Comeback falls short for Seattle in 5-4 loss to Portland
PORTLAND, Oregon – For the second straight night, special teams were a struggle for the Thunderbirds and it would prove to be the difference Saturday night in Portland.
Seattle fell behind by three goals twice to the home standing Winterhawks and while it fought back both times to get within one, it wouldn’t be enough as the Thunderbirds would drop a 5-4 decision at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum. As they were in Friday night’s loss to Kelowna, the special teams were an issue for a Seattle team that has now lost two straight games in regulation.
“Our special teams are in a little bit of a funk right now,” head coach Matt O’Dette said. “It’s not executing on the power play, not shutting the door on the penalty kill either. That’s the difference in the game.”
Portland (26-13-1-2) scored two power-play goals as well as a short-handed marker while Seattle (20-16-4-2) would go 0-for-4 with the man advantage. That would prove to be the difference in a one goal game that saw the Winterhawks get two goals from Skyler McKenzie. Seattle was led offensively by Dillon Hamaliuk, who also scored twice.
The game was equally frustrating for the Thunderbirds as they lost goalie Liam Hughes to injury in the second period.
It would be McKenzie who crashed the net at 8:09 of the period to score his second of the night. He took the shot and then hit Hughes hard in the crease. The Seattle goalie laid in the crease for several minutes, while being attended to, before needing assistance to leave the ice.
The Thunderbirds wanted a penalty and the replays made it appear that McKenzie may have been avoiding a sliding Seattle defender, causing him to run into Hughes. After a lengthy discussion, the officials determined no penalty should be called on the play.
After a frustrating game, and season where similar calls have gone against Seattle, O’Dette wasn’t happy with the non-call.
“They said there was nothing else he could do,” the coach said. “That’s not a valid explanation. We’ve been in this situation multiple times. The onus on him is to stop, plain and simple. We’ve been victimized by it several times this year. Even when we’ve been pushed (into the goalie) we’ve been told the onus is on our guy to stop. Inconsistent, they don’t know what to call.”
Hughes left after allowing three goals on 17 shots and would be replaced by Dorrin Luding, who finished the game.
Seattle fell behind 3-0 early, and later 5-2 but each time fought back to get within one goal. In the end, they had a shot to tie the game late but weren’t able to pull off the big comeback.
“We could have hung our heads but we didn’t,” O’Dette said of his team. “We dug in and gave it a run for the money. We put ourselves in a pretty good chance to tie that game. Credit to the guys, but we’ve got to do things better, earlier in the game, so we don’t have to come back.”
Cody Glass would start things for Portland early on. Just 58 seconds into the contest he scored his 24th on a Winterhawks power play. Five minutes later, McKenzie intercepted a Seattle pass while killing off a penalty and was awarded a penalty shot after being hooked from behind. He converted with a nice back-handed attempt to put Seattle in a 2-0 hole.
McKenzie would then score on the play where Hughes was injured to extend the lead to three midway through the second period.
The Thunderbirds would respond. Seattle would strike quickly, scoring goals from Hamaliuk and Donovan Neuls, just two minutes apart. However, at 13:46 of the period, Joachim Blichfeld would pot his 14th on a Portland power play and Ryan Hughes would add another goal just two minutes later.
Seattle played a strong third period and Hamaliuk would score his second at 2:25 to cut the Portland lead to 5-3. Nolan Volcan would add a goal at 18:19 of the third, with the extra attacker on, to pull Seattle within one late.
The Thunderbirds couldn’t find the equalizer however and were left wondering ‘what if’?
“When we were having some success there we were winning the special teams battles most nights,” O’Dette said. “It hasn’t been the same the past couple games. We have to keep tailoring what we do to the type of players we have and execute.”
After a tough weekend, the Thunderbirds will head out on the road for a pair of midweek games in Prince George, staring Tuesday evening.
• O’Dette did not have a status update as to the severity of the injury to Hughes.
• The T-Birds had the second best penalty kill in the league heading into the weekend. After allowing six power-play goals against in two games, they have slipped to fifth in the WHL.
• Neuls’ goal was number 14 on the year, which ties his career high. He’s scored 14 in each of the past two seasons.
• Volcan has tied his career high for points in a year with 44. He had set his career mark last year.