Thunderbirds edge Americans 3-2 to get back into first place
KENT – For the third straight Friday night, the Thunderbirds found themselves squared off with the Tri City Americans.
After losing the two previous Friday’s, Seattle exacted some revenge as they snapped Tri City’s seven-game win streak with a 3-2 victory at the ShoWare Center. The T-Birds built up a lead early but had to hold off a charging Americans squad that didn’t go away easy.
Seattle (41-18-4-2) watched as Tri City (38-24-3-0) scored twice in the third period to pull to within one goal. With the extra skater on late however, the Thunderbirds held them off and picked up their 15th straight home win and jumped past Everett for first place in the U.S. Division and the Western Conference.
“We got kind of complacent at times,” Nolan Volcan said. “In this league, and in this division, teams aren’t going to give up. They’re going to play a full 60 and that’s just another lesson we’re going to take into playoffs and I guess it’s good to get it out of the way right now.”
Volcan had a big night, chipping in with two assists and his assessment of the third period was seconded by his coach.
“We got a little bit light on pucks in the third,” Seattle coach Steve Konowalchuk said. “We got the 3-0 lead and wanted it to be a little bit easier than it would be against a team that came in here looking for points. We did what we needed to do to win.”
Friday night, Seattle got contributions up and down the lineup.
Volcan’s line, with Donovan Neuls and Sami Moilanen were strong all night for the Thunderbirds. Moilanen scored twice and the trio combined for two goals and three assists on the night.
“They got rewarded on the scoresheet but they’ve been a good line for us,” Konowalchuk said. “They can push the pace and it was a good game.”
Volcan helped set up Seattle’s first goal of the night. He deflected an outlet pass that went right to Mathew Barzal, who had a lot of room and potted his 10th of the season by beating Rylan Parenteau on the glove side.
“I was in on the forecheck and I read (Dylan Coghlan’s) eyes a bit,” Volcan said of the play. I saw him looking up the middle and I thought I could intercept it. It just tipped off my blade and then Keegan (Kolesar) ran me over. I look up and Barzy put the puck in the net.”
Playing in just his fifth game since returning from injury, Volcan feels like he’s getting his legs back under them.
“I’m feeling back to my normal self now and I’m trying to find that other gear I had at the start of the year,” the Edmonton native said. “I’m sure it will be back by playoff time.”
Seattle extended that lead later in the period when Sami Moilanen scored from the slot on a back hand.
Moilanen would strike again to give Seattle a 3-0 lead in the second period. After serving a penalty he came out of the box to join the rush and banged a home a rebound of a Kolesar shot. It was his second of the game and 20th of the season.
“He plays big,” Konowalchuk said of Moilanen. “He’s tenacious, he’s quick and he goes into the dirty areas and makes plays.”
The Americans would get on the board midway through the final frame when Coghlan was able to sneak a shot past Rylan Toth for his 13th of the season. Building off that momentum, the Americans would strike again when Kyle Olson scored his 18th of the year from the slot.
Thanks to some strong Seattle defense and some timely saves from goalie Rylan Toth, the Thunderbirds held on for the win and find themselves in first place. Toth ended the night with 27 saves for his WHL leading 34th win.
For the first time in about a month, the T-Birds played with 12 forwards in the lineup.
Most notable, was the return of Mathew Wedman. The big center hadn’t played since Jan. 15th and he was a presence all night long. By the end of the game, Konowalchuk had moved him up into the third line to play on Alexander True’s wing.
“You can see he can play,” Konowalchuk said. “He’s a big body, strong on pucks and it’s good to get him back in there.”
Seattle’s going to need Wedman, Volcan and the whole team to step it up again on Saturday. They will head up to Everett to play a Silvertips team that suddenly has lost three in a row, and in the process, their division lead.
In a game that should feel much like a playoff affair, Konowalchuk had some simple advice for Saturday.
“Go play,” he said. “See what happens.”
• Seattle was again without defenseman Ethan Bear who missed his second straight game. The Thunderbirds recalled 16-year-old Tyson Terretta to make his WHL debut. “He’s a strong kid so physically he doesn’t give up a lot to players,” Konowalchuk said of the rookie. “He thought the game well and competed. We liked what we saw coming out of training camp and it looks like he continued to work. He helped us out.”
• There weren’t a lot of whistles on Friday night. In fact, Tri City had the game’s lone power-play chance in the second period. It was the first time all year that the T-Birds did not get a look on the power play.
• The one power play paled in comparison to the last time the Americans were in the ShoWare Center. On Feb. 10th the two clubs combined for 15 power plays, Seattle getting eight.
• We reported last week that Konowalchuk was closing in on former Seattle coach Don Nachbaur for second all-time in franchise wins. The team informed us that there was a slight miscalculation in Nachbaur’s totals and Konowalchuk passed the mark last week. Friday was Konowalchuk’s 214th win.