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Thunderbirds third-period comeback falls short against the Royals

Seattle's Matthew Wedman sets a screen in front of Victoria Royals goalie Brock Gould (Jay Wallace photo)

The Thunderbirds were back at it in Victoria Wednesday night and faced many of the same struggles that plagued them on Tuesday.

Unlike Tuesday’s contest, the Royals took advantage while the Thunderbirds were not able to generate the same timely scoring that got them a win in the first game of the two-game stint at the Save On Foods Memorial Arena.

Victoria got a couple of power-play goals while out shooting Seattle 39-25 on its way to a 5-3 victory over the Thunderbirds.

“We do our best work down low, below their goal line and we didn’t get it there as much as we needed to,” Seattle head coach Matt O’Dette said. “I thought it was a little better tonight but not good enough to win.”

Seattle (20-25-5-1) got two goals from Andrej Kukuca and 34 saves from Roddy Ross but struggled with the puck for portions of the game. The Royals were paced by a hat trick from Phillp Schultz and by going 2-for-3 on the power-play to snap a two-game losing streak against the Thunderbirds.

Down 3-1 to start the third a key moment in the game came when Kukuca scored his first of the night when he fired his own rebound past Gould. That cut the lead down to one but the Thunderbirds were not able to gain any momentum off the score. A loose puck deep in the Seattle end, just 10 seconds later, was scooped up by Dino Kambeitz, who would score his eighth of the year and gave the Royals their two-goal lead back.

“That was huge,” O’Dette said. “Shifts after goals are important. They like to dump pucks in and try to win races and beat the icing. That’s what happened. Our D weren’t fleet of foot enough on that one and we got beat to the puck and then beat to the net.”

Kukuca would score again, on a Seattle power play with just under three minutes left but Schultz would complete the hat trick, and squash any hope for a comeback, with an empty net score as the clock ran down.

The third was Seattle’s best period as it was able to get the game to within a goal on two separate occasions and is one positive to take from Wednesday.

“It’s almost too little too late,” O’Dette said of the third period. “We cranked up a little in the third. We tried to make a push and tie the game. I thought that fourth goal was somewhat of a back breaker but we still didn’t quit. We got that power-play goal and had two minutes with the goalie out. We couldn’t get anything to the net.”

Things started well for the Thunderbirds as Henrik Rybinski got them on the board 47 seconds into the game. After picking up the puck at the blue line, Rybinski fought his way through a check to poke his third of the season, and second as a Thunderbird, past goalie Brock Gould.

Victoria (26-21-1-2) would then capitalize on a Seattle penalty as Schultz scored his ninth of the year at 17:09 by putting back a rebound after a Ross save. Kaid Oliver would give the Royals the lead for the first time in the game at 3:52 of the second when he converted another power-play chance with his 21st marker.

“We’re obviously taking some penalties and right now our penalty kill is struggling a little bit,” O’Dette added. “When that happens you have to avoid the unnecessary penalties. It’s what we talk about all the time with momentum, you want to manage it properly I thought we had some good momentum when we took that first penalty and that can derail the momentum you have going.”

Schultz would add to the lead with an even-strength goal at 6:27 into the period when he found room in the high slot and wired a wrist shot that Ross couldn’t find. That made it 3-1 heading into the third period.

The Thunderbirds were again playing without defenseman Jarret Tyszka, who is dealing with an injury suffered in Everett Saturday night. That resulted in relying on a young defensive group, only one of which is 18-years-old.

That youth showed at times as the Thunderbirds had some issues clearing pucks and coverage in their own zone.

“It’s a lot of minutes for young guys,” O’Dette said. “We’ve got 17-year-olds playing 30 minutes and 16-year-olds playing 20-plus. That’s not ideal but those guys are playing hard.”

The Thunderbirds will head home after earning a road split against a team that is ahead of them in the standings. They will begin a stretch of five games at home beginning Friday night against the Portland Winterhawks.

“The splits OK, but getting the first two points, we wanted to get the second two,” O’Dette said of the two games. “It’s better than coming home empty handed, put it that way.”

Notes

• O’Dette said Tyszka’s status for the upcoming weekend was still in question. He is being evaluated and the team is still waiting to see how he progresses.

• The Thunderbirds remain in a playoff position despite the loss on Wednesday. They are a point ahead of the Kamloops Blazers but the Blazers now have a game in hand.

• Seattle’s power-play has struggled at times this year but in the two games against Victoria scored on two of its three opportunities.

• Schultz’ hat trick was the first in his career and the rookie import from Denmark raised his goal total to 11 on the season.