Barzal’s career night helps T-Birds outlast Portland 8-5
Feb 12, 2017, 1:05 AM | Updated: 1:09 am
KENT – Seattle center Mathew Barzal turned in a career performance Saturday night to lead the injury-laden T-Birds to an 8-5 win over the Portland Winterhawks.
Barzal delighted the 5,653 fans at the ShoWare Center with a career high six-point night as he potted a goal while adding five assists. Seattle continued its hot streak and maintained a one-point lead over Everett in the division, with the win.
While Barzal’s points paced the offense, it might have been a couple of defensive plays in the third period that stood out the most.
Late in the game, with Seattle up two goals, Barzal stopped a Winterhawks chance with a back check. Later, he sacrificed his body, laying down in the crease next to goalie Rylan Toth as the Winterhawks were jamming away at the puck.
Toth ended up making a big save but it was an impressive, desperation play by the team’s best player.
“Just battling and doing whatever you can to win a game,” Barzal said about the play. “Everybody bought in tonight, it was good to see.”
At one point in the scrum, a Portland player had the puck and took aim.
“I was face down and knew the guy was winding up and I couldn’t get up,” he said. “He just blew ice at me. If I took it off the mug there I probably would have needed a new set of teeth.”
Barzal’s six points was the most he’s had since he was playing Midget hockey and he got the T-Birds going right away. His torrid play this season continues as he has 14 points in his last four games. He’s not just scoring, as he showed Saturday night, he’s playing all over the ice.
“We’ll take the offense as well but that stuff is very important,” Seattle coach Steve Konowalchuk said. “That’s why we’re playing the way we’re playing. Those guys are contributing on offense but they’re also doing the little things. If you don’t work hard, you don’t get the puck and you don’t get six points.”
Seattle (35-15-3-2) has now won 17 of it’s last 19 games and 10 straight at the ShoWare Center. Saturday night it wasn’t able to ice a full lineup as injuries continue to pile up. They were short two forwards which meant a lot of minutes for everyone.
“For the most part, just rolled everybody,” Konowalchuk said. “Didn’t match up a whole lot, maybe a little in the third period. But for the most part, just rolled lines and everybody go play.”
Tyler Adams is one guy, among many, who has been asked to step and play a bigger role with the injuries. Saturday he made his presence felt early.
Barzal and company spent the first minute-and-a-half of the game in the Portland zone. Adams jumped on to make a change and Barzal got him the puck. He moved in on goalie Kole Kehler and swept the puck past him for his second goal of the season.
“Puck turned over and Barzy made really nice pass to me,” Adams said. “Coach was talking about digging in and trying to reach the far post when you get a chance. That was in my mind when I took it to the net.”
The early goal was a sign of what kind of night it was going to be.
Portland (30-23-1-2) struck right back for two quick goals by Jake Gricius and Cody Glass to take a lead. Barzal would score his eighth of the year a couple of minutes later to tie it right back up. Before everyone was settled in their seats, the two clubs had combined for four goals in just over six minutes of play.
Seattle would take a late first-period lead when Reece Harsch blasted a shot, after another Barzal assist, over Kehler’s shoulder. That made it 3-2 for Seattle, but the fireworks weren’t over.
Alexander True extended the lead in the second with a short-handed breakaway goal, his 18th, early in the second and the T-Birds followed that up with a Keegan Kolesar power-play marker. That gave the Thunderbirds what felt like a comfortable 5-2 lead.
But the Winterhawks can score and score quickly.
They did just that later in the period on two goals by import Joachim Blichfeld, his 22nd and 23rd of the season.
Ethan Bear would put Seattle back up by two in the third period with a power-play goal, his career-best 22nd. Sklyer McKenzie kept the Winterhawks in it with a quick shot of a faceoff win to make it 6-5 but then Ryan Gropp would ice it with a pair of late goals, the latter against an empty net to seal the win.
For Gropp, the goals extended his goal-scoring streak to six games – a span that has seen him notch nine goals – and his point-streak to 12 games.
While Seattle’s top line again provided most of the firepower, Saturday’s win was truly a team win. Playing shorthanded, against a run-and-gun team like Portland can be taxing and the entire roster chipped in with big minutes.
“I thought Truesy had an exceptional game tonight,” Barzal said. “I thought he was one of our best players. Adams getting on the board was nice and then (Sami) Moilanen and (Donovan) Nuels were huge as well. I thought (Aaron) Hyman played his best game tonight too.”
The road doesn’t get any easier for the banged up Thunderbirds. They have an afternoon game in Kelowna on Monday before returning home to host the Red Deer Rebels Tuesday at home.
• Seattle played the game without Scott Eansor, Nolan Volcan, Matthew Wedman, Turner Ottenbreit, Wyatt Bear and goalie Carl Stankowski. Ottenbreit was injured in Friday’s win over Tri City and his status remains uncertain.
• The five assists for Barzal gives him 192 in his career in 190 games. After the game, he was not aware that he had reached the assist-per-game mark. “That’s pretty cool,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to play with some pretty good snipers. I guess I am kind of a pass-first guy but I give all the credit to my teammates for burying them.”
• Seattle kept pace with Everett, who beat Moose Jaw on Saturday, but did climb to within three points of the Prince George Cougars for the top spot in the Western Conference. The T-Birds have two games in hand with the Cougars.
• The ShoWare Center crowd was loud all night and the game had a playoff atmosphere. With their rivals in town and a local, live television audience watching at home, the building was loud all night. “The fans here, our guys love it,” Konowalchuk said. “They’ve had quite a few games here but when you get out there and have fans like that, especially when you need a big goal, it gives you some extra juice.”