T-Birds continue hot streak with 2-1 win over Portland, take sole possession of first place
KENT – The Seattle Thunderbirds continue to win as the WHL playoffs approach.
Saturday night they outlasted a game Portland Winterhawks club 2-1 to win their seventh straight contest. Ethan Bear and Nolan Volcan provided the offense and Landon Bow turned away 32 shots for his fifth straight win.
It was a playoff type game that was tight checking, hard hitting and featured some big saves by both goalies. It wasn’t the cleanest game for Seattle but the win clinched a playoff spot and put the T-Birds two points up on Everett for first place in the U.S. Division.
“The bottom line is to find wins this time of year,” head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. “I don’t know that it was our prettiest game at times.”
Pretty wins don’t count any more in the standings than grinding games do and Seattle has turned in two straight tight wins on the weekend.
The T-Birds were able to put an emotional win Friday behind them and start Saturday’s game with good energy.
“We just wiped it out right off the bat,” Scott Eansor said. “We celebrated it last night and came today with a business attitude. The guys stepped it up again.”
Eansor was front and center on Saturday as his line – with Volcan and Donovan Neuls – was Seattle’s best of the night. They were tasked with shutting down Portland’s top line that featured its leading scorer Dominic Turgeon.
“Obviously they’re skilled players,” Volcan said. “You can’t give them that much space but I thought we did a pretty good job and kept their chances to a minimum.”
Eansor was a pest all night as well. He played with a ton of energy and the three players caused trouble with their forecheck and were able to possess the puck for long stretches.
Playing against Turgeon is nothing new for Eansor as the two grew up together in Colorado.
“He’s one of my best friends and we go way back,” Eansor said about the Portland star. “Once we’re on the ice it’s business like and we’re enemies and once we’re off the ice we’re friends again.”
The Turgeon line didn’t score and Eansor’s line ended up scoring the game-winning goal.
Midway through the second period with the score tied at one, Eansor won a face off that Neuls tapped back to Volcan. From the top of the circle, Volcan fired a wrist shot past Winterhawks’ goalie Adin Hill.
It was Volcan’s 15th of the season as his strong second half continues.
“I really started going and got injured,” Volcan said. “It did take a while to get back and finally I feel like I’m playing my game right now.”
Seattle struck first on a power-play goal from Bear. He fired a slap shot from the left circle that beat Hill cleanly.
The T-Birds tilted the ice for the majority of the period but Portland gained a little bit of late momentum when they ripped off four shots on a power-play chance of their own.
That carried into the second period and the Winterhawks would manage to tie it up. Rihards Bukarts made a nice individual play when he walked around a defender and waited Bow out to score his 26th of the season.
The third period turned into a tight checking affair that saw both clubs come close a few times but not score.
“It was kind of a weird game because there were definitely three or four chances where we could have got that two-goal lead,” Konowalchuk said. “On the flip side they had some chances as well to maybe tie the game. It was just one of those games where both goalies played well.”
Seattle will now move on to Kennewick to complete their second three-in-three weekend in a row Sunday night. Throw in the Tuesday night game they played and the Thunderbirds will have played seven games in ten days.
That’s a lot of hockey and Seattle will have to find a way to muster up some energy for Sunday’s affair against the Tri City Americans.
“Nutrition and sleep,” Eansor said about preparing. “It puts you ahead in the game to do the right thing away from the rink. We’re really making sure that everyone’s doing everything they can to make sure they have as high as energy as possible.”
• Mathew Barzal extended his point streak to 13 games with an assist on the Bear goal. He also missed on two Grade A opportunities late in the game that surely he wishes he had back.
• Late in the third period the Everett score was announced over the PA. Some coaches don’t want out of town scores announced but Konowalchuk said he didn’t mind. Volcan admitted that he heard it and that it gave the team some energy. Eansor heard it but preferred not to have. “Personally I’d rather not hear that,” he said. “But I think it gave our teammates a little bit of energy and jump. You could hear some guys on the bench were pretty excited after they heard it.”
• Seattle’s seven-game win streak is its longest of the season. They have also 11 out of their last 12 and 13 of their last 17.
• Konowalchuk wouldn’t commit to a goalie for Sunday’s game. Bow has played the first two games this weekend but the team will have a week off after tomorrow. Last weekend, Flodell got the Sunday start after Bow played Friday and Saturday.
Follow Andy Eide on Twitter @andyeide.