Seattle’s Jared Hauf attempts to block a shot during the T-Birds 4-0 loss to Kelowna (Seattle Thunderbirds)
By Andrew Eide
KENT — What a difference a night makes. The Thunderbirds had a chance to wrap up their first round WHL playoff series with the Kelowna Rockets only to stumble and lose 4-0. The Rockets scored three first period power play goals, two of them by Tyson Baillie, and never looked back to keep their playoff hopes alive.
“We didn’t compete enough,” head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. “We didn’t have enough guys competing so that’s when we have to regroup and look in the mirror. We don’t focus on the results, we focus on our compete level and it wasn’t good enough today.”
A night after Seattle won an exciting and emotional overtime game, they came out flat from the start. Playing in front of a smaller crowd there just wasn’t enough intensity from the opening face off and throughout the game.
“I tell you what, it looked and felt like we were a little emotionally drained today,” Konowalchuk said. “We have to play with emotion, that team’s too good for us to go out and just go through the motions. We have to have emotions, we have to have in check though, we can’t cross the line and we need a lot of enthusiasm. We didn’t have that and they did.”
The lackluster energy led to some undisciplined play and costly penalties. They gave the Rockets five first period power play chances, including an extended two-man advantage and Kelowna’s highly ranked power play finally made them pay.
“We were undisciplined,” Konowalchuk said. “We were undisciplined and they capitalized. We weren’t as aggressive, partly because we took so many penalties, it’s hard to be aggressive. They executed well, when you take that many penalties it’s hard to play on your toes.”
Baillie got the first goal, the second and Myles Bell picked up the third, all in a span of three minutes and all on the power play. Unlike the past three games the T-Birds were not able to recover and fight back. Staked to a lead Kelowna clamped down on Seattle and gave them no room for the next two periods.
The Rockets held a 31-11 advantage in shots after 40 minutes and the game was essentially over.
The T-Birds got a better push in the third and had some good solid chances to score on Kelowna goalie Jordan Cooke but he was up the task — picking up his first career playoff win and shutout. The T-Birds slim comeback hopes were dashed when Zach Franko beat Brandon Glover with just under five minutes left in the third.
“Coming into the third we knew that we had to keep playing if we were going to come back in the game,” Luke Lockhart said. “Even if it didn’t work out there’s another game, Game 5, so we really wanted to set the tone for that.”
Despite the shutout the T-Birds had their chances to claw back in the game. They were awarded the last five power plays of the game but as the case has been all series, couldn’t cash in.
“We have to start moving the puck quick,” Lockhart said of the T-Birds power play. “Just getting pucks to the net, everyone going in there set to play and start banging in a greasy one.”
Seattle has yet to score a power play goal in the series and had ample opportunities to do so on Wednesday as they went 0-for-8 on the night — something they will need to improve on as they have not looked sharp at all. They are now 0-for-18 on the power play for the series.
“One, we have to win more battles,” Konowalchuk said about the struggling power play. “Two, we have to shoot the puck. When you get teams that pressure, if you win the initial one-on-one battle you can really put them in trouble. We’re not doing that enough. At other times it’s just get it back to the point and shoot it with traffic. We’re not doing that, we’re looking for better plays. They’re too good of a penalty kill for that, we have to shoot the puck.”
The T-Birds may have been emotionally wiped out from the big win the night before and will have two days to recharge the batteries and get back to playing loose and desperate hockey — the kind of game that built their three game lead.
In the end the T-Birds lost this game in the first period when they came out without a lot of emotion. They have two days to regroup and rekindle the fire they showed in the first three games of the series. They are still in command and the pressure should still be squarely on the Rockets shoulders, as they have no room for error.
Game 5 will be in Kelowna on Saturday night at 7:05.
After being heavily out shot in the first 40 minutes Seattle out shot Kelowna 14-6 in the third. Can that carry over into Game 5?
Seattle wasn’t horrible when playing five-on-five Wednesday. Kelowna again didn’t give them enough room but they had their chances to get back in the game. The early penalties really put them on their heels and disrupted their lines, keeping key offensive players off the ice for long stretches of time. It’s hard to get in a rhythm when that happens.
A night after drawing over 6,000 fans the attendance dipped to 2,559 and the atmosphere in the building was flat. Konowalchuk mentioned that the team needs to generate their own energy on nights like that but they weren’t able to do that. He was hopeful that the fans would come out for their next home games.
If Kelowna extends the series on Saturday Game 6 would be back at the ShoWare Center on Tuesday, April 2nd.
Seattle’s second first round pick from last year, Keegan Kolesar, was in the building to take in the game. Tim Pigulski chatted with him so check back for that story.
Former T-Birds center Brendan Rouse has been at both games this week to watch his former mates play.