By Andrew Eide
KENT — The WHL playoffs are still a ways away, but it feels like lately every game for the Seattle Thunderbirds has that playoff feel to it.
Saturday night the T-Birds struck for four power play goals to beat the Everett Silvertips 4-3 in front of a loud sold out ShoWare Center crowd. Roberts Lipsbergs’ overtime power play goal was the difference, and defenseman Shea Theodore was the star for Seattle as he was in on each score with a goal and three assists.
“We’ve had some tight games against that team this year, and I guess they should be,” head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. “There’s a rivalry with two competitive hockey teams.”
A night after missing on some big power play opportunities in Tri City, the T-Birds corrected some things and were firing on all cylinders Saturday night. They were 4 for 5 on the power play, and it turned out to be a big factor in the game.
“That was the difference for us,” Konowalchuk said. “Its been a sore subject for us for a lot of the season. We capitalized today. It was huge for the power play to get us some goals.”
Ryan Gropp’s power play goal with just over five minutes left in the third tied the game up as Seattle (30-15-2-3) had watched the Silvertips score three unanswered goals to take a late lead. On the play, the T-Birds crashed the net and fired the puck on Everett goalie Daniel Cotton. A rebound came to Gropp, whose quick hands allowed him to settle it down and find the back of the net.
With every point crucial in the Western Conference, both teams went into overtime desperate to pick up the second point. Just before the end of the third period, Everett (25-16-7-1) was called for a penalty as Dawson Leedahl hooked a Seattle player.
That power play became a four-on-three chance in overtime, and the T-Birds worked the puck around, closing in on the Everett net before it got to Lipsbergs at the side of the net. Lipsbergs’ quick and hard shot was no match for Cotton and he potted his 29th goal of the year to send the big crowd home.
“We had lots of time in that overtime period,” Theodore said. “We were just really patient and waiting for an opening. I guess we finally got one with four seconds left in the power play.”
Theodore, who picked up an assist on the game winner, opened the scoring on the night in the second period. On the power play, a Silvertips clearing attempt hit awkwardly off the glass and flew out to Theodore at the point. He had time and space, and fired a wrist shot through a screen for his 15th goal of the year.
That goal brought down the teddy bears as it was Seattle’s teddy bear toss night. The ice was littered by stuffed animals and caused an 11 minute delay as the players and team staff cleared the ice.
“It’s pretty cool,” Theodore said about the teddy bear goal. “It’s the first time I’ve done it. … Some of the guys said I jinxed myself, I said I was going to get it earlier.”
The T-Birds would extend their lead later in the second when Gropp fired a shot that was deflected by Mathew Barzal right in front of the net. Originally the goal was awarded to Justin Hickman, who was also in front, but after review it was determined that it was actually Barzal’s stick that got the puck.
Again, Seattle had struck on the power play.
“It was huge,” Gropp said about the power play. “We had a lot of meetings yesterday about the power play. We obviously struggled last game. We were just working harder and it paid off tonight.”
Down two goals, the Silvertips used a power play of their own to get back into the game. Still in the second, Joshua Winquist got Everett on the board when he fired a shot that Seattle goalie Taran Kozun got a piece of but could not keep it from deflecting in the net. It was Winquist’s 30th goal of the season as the 20-year-old continues his strong year.
Everett tied the game later in the period as Jujhar Khaira got around the Seattle defense and beat Kozun with a point-blank shot. The Silvertips would take the lead in the third period when Manraj Hayer was left alone in the slot and banged home a nice centering pass for Everett’s third straight score.
In the end, though, the T-Birds showed some resiliency as Gropp was able to get the equalizer that set up the win in overtime.
Theodore’s night was another in what is turning out to be a somewhat spectacular season for the Anaheim Ducks draft prospect. His four points pushed him to a team-best 60 on the year as he leads all WHL defensemen in scoring.
“It was the best game he’s played in a long time,” Konowalchuk said. “He still has been fine but you can see when he wants to raise it another level defensively to compete in the corners and the power play. He needs to be a big reason why we’re going.”
The win gives Seattle eight wins in their last nine games and sets up a big showdown Sunday afternoon with the league-leading Kelowna Rockets. Seattle and Kelowna have a recent history of playing exciting games that usually end up in overtime or coming down to the wire. Happy to go into that game with a win, Konowalchuk and the T-Birds are looking forward to the challenge.
“Another big game,” Konowalchuk said of Sunday. “Fun game and it’s going to be an exciting game there. They usually are against Kelowna.”
Sunday’s game will face off at 5 p.m.
• A night after suffering what looked like a serious knee injury, winger Jaimen Yakubowski was back in the lineup Saturday. The high energy Yakubowski showed no signs of strain, played hard and even got into a scrap.
• Mathew Barzal, who recently returned from injury, appears to be back in form after a couple of games where he was still getting his legs back. His goal Saturday was his second point in as many nights. He was matched up on a line with Gropp and Hickman and the three were Seattle’s best line on the night.
• Theodore’s four-point night was the second such night of his year, and he now has 15 multi-point nights on the season.
• Saturday was the 300th game with the T-Birds for rugged forward Mitch Elliot. The 20-year-old joined the T-Birds in 2009 and has spent his entire junior career with Seattle.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide