THUNDERBIRDS

Thunderbirds’ special teams come up big in win over Americans

Jan 27, 2017, 11:12 PM | Updated: 11:22 pm

The Thunderbirds opened a big weekend in Kennewick Friday night against the Tri City Americans and turned in a special performance.

Special as in special teams.

Seattle scored once on the power play and twice while short-handed to hang on and beat the second place Americans 4-3 at the Toyota Center in Kennewick. Along with the short-handed goals they killed off seven of the eight Tri City chances with the man advantage.

The most dramatic kill came with under two minutes left when the Americans also pulled their goalie to make it a 6-on-4 chance. Nolan Volcan, Donovan Neuls and Turner Ottenbreit came up with some big blocked shots and Rylan Toth made some timely saves to steer the T-Birds to their third straight victory.

“Huge kill at the end,” Seattle coach Steve Konowalchuk said. “You talk about tough hockey players, there’s a lot of way to be tough. Keegan (Kolesar) was tough with answering the bell for the team. Then on Special teams, Volcan at the end with Neuls and Otto just selling out for the team. Can’t say enough about that timely penalty kill there.”

Toth ended the night with 25 saves while Ottenbreit scored a goal and added an assist. Neuls picked up one of the two short-handed goals scored by the T-Birds.

The win was important as Seattle (27-15-3-1) moved to within three points of Tri City (29-19-3-0) and picked up points on first place Everett, who lost at home to Portland Friday night.

The T-Birds wasted no time getting going, scoring twice early in the first period.

On a delayed penalty call, Ethan Bear would beat Tri City goalie Rylan Parenteau with a wrist shot for his 15th of the season. There was some confusion after that goal as the T-Birds were still allowed to go on the power play. It turns out that the original call was a double-minor for high sticking so the Bear score only wiped out the first of those minors.

A minute later, a sprawling Mathew Barzal kept the puck in the attacking zone for Ottenbreit to pick up and score to make it 2-0 Seattle less than four minutes into the game.

“Starting is so big,” Konowalchuk said. “If you start well, even if you hit some bumps, at least you know that you just have to get back into it.”

A bump along the end boards would then damage the glass at the Toyota Center and the two teams would have to wait around for twenty minutes or so while the crew worked to fix it. It’s hard to say if that gave Tri City some life but they would cut the lead in half shortly after on a goal by Michael Rasmussen.

“You hate to see that when things are going well and we’re feeling pretty good about ourselves,” Konowalchuk said. “It kind of stalls things but that happens.”

After cutting the lead, the Americans were sent to the power play midway through the second period.

Instead of getting the game even, they fell further behind thanks to a nice play by Ryan Gropp. The New York Rangers’ prospect won a foot race for the puck and skated in on Parenteau. The goalie stopped Gropp but Alexander True had followed the play and easily tapped in the rebound for Seattle’s first short-handed goal of the night.

The Americans fought back however and cut the lead back to one after a Jordan Topping goal late in the second period.

They appeared to have the momentum when Rasmussen would tie the game with another goal, this time on the power play, to start the third period. Tri City then went on the power play with a chance to take its first lead of the night.

Rasmussen had the puck at the point but had it taken away by Neuls who had nothing but open ice ahead of him. He moved in on Parenteau and lifted a shot over the goalie’s blocker to make it 4-3.

“You get a penalty and it’s a tight game like that and if you can spring one, and then two,” Konowalchuk said of the short-handed goals. “It was a tough game, tougher than maybe it had to be at times. It was a playoff type game out there and  if you get two shorthanded I like our chances to win. It was tough all the way to the end.”

The T-Birds will now head home to host the Everett Silvertips on Saturday before a rematch with Tri City at the ShoWare Center Sunday evening.

“It doesn’t get any easier,” Konowalchuk said. “We’ll have a dinner, get on the bus and get back at ‘er.”

Notes

• Seattle now trails first place Everett by 11 points but for now, are just looking at trying to reel in Tri City. “We’re talking about climbing that ladder,” Konowalcuk said. “You’ve got to win games against the teams ahead of you. You can’t afford to drop too many so this game was against the team right above us on the ladder, so it was a big two points.”

• The T-Birds did not have Jarett Tyszka in the lineup Friday after he was injured in Spokane on Tuesday. Anthony Bishop stepped in and played a strong game. Bishop has been one of the more versatile players on the roster for Konowalchuk. A defenseman by trade he has mostly played at forward but having him able to do both has been a big boost.

• Ottenbreit’s marker was his fifth of the season which ties his career high set last year.

• True’s goal was his 15th of the year and it sets a new career high for him. His previous best of 14 came during last season.

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