THUNDERBIRDS

Thunderbirds’ season series with Prince George has seen lopsided victories on both sides

Mar 23, 2016, 4:21 PM | Updated: 4:22 pm
Keegan Kolesar missed last year's playoffs but will be in the lineup against Prince George. (T-Bird...
Keegan Kolesar missed last year's playoffs but will be in the lineup against Prince George. (T-Birds)
(T-Birds)

As Seattle and Prince George prepare for their best-of-seven playoff series, let’s take a look back on how the two teams fared in head-to-head contests during the regular season.

Saturday, Oct. 3: Prince George 1, Seattle 4

The season series started on a positive note for Seattle. Playing in front of a crowd that numbered over 5,000 in their home opener, the T-Birds handily defeated a Prince George team despite being shorthanded. Seattle was missing three of its top forwards in Mathew Barzal (New York Islanders camp), Jamal Watson (playing with the AHL’s St. John’s Ice Caps), and Ryan Gropp (injury).

The depleted lineup, however, was no excuse for the T-Birds.

“I think with the lineup we have right now we can beat any team in the league if we’re playing the right way,” captain Jerret Smith said.

The majority of Seattle’s offense came from its defense, with Smith registering two goals and rookie blueliner Jarret Tyszka scoring his first career WHL goal. Seattle benefited greatly from four power plays, three of which came during the third period and two of which Seattle scored on to put the game away. The T-Birds also managed to stay out of the sin bin, giving Prince George just one advantage.

Logan Flodell, who was named the game’s second star, stopped 27 of the 28 shots that he faced to earn the T-Birds their first win of the season. After a tough opening-night loss that the T-Birds felt they let get away from them, they recovered nicely. Dominant first and third periods gave Seattle an advantage that would eventually earn the T-Birds their first of 45 wins this year.

Tuesday, Dec. 15: Prince George 6, Seattle 2

Seattle was once again significantly shorthanded in its second matchup of the season versus Prince George, this time due to the World Junior Championships, which meant Barzal, Scott Eansor and Alexander True were missing. Without their top three centers, rookies were promoted to the top lines, wings were moved to the middle, and it caused a major shakeup of all of the T-Birds’ lines.

Unlike when they were missing key players in their home opener, the T-Birds didn’t come out on top, getting blown out in front of a Two-for-Tuesday crowd that once again surpassed 5,000.

It was an extremely physical game – one that Prince George is known to play – that saw nine power plays (Seattle was able to convert on just one of its six advantages), three fights and 70 combined penalty minutes.

Head coach Steve Konowalchuk was visibly upset following the loss, determined not to allow the missing players to serve as an excuse for a poor all-around effort.

“Eansor and Barzal not here doesn’t mean other guys can’t compete on pucks,” he said following the loss.

Tuesday, Jan. 12: Seattle 2, Prince George 6

The first head-to-head matchup between the two teams at the CN Centre in Prince George looked much the same as the final matchup at the ShoWare Center. However, Seattle had a nearly full roster this time as Barzal, Eansor and True had all returned from the World Junior Championships.

Seattle once again played to Prince George’s strength, getting caught up in a physical game that again saw nine power plays, six of which again belonged to Seattle, but none that the T-Birds converted on. Keegan Kolesar, one of Seattle’s top forwards and best at playing a hard-nosed game, was lost just 11 seconds into the game when he dropped the mitts with the Cougars’ Colby McAuley in what referees determined was a staged fight.

The T-Birds got down early but managed to tie the game at one late in the first period on Barzal’s 12th goal of the season. However, Prince George came out on fire in both the second and third periods. After giving up an early second-period goal to again go down by one, Seattle may have been able to recover if not for a late-period goal that Konowalchuk seemed to indicate was the deflating tally.

A penalty shot goal by Jansen Harkins and a late shorthanded empty-netter by the Cougars made the score look much worse than it was. The biggest factor in the loss, it seemed, was Seattle’s struggles on the power play. Konowalchuk said in his postgame media scrum that it was due to a lack of shooting, instead waiting for the perfect opportunity, which often doesn’t come.

“We’ve got to shoot (the puck); that’s the bottom line,” he said. “When we set up shots, we’re waiting, holding, and then shooting. We’ve got to be ready to shoot it.”

Wednesday, Jan. 13: Seattle 4, Prince George 0

Just one night later, the T-Birds came back and showed us why they are a team that would eventually go on to win the U.S. Division. Kolesar missed the contest as he was serving his one-game suspension for the staged fight from the night before, but the T-Birds adjusted to his absence just fine.

With the newly-acquired Landon Bow in net, Prince George wasn’t able to put the puck in the net on any of its 26 shots. None of Seattle’s first 19 shots through two periods beat the Cougars’ Ty Edmonds, but the T-Birds kept the pressure on and it eventually paid off.

With the game still scoreless, Seattle began to build some momentum late in the second. That carried over into the third when Cavin Leth, another trade deadline acquisition from Swift Current, got the T-Birds on the board just 13 seconds into the game’s final frame.

It was all positive from there, as Leth scored again 13 minutes and 53 seconds later to make the score 2-0, and then late tallies from Gropp and Jerret Smith turned it into a big 4-0 victory.

Seattle’s penalty kill, which finished the season best in the WHL, allowed zero goals on seven opportunities for the Cougars. Not the ideal situation for Seattle, which would prefer not to play nearly an entire period shorthanded, but Bow’s calming presence in net and a willingness by everyone to get into shooting lanes meant that Prince George’s power play would be stifled.

“It’s a commitment and willingness (to block shots),” Konowalchuk said after the game. “If you want to win bad enough, really that’s all it boils down to.”

It’s clearly been an up-and-down series for both teams, and one that has seen lopsided scores in every game. Seattle won the first matchup despite missing three of its top forwards then lost the next contest without its top three centers, a disadvantage that few teams could overcome.

The third contest between the two teams was no doubt ugly from a Seattle perspective, and can be called one of its worst performances of the season. However, the T-Birds recovered nicely the next evening, handily defeating the Cougars with the roster that they’ll have in the playoffs, including Bow between the pipes.

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Thunderbirds’ season series with Prince George has seen lopsided victories on both sides