By Andrew Eide
KENT — The Kamloops Blazers seem to forget that they are in last place whenever they take on the Seattle Thunderbirds.
The Blazers beat Seattle 3-2 in a shoot out Saturday night in front of 5,080 fans at the ShoWare Center in Kent. Kamloops relied on 33 saves from rookie goalie Cole Kehler and got the shoot out winner from Matt Bellerive for their third win against Seattle this season.
For Seattle, it was their third straight loss.
The win was only the 13th of the year for Kamloops, but three of them have come against the T-Birds.
“That’s the million dollar question,” Justin Hickman said trying to explain the Blazers success. “Maybe the last time they were here we played them a little too lightly. Their record doesn’t really reflect the team they are. They work hard, credit to them they always battle hard against us.”
The T-Birds started the game strong, getting off to a lead early after Shea Theodore flung a wrist shot through traffic for his 17th goal of the year. That goal was against starting goalie Bolton Pouliot who was replaced by Kehler shortly after the goal when he was knocked into by Russel Maxwell.
During their current mini losing streak the T-Birds have struggled managing the puck. That problem reared its head again Saturday night in the first period. A turnover in their own end resulted in the puck being put on Collin Shirley’s stick right in front of the Seattle goal. Shirley beat Taran Kozun to tie the game up at one.
Shortly after that goal Alex Delnov was called for tripping and the Blazers would take a lead on the resulting power play chance. Cole Ully centered a pass in front of the Seattle net where it hit Hickman and deflected past Kozun.
Seattle headed to the dressing room trailing by a goal.
“We came out not too bad,” Steve Konowalchuk said of the first period. “We gave them the two goals, we passed it right into the slot and then on the penalty kill we deflected it in.”
The T-Birds continued to struggle maintaining momentum in the second period but were able to get the game square again. Delnov scored on the power play after the T-Birds worked the puck around the zone. It was Delnov’s 25th goal of the year.
Seattle finally got going in the third period. They dominated the play, dictated the tempo of the game and out shot Kamloops 16-2 — not allowing a Blazers shot on goal until just over two minutes left.
The problem was that they could not beat Kehler. Some shots were stopped by the rookie goaltender, other times the T-Birds missed wide open nets.
“It was a good third period, we had some real good chances,” Konowalchuk said. “We missed the net on two of them at the end of the game there. I thought most of the third period we definitely carried the tempo of the game. Early on in the game, just a few casual moments that kept them in it so it could go to a shoot out.”
After a scoreless overtime period the game went to the shoot out where Kamloops scored on two of their four chances to get the win.
For the T-Birds, they find themselves scuffling a bit as the season is winding down the stretch. They have secured a playoff spot and currently are holding onto fourth place in the West. With the loss the fifth place Spokane Chiefs pulled to within four points of Seattle — the T-Birds still have some work ahead of them.
“We’re making strides in the right direction,” Hickman said. “I thought we played a pretty good game tonight, just we’ve got to keep our heads up and make sure we correct things that we need to correct, keep doing the things that we’re doing right.”
Seattle has nine games left in the season to correct the mistakes they’re making and get their game back to where it was a week ago.
“Until we get everybody going, we’re going to have a tough time winning,” Konowalchuk said.
Kamloops record against Seattle defies explanation. They are 3-1 against the T-Birds despite trailing them by 49 points in the standings. 23% of the Blazers wins this year have come against the T-Birds.
Both of the Kamloops goals were unassisted.
Saturday’s game was the first game back in Seattle for former T-Birds defenseman Austin Douglas. Douglas was part of the trade that brought Taran Kozun to Seattle.
Branden Troock was the only T-Birds player to convert in the shoot out. Mathew Barzal, Shea Theodore and Sam McKechnie were all stopped by Kehler.
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