By Andrew Eide
KENNEWICK — Just as all good things must eventually come to an end, so has the Seattle Thunderbirds seven game winning streak.
The T-Birds were in chilly Kennewick Friday night and were taken down by the Tri City Americans 3-1 in front of 5,199 Toyota Center fans. The Americans scored a goal in each period and were backed by 37 stellar saves from goalie Eric Comrie.
The biggest key to this game may have come during a five-minute stretch in the first period.
Half-way through the opening stanza, Tri City’s Riley Hillis caught the knee of Jaimen Yakubowski. Yakubowski went down and was in serious pain as he writhed on the ice — he would not return to the game after heading to the dressing room. Hillis was assessed a five-minute major kneeing penalty along with a game misconduct. Seattle (29-15-2-3) had a golden opportunity to score at will and take control of the game.
In the end, the five minutes may have allowed Tri City (24-21-2-2) to grab control.
Seattle had trouble getting set up in the Americans’ zone and spent the majority of the five minutes chasing the puck back in their own end. Parker Wotherspoon pressured the Seattle players, stole the puck and sent it up ahead to Beau McCue, who was all alone. McCue raced down the ice and beat Danny Mumaugh with a nice back-handed shot.
The short-handed goal gave Tri City the early lead and was a big blow to the T-Birds’ momentum.
“Our power play was a factor in this game,” Seattle head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. “We get that five minutes, we know that team pressures the points. They got a goal there and that was the difference in the game.”
Throughout the first half of the game the T-Birds struggled to get any real sustained pressure. With about seven minutes left in the second period, however, things began to click. They started generating shots and forcing Comrie to make saves. It appeared that maybe they were going to take the game over.
Tri City doused those flames, though, when Devon McAndrews raced down into the Seattle zone and fired a wrist shot that beat Mumaugh with only 36 seconds left in the period. The goal went against the flow of play and seemed to indicate that it was not going to be Seattle’s night.
“You can’t control those things,” Konowalchuk said of the goal. “You can control the power play and that’s where I’m most upset, that the power play wasn’t there. We need to make them pay there and get that first goal. This team is a good team when they get the first goal and that really turned out to be a factor in the game.”
Seattle would get two more power play chances in the third period and again failed to capitalize. They did keep the pressure on, however, and ended up outshooting the Americans 33-15 over the final two periods. Still, they could not beat Comrie.
“Weren’t sharp, weren’t working hard enough, casual,” Konowalchuk said to summarize the power play and the night in general.
Tri City added a goal in the third from Braden Purtill to build a three-goal lead that felt insurmountable with the way Comrie was playing in net. The T-Birds did not give up, though, and spent the majority of the third period in the Tri City zone. They finally got on the board with just over eight minutes left when Roberts Lipsbergs tipped in an Ethan Bear shot for his 28th goal of the year.
After that the T-Birds had some life and some chances but again were stymied by Comrie.
“Some guys competed, it just wasn’t there for everybody,” Konowalchuk said. “It wasn’t everybody all night, every shift. There were some guys that definitely competed, but in the first period, especially in the second half, some of our skill guys weren’t hard on pucks like we need to be.
“It’s hard to create momentum and you can see when we started to be hard on pucks and play the way we needed to we could get something going…that’s not good enough.”
The T-Birds will now head home for two more games this weekend. Saturday they will try to get back on the winning track as they host the Everett Silvertips and then will take on the WHL’s top team in the Kelowna Rockets on Sunday.
• The win snapped a three game losing streak for the Americans against Seattle. Tri City has now won four games in a row overall as they try to hold onto the eighth spot in the Western Conference.
• Konowalchuk was not sure of Yakubowski’s status after the game but did say that it didn’t sound good. He added they would not know his status for sure until they assessed him Saturday. Yakubowski had recently returned from a previous injury.
• Mathew Barzal moved up to take Yakubowski’s spot on a line with Alex Delnov and Roberts Lipsbergs. The three generated a number of scoring chances and Barzal picked up an assist on Lipsbergs’ goal. It was his first point since returning from injury four games ago.
• The win was the 21st for Comrie. The Americans’ workhorse goalie has now played in 41 of their 49 games.
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