THUNDERBIRDS

Thunderbirds leap frog back into first with 5-2 win over Spokane

Mar 7, 2017, 10:51 PM | Updated: 10:52 pm
Rylan Toth dives for a loose puck during Seattle's 5-3 win against Spokane (Brian Liesse/T-Birds)...
Rylan Toth dives for a loose puck during Seattle's 5-3 win against Spokane (Brian Liesse/T-Birds)
(Brian Liesse/T-Birds)

KENT – As the Thunderbirds come down the regular season stretch, getting points against non-playoff teams is essential.

That was the task they faced Tuesday night as they hosted the last place Spokane Chiefs. After giving up an early goal, Seattle would respond by scoring five unanswered goals on their way to a 5-2 win.

The Chiefs, who are clinging to the slimmest of playoff hopes, pushed the Thunderbirds in the second period. They were down two goals but gained all the momentum in the middle period. They out shot Seattle 18-6 and if not for the play of goalie Rylan Toth, may have been able to tie the game.

“If we don’t get those saves it could be a tie game,” Keegan Kolesar said. “They could go into the third period with a lot of momentum and we’re really gripping the sticks tight and worried that we might be letting this one slip away.”

Toth stopped all 18 of those shots and ended the night with 26 saves to get his league-leading 35th win.

With the lead secured, the Thunderbirds had to get back to what was working in the first period.

“I challenged a few guys,” Seattle coach Steve Konowalchuk said. “I really challenged (Mathew) Barzal as one of our leaders to really get back to the standard and lead by example. As our captain he led by example and that’s what we needed.”

Barzal and his line stepped up for the Thunderbirds. He added two more assists while Kolesar added a goal and an assist and Ryan Gropp chipped in with two assists as well. Kolesar’s points extended his point streak to 15 straight games.

“We lean on those guys,” Konowalchuk said. “I brought that line in and told them ‘guys, we had a good first but we expect a lot out of you’. They sure had a heck of a third period.”

Seattle (42-19-4-2) got back to their game in the third period and put the game away with two early goals. The first coming when Kolesar muscled his way through the Chiefs defense and scored on a backhander. It was the big winger’s 26th of the season and it gave the momentum back to the Thunderbirds.

“We just had to get back on the gas,” Kolesar said. “We sat back and coming into the third we knew they were going to push after they had created a lot of momentum for themselves. We all just put pressure on ourselves to bear down and make sure we were playing the right way.”

Donovan Neuls would then give Seattle a 5-1 lead when he stole an outlet pass and perfectly fired a wrist shot past Jayden Sittler’s shoulder.  From there it was academic as the T-Birds won their 16th straight at the ShoWare Center and moved back into first place, past an idle Everett.

The T-Birds are also back in first place in the Western Conference but Everett still has three games in hand and will be in Spokane on Wednesday.

The Chiefs got on the board in the first when Tyson Helgesen rang a shot off the cross bar and Hudson Elynuik was in front of the goal to poke it home for his 26th goal of the season.

Seattle answered quickly on the power play.

Their power play had not found the net in its three previous games but got back on track with a quick passing play. Barzal got it down low to Kolesar who quickly snapped a pass to Alexander True in the slot. True one-timed the puck for his 21st of the year.

The Thunderbirds took the lead a minute-and-a-half later when Turner Ottenbreit blasted a slapper from the point that hit Sittler but got through him. It was Ottenbreit’s sixth marker on the season.

Seattle started to push the pace and dictate play as the period wore on and would add to their lead with under a minute left. Anthony Bishop, who just scored his first career goal a week ago, got the puck in the high slot and fired a wrist shot through traffic to give Seattle a 3-1 lead.

They had the lead but had to survive a rough second period before putting the game away in the third.

Down 5-1 late in the third period, the Chiefs got a cosmetic goal when Kailer Yamamoto scored on a penalty shot with 52 seconds left in the game.

The Thunderbirds needed the two points on Tuesday and with a game against the last place team sandwiched in between two games with Everett, could have overlooked it.

Konowalchuk said they were more focused on what his guys had to do.

“After a game like (Saturday) I wasn’t worried about the other team,” the coach said. “I was worried about our team. I didn’t talk about this team, just talked about our game.”

Notes

• Seattle got Ethan Bear back into the lineup on Tuesday but were still short-handed as defenseman Reece Harsch couldn’t go. Bear picked up an assist to extend his point streak to 13 games.

• Tuesday’s game ended with three straight unassisted goals. Kolesar, Neuls and Yamamoto all had unassisted markers.

• Toth’s 35th win puts him one win away from tying former Thunderbird netminder Bryan Bridges for wins in a season. Bridges went 36-20-2 in the 2004-05 season.

• Seattle has now won 40-plus games in back-to-back seasons for only the second time in franchise history. Previously they won 40-plus in 1989-90 and 1990-91.

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