T-Birds get back in win column with 3-1 victory over Portland
KENT – After two lopsided losses to their most bitter rivals, the Seattle Thunderbirds were able to exact a small amount of revenge on Friday.
The T-Birds built a lead and hung on to beat the Portland Winterhawks 3-1 at the ShoWare Center. Seattle got goals from Nolan Volcan and Ethan Bear along with 32 Rylan Toth saves as it snapped a three-game losing streak.
“That was a big confidence booster for all of us,” captain Scott Eansor said. “I think for us it was a confidence thing. It was only one win and obviously a long season and we have a big match up tomorrow.”
Seattle (3-4-0-1) had dropped its first two games with their southern rivals by a combined score of 13-4 but the T-Birds were able to correct what had plagued them in those losses.
A big turning point in Friday’s game came in the second period with Seattle up 2-0. The T-Birds took a penalty, and their beleaguered penalty kill took the ice to face a Winterhawks’ power play that had already notched six goals against them in two previous games.
Things looked bad as Portland’s Sklyer McKenzie potted a back-door goal to cut the lead on yet another power-play goal against. Moments after that, the T-Birds took another penalty and the Winterhawks were right back on the power play.
It felt as if the T-Birds were tempting fate.
This time, however, the T-Birds would kill it off. They didn’t allow Portland (8-5-0-0) to set up in the zone and didn’t allow many chances as the penalty expired without any harm done.
“We gave up the one but after that we shut the door on the penalty kill and that was huge,” Thunderbirds head coach Steve Konowalchuk said.
Seattle killed off one more Portland power play on the night and hope that it has taken a positive step.
“We have some of the best penalty killers in the league in my opinion,” said Eansor, a key penalty killer. “Last year we were No. 1 and to slip like we have this year is not good. That’s up to me and a few other guys, we’ve got to get our stuff together, I think that kill was a big start.”
Seattle got on the board first Friday under a strange circumstance.
With the T-Birds buzzing and Portland goalie Cole Kehler down, Volcan blasted a shot into what appeared to be a wide open net. The officials waved it off initially, thinking it hit the cross bar, and play went on. A few moments later, while the puck was still in play, the video review judge saw something and sounded the horn to stop play.
A quick review showed that the puck clearly hit the net under the cross bar and Volcan was awarded his third of the season.
“I couldn’t really see but he was pretty confident,” Eansor said of his line mate. “We thought they would blow it down right away. I was pretty tired so I was just happy to get off the ice there.”
Eansor’s line, along with Volcan and Donovan Neuls, again shut down an opponent’s top line. This time it was a line that featured a ton of speed and the league’s top scorer, Cody Glass. Seattle’s shut-down line did just that as Glass was held off the score sheet and ended the night with a minus-1 rating.
“Every competitor likes to play against good players,” Eansor said. “That Glass line has had a strong start (to the season) and it was fun tonight to match up against them.”
Seattle’s struggling power play would also show some life later in the period as it built on its lead. After a faceoff win by Eansor, the puck was moved to Bear at the blue line and he buried a big slap shot for his first goal of the season. It was only Seattle’s fourth power-play marker of the year.
The goal was a relief for Bear, as he admitted he was pressing a bit.
“It’s been haunting me for a while but it feels good to get it off my back,” Bear said. “We’ve put in quite a bit of work on the power play this week so to get one right away was good for us, we’ve just got to keep building.”
Toth would hold the fort down for the T-Birds the rest of the way by making some key point-blank saves. He picked up his second win of the season when Matthew Wedman added a late empty net score to seal the game for the T-Birds.
It was the first win for the T-Birds against their rivals and the first against a U.S. Division opponent on the season. They had lost their previous four match ups.
“It was a good win and we want to do a good job and turn the page for tomorrow,” Konowalchuk said. “We want to take some positives out of it, guys battled hard. Some players that we needed to be big were big.”
The T-Birds will turn the page and get ready to host the Kelowna Rockets who will be at the ShoWare Center Saturday night.
• Bear was left off Team WHL earlier in the week but the Edmonton Oilers prospect took it in stride. “To play for the WHL would have been nice but that’s not my main goal so I’m just going to keep working and stay positive. It’s a thing that I wish could have happened but it’s not the end of the world,” he said Friday.
• Ryan Gropp was a scratch on Friday as he was nursing a lower-body injury. Konowalchuk said Gropp’s status was day-to-day.
• Newly acquired Zack Andrusiak was also a scratch. Word was that he had yet to arrive in town after being sent to Seattle in the Cavin Leth trade on Thursday.
• In New York, the Islanders beat the Arizona Coyotes but Mathew Barzal was a scratch for the third straight game.