Danny Mumaugh and Evan Wardley fight to secure a loose puck during Seattle’s 5-3 win Tuesday (Thunderbirds photo)
By Andrew Eide
KENT — For the second time in three games the Thunderbirds took the ice against the Everett Silvertips Tuesday, and once again came away with a win.
Behind two goals from Justin Hickman the T-Birds beat their rivals to the north 5-3 in front of 4,642 fans at the ShoWare Center in Kent. Seattle broke open a tie game with two third period goals and held off the Silvertips to win their third straight game against Everett.
Hickman’s two goals were part of a big night for his line as he, Mathew Barzal and Ryan Gropp combined for three goals, eight points and a plus-9 rating on the night.
“All credit to those guys,” Hickman said about his linemates. “I mean, Barzy, when he’s got the puck something happens. On my part, I just try to get open and he got a couple of really nice dishes to me for easy tap ins.”
Barzal was spectacular at times on Tuesday night. He helped get Seattle (33-16-2-3) on the board first when he picked the pocket of an Everett defenseman headed up ice. Barzal got the puck, then fought off a player to feed Hickman with a pin point pass at the door step to give the T-Birds the lead.
Everett (26-20-7-1) fought back however and took the lead after Ivan Nikolishin and Brayden Low were able to get pucks past Seattle goalie Danny Mumaugh. The T-Birds defense was shaky in the first period as they surrendered 21 shots and let Everett get too much room in front of the net.
“Way too loose,” head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. “I didn’t like our first period. I liked our energy in some ways, we were finishing checks and playing well in the other end. We were not good in our own end, we were getting beat on the outside while they were jumping into the net the whole first period. It wasn’t a good defensive first period.”
Down two goals, Barzal and company struck again. Working the puck along the boards, Hickman was able to feed it to Barzal who was all alone in front of the goal. He made one nice deke and was able to slide the puck past Everett goalie Daniel Cotton. It was Barzal’s 9th goal of the year as the play maker is starting to find the net more consistently.
“Groppy made a nice play coming up the wall there,” Barzal said of the play. “I think they pulled a switch whim him and ‘Hicks so he fed one over to me and I just pulled it across and scored.”
The T-Birds took a lead early in the second period when Branden Troock set up Roberts Lipsbergs for his 31st goal of the year.
It was at that point in the game that the T-Birds started taking penalties. Much as they did Saturday night in Portland, the parade to the penalty box allowed Everett to tie the game, and sap some momentum away. Playing short handed, Seattle was only able to muster five shots on goal in the second.
The Silvertips took advantage and Josh Winquist potted a power play goal six minutes into the second to tie the game up. It was Winquist’s 34th goal of the year.
“Penalty kill was good,” Konowalchuk said. “We’re getting plenty of work at it, too much work at it. That’s not good enough. We have got to straighten this up in a hurry. I’ve got to find a way to hold guys accountable, hold the team accountable, its not getting corrected by itself and it could have cost us here tonight.”
The T-Birds tightened up their defense in the third and blew the game open. They got going when Troock made another nice pass, this time to Alex Delnov, who scored to give Seattle the lead back. Then the Barzal line struck for the insurance goal.
Taking the puck away in the neutral zone, Barzal flew into the Everett end with Hickman on his left. He sent a back-handed saucer pass over a defender’s stick, right to Hickman for the easy tap in goal.
“Only elite players make that pass,” Hickman said. “Back-hand saucer over a body, I mean, two of the easier goals I’ve scored in my career.”
Coming off a loss and in a tight race for playoff positioning, Tuesday’s win was a big one for the T-Birds. The win pulled them closer to Portland for the U.S. Division lead and put four points between them and Spokane for fourth in the Western Conference.
“Very important (win),” Konowalchuk said. “We talked to the guys, our goal is home ice advantage in that first round and maybe higher. We want that home ice advantage and to do that, with the teams we’re competing against, if you loose two or three in a row you can find yourself out of that race in a hurry.”
Seattle now moves on to play a huge home-and-home series with the Chiefs — starting with Wednesday night in Spokane. Seattle has had their way with Spokane so far, going 6-0, but that doesn’t mean they’re taking these games lightly.
“I think we’re a confident team in general,” Konowalchuk said. “Spokane is a good hockey team, they’re right with us there in points, they’re good at home…we’re not confident that they aren’t a good opponent, that’s for sure.”
Penalty disparity has been a problem in the last two games. Everett had five power play chances to Seattle’s one on Tuesday night and after the game Saturday in Portland the T-Birds have allowed 12 power plays against. In that same two-game span Seattle has only earned three.
Barzal’s three points were the 12th time this year that he has had a multi-point game. He now has five points in his last three games.
Scott Eansor was a scratch Tuesday night as he was suffering from an illness.
The Silvertips have been struggling of late and have slipped into seventh place in the Western Conference. You may recall that they made a guarantee to their season ticket holders that they would finish sixth or better. After a hot start they now have some work to do to fulfill that promise.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide