Justin Hickman beats Everett’s Austin Lotz for a shorthanded goal in Seattle’s 3-2 win (Christopher Mast)
By Andrew Eide
EVERETT — Friday night, in Everett, the Seattle Thunderbirds picked up where they left off before the holidays. Playing the first of two games against the Everett Silvertips, the T-Birds got a late second period goal by Sam McKechnie and relied on 36 saves from Justin Myles to steer home a 3-2 win against their rivals.
It was Seattle’s (22-10-1-3) 10th win in their last 11 games and was a big one considering the clogged U.S. Division standings. Seattle played a strong opening period only to see the Silvertips control the second and had to hold on in the third to secure the win.
“There were parts I really liked about the game and then there were parts we’ve got to work on,” Steve Konowalchuk said. “I thought in the first period we came out with the energy and passion that our team needs to play with and I think that probably ended up carrying us for the win.”
Myles was the big story for the T-Birds as he made big save after big save to keep Everett (22-11-4-0) from taking a lead. As good as the goalie was, Seattle got a big save from an unlikely source late to get the win.
Everett got a late power play and pulled goalie Austin Lotz to create a six-on-four advantage. With just seconds left in the game the Silvertips crashed the Seattle net and Tyler Sandhu had the puck with a wide open T-Birds net. Sandhu took a shot and defenseman Evan Wardley flung his body across the slot to block the shot and preserve the lead.
“We got off to a good lead, they came out in the second, they weren’t going to quit,” Myles said. “Our team played well to the end, we really stuck with it…Wards with a big block at the end to save the game there.”
The T-Birds built a lead after starting the game hitting everything in sight. Every shift it seemed like they were looking for a Silvertips player to hit. That set the early tone and the T-Birds were getting chances.
“That’s our game,” Konowalchuk said. “We have to play physical as a team. We’ve got some pretty good speed and pretty good size, we’ve got to use it.”
They out shot Everett 13-10 in the first period and got on the board first.
While short-handed Justin Hickman stole the puck at his own blue line and was off to the races. Breaking in on goal he made a nice move to get Lotz going in the wrong direction and roofed a back hander for his 12th goal of the year.
The Silvertips pushed back and tied the game when Carson Stadnyk crashed in on net and beat Myles. Stadnyk scored and didn’t stop, running over Myles, knocking the goaltender down and dislodging his mask. A scrum ensued and Stadnyk was assessed a penalty. Despite the hit, Myles was not rattled.
“I was OK,” he said of the play. “Kind of lost my stick, I was kind of confused by that. It was in the far corner but I was OK. My teammates did a good job sticking up for me.”
Seattle got their lead back five minutes later on a nice play by Alex Delnov who worked the puck up ice and hit a trailing Shea Theodore who got Lotz down and scored his 14th goal into an empty net.
The second period was not a good one for the T-Birds.
The Silvertips game is to clog up the neutral zone and force turnovers. They were able to dictate their style in the second and the T-Birds turned the puck over while struggling to get any consistent offensive pressure. Everett ended the period out shooting Seattle 15-4.
“As good as I liked our first I didn’t like our second at all,” Konowalchuk said. “I guess give them credit, they responded but we didn’t manage the puck at all in the second period, turnovers put us on our heels. They’re good at clogging the neutral zone that’s why, when you get the opportunity to get it in when you get in the red, you’ve got to get it in, we didn’t.
We did have time to get it in…but we shot ourselves in the foot in the second period.”
By controlling the play Everett forced the T-Birds into a couple of penalties and tied the game when Jujhar Khaira fired home a rebound on the power play for the Silvertips.
Just when it looked like Everett was taking the game over the T-Birds got their lead back just before the second period horn.
Seth Swenson broke up an Everett pass in the Seattle end and headed up ice with McKechnie on a two-on-one break. He feathered a nice saucer pass to McKechnie who deked Lotz and scored what would be the game winning goal with 33 seconds left in the period.
Despite only getting four shots in the second, Seattle managed to get their one-goal lead back.
“No doubt about it, big goal,” Konowalchuk said. “You know, they’re coming on pretty strong, we needed some good goaltending there and to get a late goal…after not playing a good second to get another goal lead, that’s definitely big.”
Seattle managed to right the ship somewhat in the third and Myles, and Wardley, made all the stops needed to get the big win.
The win gave the T-Birds the same number of points as Everett in the Western Conference standings and now Seattle has a chance to move ahead with a win at home on Saturday. With both teams missing key players this becomes a huge stretch for both as the U.S. Division continues to be tough.
Both teams were missing important players. Everett was without leading scorer Josh Winquist who is nursing an injury. They also missed Manraj Hayer, to an injury, and defenseman Mirco Mueller who is at the World Junior Championships.
Seattle was without Connor Honey, Mathew Barzal, Ethan Bear, Jaimen Yakubowski and Keegan Kolesar. Konowalchuk said that they were optimistic that Honey was close to coming back and that Barzal was week-to-week.
The power play struggled for Seattle as they went 0-for-5 on the night.
Justin Myles picked up his first career win at the Comcast Arena in Everett last season. After the win Friday he is now 2-0 in that buildilng.
The game Friday was the eighth December game Seattle has played within the division. They have gone 7-1 in that stretch and will look to make it 8-1 Saturday night.
Everett is the WHL’s best team when it comes to suppressing shots. They average just under 25 shots allowed a game and while it looked like Seattle was going to best that with 13 first period shots, they managed to keep it under their average. The T-Birds only managed eight shots in the final two periods for a total of 21 on the game.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide