By Andrew Eide
The T-Birds stunned the Kelowna Rockets 2-1 Saturday night to take a commanding two game lead in their first round Western Conference playoff series. Like Friday night they had to do it by working overtime and won it when Alex Delnov scored his first playoff goal 2:41 into the extra frame.
Unlike last night’s up and down game, this one was a gritty, tight-checking affair that Seattle again came from behind to win.
This was supposed to be a mismatch. Kelowna had earned 50 more points during the regular season and had scored nearly 100 more goals. But things do actually reset in the post season and now the heavily favored Rockets have to return to Seattle wondering what has happened to their promising season.
“It was a tough fought hockey game,” Seattle coach Steve Konowalchuk said. “They (Kelowna) played a really, really smart game and made us earn every inch on the ice.”
Both teams made it physically tough to find any space on the ice. The game was a grinder type game that epitomizes playoff hockey — and Seattle managed to win many of the physical battles. Both teams struggled to find offense in the first period as they each managed three shots a piece, a far cry from the high flying game the night before.
Seattle played tight defense and kept the always dangerous Rockets from getting loose.
“As good as a team as they are we did a good job getting our third man high which stopped any odd man rushes,” Konowalchuk said.
Did that kind of game favor the underdog T-Birds? Konowalchuk wasn’t sure if it did or not.
“I don’t know what kind of game favors us against them,” he said. “We just want to have fun. We just want to be in position in the third period to give us a chance to win the game.”
Seattle got that chance but only after the Rockets scored the game’s first goal in the second period. Seattle defensemen Jesse Forsberg and Jared Hauf teamed up to blast Rockets forward Henrik Nyberg but failed to stop him from scooting the puck to rookie Cole Linaker. With both Seattle defensemen out of the play Linaker walked in on Brandon Glover alone and made a nice move to beat him.
The Rockets had their lead, just like they did in game one on Friday.
In the third period they pushed for a second goal but could not crack Glover, who made 21 saves on the night. After a sprawling save by Glover the T-Birds took the puck down ice and Jared Hauf fired a wrist shot through traffic that beat Jordon Cooke and tied the game. Seattle has consistently fought back from deficits in the last two weeks, showing great resiliency and confidence.
“We just have to have fun,” Konowalchuk said, which has been his mantra this series. “We want to continue to work hard, they have such a good team there so we’ll take it.
The tight checking continued and the two teams needed extra time for the second straight night. Friday night they needed 19 extra minutes to decide it — this time only a couple.
Jesse Forsberg made a pin point pass to Delnov who was on the door step and knocked home an easy goal to win it and spark another exuberant celebration on the Prospera Place ice surface.
The T-Birds have done more than just steal home ice advantage away from the Rockets, they have taken command of the series. The series now shifts to the ShoWare Center for two games with Seattle having a chance to wrap up the series.
“We’re not even thinking about being able to wrap it up,” Konowalchuk said with a chuckle. “We’re just going to enjoy this bus ride home, we didn’t get that much time to do so last night.”
Konowalchuk has his team playing loose and with a ton of confidence. Being the underdog has relieved them of all pressure, a pressure that is now squarely on the shoulders of the Rockets — who were supposed to walk through Seattle in this series. With two big wins the T-Birds bus’s wheels may not touch the road on the way home.
Jared Hauf’s third period goal was his first goal of the season. He tallied 11 assists on the year and had two goals last season. He certainly saved his first for the biggest moment.
Delnov’s winner was also his first playoff goal.
Seattle struggled in overtime during the regular season, losing a league high seven times. They now have won two straight overtime games in the playoffs? The difference? Confidence is a part of it but it may also be that playoff overtimes are played five-on-five and there is no threat of a shoot out.
WHL seventh seeds are now a combined 4-0 so far in the playoffs.
Jesse Forsberg is quietly having a real good playoff series. He has scored four points and is a plus three in the first two games.
You can catch highlights of the game from Kelowna’s web site here.