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Special teams scuffling as T-Birds return to Kelowna for Game Five



Seattle’s power play hasn’t been able to solve a tough Kelowna penalty kill (Seattle Thunderbirds)

By Tim Pigulski

After coming out victorious in the first three games of their first round playoff series against the Kelowna Rockets, Seattle was shut out 4-0 in game four, providing their opponent with a glimmer of hope as the series returns to hostile territory tonight.

That small bit of optimism is exactly what the T-Birds hoped to avoid in their unsuccessful attempt to complete the sweep at home. Now, they must return to Prospera Place to face a team that lost only four times at home the entire season. Of course, Seattle has beaten Kelowna twice there already in this series, but at least a small part of those victories can be attributed to playing with nothing to lose against a team that seemingly expected an easy victory.

The Thunderbirds’ lack of an effective power play would likely be a bigger story had it come back to bite them in games one through three as it did in game four. Overall, Seattle is 0-for-18 on the power play in the series, including missing out on all eight of their chances on Wednesday night.

Not only has Seattle been unable to convert, but they haven’t been able to generate very many real opportunities, stymied by a Kelowna penalty kill that finished fifth in the league during the regular season.

If the T-Birds were just able to convert at their regular season clip of 18.7%, they’d have scored approximately three and a half more goals this series. Those three and a half extra points would have made a big difference in a series where the games have been, for the most part, extremely close.

A successful penalty kill likely also helped to mask the dysfunction of the power play, but a large number of penalties finally caught up to Seattle in game four, as we knew they would. After converting only two of their first 14 chances in the series’ first three games, Kelowna went 3-for-7 in game four and their special teams play ended up being the difference maker.

It shouldn’t be forgotten that Seattle is still leading this series by a comfortable margin and need to notch only one more victory, compared to Kelowna’s three, to advance. Seattle has played well in crunch time and the penalty kill, with the exception of game four, has been good as well.

However, Kelowna, with a newfound level of confidence after a big road win, has likely regained their confidence and found some chips in Seattle’s armor. How the teams respond and how the Thunderbirds are able to overcome their deficiencies on the power play will define the rest of the series.

We’ve been waiting to see what might result if the Rockets were able to score a big victory. For a little while it seemed like that may not happen, but it has and it’s up to a young Seattle team, who has shown that they can play with some of the league’s best, to focus on what has gone right in the series and not what caused them to fail in game four.

Follow Tim on Twitter @tpigulski