It was a big goal for the streaky Lipsbergs who had not found the back of the net in eight games.
“Hopefully he’ll get going,” Konowalchuk said about the Latvian. “He hasn’t been playing terrible but he hasn’t been playing his best either. I think that weighs on him a little bit.”
The Third period was a back and forth battle that looked and felt like playoff hockey. Both teams traded chances as Kozun and McBride kept their teams in it.
Barzal scored again, on a pretty goal, as he deked his way through the Raiders defense and beat his former teammate to give Seattle the lead.
The T-Birds were physical all night and Evan Wardley put the punctuation on the game late in the third. He blasted Prince Albert’s Chance Braid along the boards causing the glass to explode in a thousand pieces.
“I was just trying to finish my check there,” Wardley said. “I’ve done that all year, I guess I got the right part of the glass and it ended up breaking.”
They play excited the crowd, the T-Birds bench but maybe not their coach.
“I would rather have seen the glass stay in tact,” Konowalchuk said with a smile. “Things are going pretty good and it gives everybody time to relax, especially the other bench.
I think we had them where we wanted, they’re playing their top line a ton and it gave them a ten minute breather, but it was exciting for the fans.”
There may have been something to that theory.
With under two minutes left the Raiders pulled McBride and tied the game as Josh Morrissey managed to slide the puck through Kozun to send the game into overtime.
That set up Delnov who scored the game winner in overtime after he put back his own rebound.
The win was huge for a Seattle team that had been scuffling the past week.
“Spirits were a little down after three losses in a row,” Hickman said. ‘”Coming into the home stretch that’s what we needed to get our confidence back and get going again.”
The T-Birds picked up two points on idle Spokane and now lead the Chiefs by four points in the race for fourth place in the West. Seattle now will get ready for a big weekend against the red hot Portland Winterhawks and Everett Silvertips.
Getting the win Tuesday will help them go into those games with momentum.
“It was good, its nice to get back on track in the win column,” Barzal said. We’re fired up about that , hopefully we can get going again this weekend.”
Prince Albert features some high end players. Most notable is German import Leon Draisaitl who is a top prospect in this spring’s NHL draft. Konwalchuk moved Hickman to the shut down line to try and slow Draisaitl down. “Just keep it simple,” Hickman said about playing the top line. “Whenever you’re playing against the other team’s top lines you’ve just got to get it deep, make them work in their own zone.”
Josh Morrissey is another big time player for Prince Albert. The Winnipeg Jets first round draft pick tied the game late with his 23rd goal of the year, which is a franchise record for Prince Albert defensemen.
Barzal’s two goals was the first multi-goal game of his WHL career, he now has 12 on the season.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide.