By Andrew Eide
KENT — Make it eight in a row.
The Seattle Thunderbirds scored two third period goals to come from behind and beat the defending WHL champion Portland Winterhawks 3-2 in front of 3,705 happy ShoWare Center fans Friday night.
The T-Birds got two more goals from the red hot Branden Troock and 33 saves from Danny Mumaugh to extend their season-high win streak.
Not only did the win extend Seattle’s hot streak, but it marks the first time since the 2010-2011 season that Seattle (20-9-1-3) has beaten its I-5 rivals twice in a row. The T-Birds started their streak with a win against Portland three weeks ago.
Coming into the game, Portland (27-7-2-2) had yet to relinquish a third period lead this season, but Seattle bucked that trend as Justin Hickman and Troock scored in the third to spark a rare comeback against the Winterhawks. Seattle overcame some adversity and gutted their way to the win.
“There’s some good character kids in that locker room right now that are just playing with passion and its kind of contagious,” Steve Konowalchuk said. “It’s different guys every night. That’s what you need to keep things going and give you a chance every night.”
With both teams playing short-handed, the game was a gritty, defensive affair — something you would not expect from two of the top scoring clubs in the league. Portland was missing several key players who were off the World Juniors as was Seattle with Roberts Lipsbergs.
In the second period the T-Birds became more short-handed when Mathew Barzal left with an injury.
“The bench got short in a hurry,” Konowalchuk said. “It was whoever is up go, and I think our guys had fun with it. … Our guys came out in the second and set a good tone there. Just kept playing, we were down for a while there but they kept playing and finally got the tying goal.”
Troock got the T-Birds going in the first period after an aggressive forecheck where he picked up a loose puck in the Portland zone. He quickly fired a shot, got the rebound and put it past Winterhawks’ goalie Brendan Burke for his 14th goal of the year.
Portland went to the power play seven minutes into the first, and while it did not score, it picked up a good deal of momentum and enjoyed the better of the play for the remainder of the opening frame. They tied it up late in the period on Chase Dee Leo’s 20th goal of the year.
Looking to reverse the flow of play the T-Birds came out in the second and turned up their physical game with a couple of big time hits by Jared Hauf and Evan Wardley.
“We were down a few bodies tonight, but we played good for the second and third,” Brendan Troock said. “Haufer really set the tone in the second, on the first shift with that big hit and we just kind of fed off that.”
Feeding off that energy, Seattle played a strong second period, but a big scrum with five minutes left put Portland on the power play. The melee started when Keegan Iverson took a swipe at Hauf after a whistle. Justin Hickman then knocked Iverson over and several players became engaged.
The result was 57 minutes in penalties between both clubs and a Portland power play.
It also meant that both clubs, who were already missing key players, would be even more short-handed. The penalties were costly to the T-Birds, who would have to play without defensemen Wadley and Hauf for extended periods of time.
The Winterhawks wasted no time to take advantage. Dee Leo struck again on the resulting power play and Portland had taken the lead.
The T-Birds kept playing strong to start the final twenty minutes and, despite being short on players, got the equalizer four minutes into it. The play was made by Jerret Smith, who made a nifty move to deke around a Portland defender before whistling a puck to Hickman, who was parked on the door step. Hickman banged it home to tie the game.
“I don’t know, I kind of blacked out during that play,” Smith said of the play. “I just remember going through the legs and I saw Hicks going back door.”
Hickman didn’t waste any time when he got the pass, and it was the second straight game against Portland that he scored a big game-tying goal in the third period.
Playing with a depleted forward group, the T-Birds starting double shifting guys and kept pushing.
“The main thing you want to do there is take short shifts,” Troock said. “You know you’re going to get a lot of ice time when we’re down that many guys. Just keep it real simple, you don’t want to get caught out there too long.”
Three minutes later they drew a power play after Portland’s Adam Rossingol was called for slashing. Shea Theodore then flung the puck towards the net where it was deflected by Troock for the go-ahead goal. It was Troock’s second on the night and his 15th on the year.
Seattle’s defense then clamped down on Portland. Despite having 76 goals missing from their lineup, they still had guys like De Leo and Branden Leipsic, which makes them tough. But the Seattle defense stood strong.
There were many strong performances on defense, but Smith seemed to find himself one-on-one with the shifty Leipsic on several occasions. Each time he made the play.
“He’s ‘steady Eddie’ back there,” Konowalchuk said of Smith. “He’s so smart, good position, wins the battles, moves the puck out. He and Theo are a good compliment for each other. Our D had a strong second and third.”
With eight straight wins in their pocket Seattle now travels to the Rose City to take on the Winterhawks again on Saturday night. Getting win No. 9 won’t be easy as it will be Portland’s Teddy Bear Night and there will be a loud and excited sold out crowd.
The T-Birds have not faired well in Portland, losing the two games played there by a combined score of 20-6. How will they improve on that this time?
“We have to bring the passion that we’ve been bringing for the last eight games. We have to make sure that we bring it from the start,” Konowalchuk said about Saturday’s rematch.
• Rookie Calvin Spencer made his Seattle and WHL debut Friday night. With the guys Seattle had missing, he logged a good deal of ice time and was impressive. He displayed good speed, high energy, drew a penalty and got off a few sharp looking shots.
• Jaimen Yakubowski and Ethan Bear were scratched from the lineup as both players suffered injuries in Tuesday’s game against Tri City.
• Scott Eansor started the third period wearing sweater No. 26 with no name plate on it. Konowalchuk praised his young shutdown center, saying that he was playing so hard that he threw up on his regular No. 8 sweater and needed a replacement jersey.
• While Seattle will try to make it three straight wins against Portland Saturday night, they have a ways to go to match their best run against their rivals. The T-Birds won 10 straight games against the Winterhawks in the 1990-1991 season. That Portland team featured a rookie forward named Steve Konowalchuk.
• Konowalchuk did not know the severity of Barzal’s injury but if he can not go the T-Birds will have to juggle their lines again on Saturday.
Follow Andrew Eide on Twitter @andyeide.