Seattle’s Adam Henry celebrates his game winning goal in the third period of the T-Birds 3-2 win Saturday night. (Christopher Mast photo)
By Andrew Eide
EVERETT — For the second straight year, the Seattle Thunderbirds are playoff bound.
The T-Birds clinched a playoff spot after scoring two third period goals to come from behind and beat the Everett Silvertips 3-2 in front of 7,579 fans at the Comcast Arena Saturday night. Seattle got the game winning goal in the third from Adam Henry and leaned on goalie Taran Kozun to steer home their 37th victory of the season.
“Another exciting game against these guys,” head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. “Everyone of them have been exciting and tight checking, good win for us.”
The T-Birds found themselves down a goal headed into the final twenty minutes of play against an Everett team that was 22-0 when ahead after two. Seattle (37-17-2-3) didn’t let that daunting stat stop them from grabbing the lead and winning the game.
They got the game tied 1:39 into the third period when Russell Maxwell flew into the Silvertips zone and bombed a wrist shot past a screened Austin Lotz. It was Maxwell’s second big third period goal in as many nights and gave the T-Birds the momentum.
Just under eight minutes later Henry picked the puck up, flew into the Everett zone and through defenders before back-handing a top shelf shot that Lotz had no chance at. It was Henry’s seventh goal of the season and gave Seattle the lead.
“I don’t know, I blacked out,” a smiling Henry said about the goal. “It was four on four, there’s a little bit extra room. Bear made the play to me, a guy over-committed up top. I walked around him, saw that there was a two-on-one to the net and then just turned the head and fired and it went in the net.”
With a one goal lead the T-Birds still had plenty of work to do.
The Silvertips kept pushing, out shooting Seattle 11-4 in the third period and putting Kozun to the test. As he’s done since joining Seattle, he stood tall and matched the challenge. With the extra skater on the ice the Silvertips buzzed the net, getting chances before Shea Theodore flipped the puck high in the air and down the ice to secure the win.
Everett (28-22-7-1) is fighting for their own playoff position and came out of the gates pushing Seattle. They out shot the T-Birds 12-6 to start the game and controlled the flow of the play. They got on the board first when Joshua Winquist blasted a power play point shot through traffic and behind Kozun. It was Winquist’s 37th goal of the year and 200th career point with Everett.
“It wasn’t so much our team started out slowly, we had some individuals start slow,” Konowalchuk said about the first period. “I thought three quarters of our guys were ready to go but when a team has depth like that one, if one line isn’t ready to go they can hem you in and take some momentum back…there were a few passengers in the first and then we got going in the second and third.”
Seattle got going right away in the second as they had strong shifts to start the period and started to build some momentum of their own. That seemed to be derailed a bit when Mitch Elliot took a hooking penalty to give the Silvertips a power play. It was a power play that turned out to be quite eventful.
Sam McKechnie stole the puck and sent it ahead while short handed. He out raced an Everett player to regain the puck and managed to get a shot on Lotz who made the initial save before it trickled over the goal line.
Thirty seconds later, and still on the power play, Everett got that goal back as Patrick Bajkov knocked a puck out of the air and in. Despite playing better the T-Birds still found themselves down a goal headed into the final period.
“I liked the way our second was coming,” Konowalchuk said about his between period message. “Keep going north-south, keep skating, keep up the tempo and see where it goes, finishing checks. Just keep going.”
Just keep going they did and it ended up getting them a big win and securing a spot in the playoffs. Last season Seattle had to battle hard down the stretch and didn’t secure a playoff berth until the 70th game of the year.
“I wasn’t aware we clinched today but its much better than waiting to the last game like we’ve done the last few years,” Konowalchuk said. “It’s nice to be worrying about playoff position than fighting for your life.”
Seattle will return home Sunday to play the Prince George Cougars at 5 P.M.
The T-Birds came into Saturday’s game with a magic number of two. With their win and Prince George’s overtime loss in Kamloops the T-Birds are in the playoffs.
Seattle is pretty entrenched in fourth place of the Western Conference standings and still has designs on moving up. The problem is that the teams ahead of them are not cooperating. Third place Victoria is five points ahead of the T-Birds and has won 10 out of their last 12 games. Portland is ten points ahead of Seattle and has won 16 games in a row.
If the playoff standings remain the way they are now the T-Birds would have home ice advantage against the Spokane Chiefs in the first round. Seattle is 7-0 against Spokane this season.
Everett is tied with Vancouver for sixth place with two games in hand. Sixth place is important as the club guaranteed their season ticket holders they would finish no lower than sixth in the conference. If they slip, they will offer discounts for next year’s season tickets.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide