Thunderbirds pick up 3-2 overtime win to take early series lead over Prince George
The Seattle Thunderbirds opened their first-round playoff series against the Prince George Cougars Friday with a bit more drama than they’d like.
After dominating the Cougars in the third period, and taking a 2-1 lead, they allowed a game-tying goal to Prince George’s Jansen Harkins with just 29 seconds left. It was only the Cougars’ second shot of the period and would send the game into overtime.
The T-Birds didn’t let that goal get them down, however, and shot the game-winner from their third line 11 minutes into the extra time. Cavin Leth spun and fired a shot from the slot that may have hit a player in front and snuck by Prince George goalie Ty Edmonds.
“It was kind of a lucky bounce,” Leth said. “It was the end of the shift and I just spun and put the puck on net. I’m not sure if it was one of our guys who tipped it or one of their guys, but it’s a really good feeling.”
There was some confusion after the game as to whom the goal should be credited to and scorekeepers officially determined that Andreas Schumacher got a piece of it. That may still change as more video is reviewed. Either way, the goal counted and gave the T-Birds a 3-2 overtime victory and a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
The goal ended a dominating 30-minute stretch by the T-Birds. They outshot the visiting Cougars 31-6 in the third period and overtime, and if not for 47 saves from Edmonds, Seattle may not have needed all the dramatics.
“That’s playoff hockey,” Seattle head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. “It’s never going to be easy. You’ve got to work, work, work. That team kept working, it was a great game.”
Prince George took the lead in the second period as they cashed in on a power play when Jesse Gabrielle fired a shot from the circle. That lead stood until late in the frame when Donovan Neuls picked up his first playoff goal from the slot.
“It was a really good play by Schumacher and True,” Neuls said of the goal. “They worked the puck down low. I had just come off the bench and True found me in the slot and got a shot on net, and it just went in.”
It was another strong night for Neuls and his linemates – Scott Eansor and Nolan Volcan. They shut down Prince George’s top line while playing even strength. However, Neuls deferred to a different line as the best one of the night, saying Alexander True’s line was Seattle’s best.
Schumacher, True and Leth were a force for the T-Birds, playing physical all night. They created a number of scoring chances while ending the night to combine for two goals, five assists and a plus-8 rating.
“They had a big night for us,” Konowalchuk said. “They’re hounds on the puck, tenacious, work their butts off. It was good to see them get rewarded.”
They were rewarded in the third period when they crashed the net and started banging away at the puck in front of Edmonds. True got his stick on one and found the net to give Seattle what appeared to be the game-winning tally.
“I got a lucky bounce in front of the net,” True said. “I took a shot and it bounced out and I just started digging and it went in.”
As time wound down in the third period the Cougars were given a power play on a late call. They pulled Edmonds to get a six-on-four advantage and it paid off.
Harkins got behind the Seattle defense at the blue line and beat Landon Bow with a top-shelf shot.
“We didn’t get over the penalty kill,” Konowalchuk said of the play. “They made a nice play on the entry. We gave them a breakaway and he made a nice shot.”
That goal sent the game into overtime, but it didn’t seem to affect Seattle’s confidence or momentum.
As they have over the last couple of months of the year, they kept to their game plan and were once again rewarded.
“As soon as they scored, on the bench we were just staying as calm as we could,” Neuls said. “We knew we just needed to grind it out for another 20 minutes or how long it was going to take.”
There has been a lot of talk about depth coming into this series. The Cougars did a good job of shutting down Seattle’s leading scorer Mathew Barzal, but by doing that, they got beat by the rest of the T-Birds lineup.
“You need everybody in the playoffs,” Konowalchuk said. “You know they’re going to key on certain guys. We’re going to do the same thing at times. You need to count on everybody and you need guys to step up.”
Seattle can take a deep breath and know that it escaped a near-miss on Friday, but return on Saturday night for Game 2 ready to play an even more desperate Prince George club.
The Cougars will not want to fall behind two games in the series and the T-Birds will have to be prepared.
“A win in the playoffs is a win in the playoffs,” Konowalchuk said. “We’ve got to make sure we put the emotions behind us and get ready for tomorrow.”
Face off Saturday is at 7 pm at the ShoWare Center
The T-Birds were without Ryan Gropp on Friday night as he continues to nurse an injury that forced him to miss the last three games of the season. Konowalchuk said it was “unlikely” he would play Saturday.
Bow ended the night with 21 saves to earn his first career postseason win. His only other playoff experience came last season with the Swift Current Broncos, but they were swept in the first round.
Friday night’s win was the fourth year in a row that the T-Birds have won Game 1 of a first-round playoff series. They are 1-2 in the previous three series.
In the other U.S. Divison playoff series, the Everett Silvertips shut out the Portland Winterhawks 3-0 to take a 1-0 series lead.