Seattle defenseman Jerret Smith takes down Phillip Tot during the T-Birds 4-2 victory Saturday (photo Seattle Thunderbirds)
By Andrew Eide
KENT – The Thunderbirds returned home after six straight road games and beat the Tri City Americans 4-2 Saturday night. The victory extended their current win streak to five straight games. The T-Birds got two goals from Roberts Lipsbergs while Danny Mumaugh made 22 saves to pick up his fourth win on the year.
The T-Birds showed no hang over from the exciting win in Kelowna on Friday as they dominated the first period, picking up the first eight shots and scoring twice.
“It was fun,” head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. “We rolled the lines, we rolled the D, it was a huge part of it. It was 57 minutes of good hockey.”
Seattle (8-2-0-0) going going with their top line. Their first goal started with Roberts Lipsbergs delivering a big hit on the forecheck which freed up the puck to Justin Hickman. Hickman flung it to Mathew Barzal who tapped it back to Lipsbergs for the easy tip in score. That play displayed the kind of chemistry those three guys have been developing since training camp.
The T-Birds kept the pressure on and would have completely dominated the opening period if not for a couple of penalties that gave the Americans some life on the power play,.Despite getting that advantage Tri City could not generate much and when they did Danny Mumaugh was there to shut the door.
“We got in late last night so we knew we had to come out ready to go against a hungry team,” Justin Hickman said about the first period. “Our start was pretty key.”
Konowalchuk was pleased with the way his club came out firing on Saturday night.
“They were ready to go,” he said. “It was another challenge, it was a very emotional win last night. We got in at five in the morning and I was interested to see how committed our guys were going to be to get focused, but they came out and were ready to go.”
Seattle got on the board just before the first period horn as newcomer Adam Henry scored his first as a T-Bird when his slapper from the point beat Comrie with two seconds left in the period. It was Henry’s first game in ShoWare Center and his second with the club after being traded from a team that is in last place. Needless to say he is excited to be playing for a first place team now.
“I’d say excited is an understatement,” the defenseman said. “I’m flying pretty sky high right now and feeling great. I’ve been having a lot of fun since I’ve got here, the two games we’ve played have been great. I’m just trying to stay level headed, not get too comfy and working hard.”
The second period was more of the same. Tri City did manage an early push but Mumaugh met every challenge they threw at him. The T-Birds extended their lead just as a power play was ending when Shea Theodore picked up a loose puck at the blue line and fired a deadly wrist shot that found the top corner of the Tri City net – his fourth goal of the season.
When the third period got going Seattle picked right up where they left off. They continued to pressure the Americans on the forecheck, turned the puck over and got chances on Comrie. The Tri City goalie ended the night with 36 saves on the night and kept the game from getting completely out of hand.
Tri City got on the board in the third however while skating with the extra attacker on a delayed penalty call as Beau McCue found the back of the net. That goal cut the lead to two with plenty of time left and gave the Americans a glimmer of hope to come back.
Seattle put that hope to rest though when Roberts Lipsbergs scored his second of the game, on the power play, and gave Seattle their three goal advantage back. From there it was academic, despite a late Tri City goal from Connor Rankin and the T-Birds wrapped up their eighth win.
“The guys were predictable and all on the same page,” Konowalchuk said of the win. “North-South hockey, I think in the neutral zone we put it right back on their D. We had a lot of scoring chances and I thought we deserved to score more than four but it was a good game by their goalie, Comrie.”
The team is playing with a high level of confidence that was expressed by the coach and the players afterwards.
“It’s just believing more and more,” Konowalchuk said. “The guys started the last month of the season and through the playoffs are carrying that forward, they’re a year better, a year older and they can start doing it more. We have some really good young players that are playing some good hockey for us as well.”
A smiling Roberts Lipsbergs summed it up nicely saying simply “I think we have a lot of confidence.”
Seattle will try to make it six in a row Wednesday night as they head North to Kamloops to take on the Blazers.
Seattle is in first place in the U.S. Division, but not by a whole lot. The division is clogged at the top and winning these division games is huge for the T-Birds. “What a division,” Konowalchuk said afterwards. “Every time you look at the scoreboard you see Spokane winning, Everett winning and Portland is going to win, they’re going to be a good team. It (winning in the division) is huge.”
Henry was excited to score a goal in his first home game and he said afterwards that he was “amazed” with the atmosphere in the ShoWare Center. Just wait until he plays in his first two-for-Tuesday game.
The Hickman-Barzal-Lipsbergs line was Seattle’s best line again Saturday night. Lipsbergs scored twice and was set up by both his line mates on each one.
The T-Birds continue to get solid play in net and Saturday Danny Mumaugh was good again. So far this year the team has alternated starts between he and Justin Myles. Both players have been good and are answering what was a question coming into the season. They both have quietly raised their save percentages to similar points — Mumaugh’s is at .909 and Myles is at .902.
Tri City’s Brian Williams had torched Seattle in their first two meetings – scoring five goals. Saturday he was kept in check and was invisible for most of the game.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide