Big second period helps Thunderbirds blast Spokane 6-3
The Thunderbirds kept their hopes of climbing the standings alive Wednesday night with an offensive explosion in Spokane.
Playing the last regular season game against the Chiefs, Seattle blew open a tie game in the second period with three unanswered goals at the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena. The Thunderbirds would end up cruising to a 6-3 win behind two goals from Sami Moilanen and two points each for Nolan Volcan and Zack Andrusiak.
With the win, Seattle pulls to five points back of the Tri-City Americans for the first wild card slot in the Western Conference.
“I thought we played well five-on-five,” Thunderbirds’ head coach Matt O’Dette said. “Just being simple, moving the puck up the ice, managing it well. I thought we did well in the o-zone, protecting it and making plays down low in their end.”
The two goals by Moilanen were a good sign for the Thunderbirds as the Finnish import hadn’t found the back of the net in his last nine games, and were his first since he returned from injury on Feb. 9th.
With the playoffs approaching, getting Moilanen hot will be a bonus for Seattle.
“It’s big for him,” O’Dette said. “He’s been snake-bitten a little bit and frustrated. It’s nice for him to get going and I think this will be a boost of confidence for him down the stretch and into playoffs.”
Moilanen helped Seattle (33-26-1-4) build a lead in the first period.
After Spokane’s Jaret Anderson-Dolan opened the scoring with his first of two goals on the night at 3:30, Seattle, and Moilanen went to work.
First, Moilanen picked up the puck deep in the Spokane zone and beat goalie Dawson Weatherill from a bad angle. Three minutes later, Volcan bounced off a would be check from the Chiefs’ Tyson Helgesen along the boards to center a pass that Moilanen would bury for his 21st of the year.
Samual Huo would then score his second of the season, two minutes later, for Seattle to extend the lead to 3-1 in the first period.
Spokane (39-24-3-3) would come roaring back, thanks to a parade of Seattle penalties.
The Thunderbirds took a series of four penalties over a six-minute span that carried over between the first and second periods. Hudson Elynuik would cut the lead to 3-2 with just 10 seconds left in the first period on one of the power plays. Anderson-Dolan would tie the game with his second, and 39th of the year, at 2:04 of the second period while on another power play.
Despite giving up the lead in what felt like the blink of an eye, there was no panic on the Seattle bench.
“We took a couple careless stick penalties and it gave them an opportunity to get back in the game,” O’Dette said. “The message was to control your sticks a little bit better. But, at that point of the game there was still a lot of hockey and we just needed to keep it five-on-five and get back to the game plan.”
The Thunderbirds did just that.
A minute-and-a-half after Spokane tied it, Seattle’s Jake Lee bullied his way through the Chiefs zone to fire his fourth of the year. That gave the Thunderbirds a lead that they would not relinquish.
Volcan would make another great pass, this time to Matthew Wedman, who notched his 17th from the goal mouth at 13:50 of the second. Donovan Neuls would intercept a Chiefs’ clearing attempt two minutes later and find Andrusiak for his team-leading 34th marker.
Just as fast as they seemingly gave up the lead, the Thunderbirds roared back to build a three-goal advantage.
“We’ve experienced all kinds of different scenarios throughout the year and we’ve learned from them,” O’Dette said about his team’s response Wednesday. “We know that it’s a long hockey game and there are a lot of momentum swings throughout the game. Stay patient and stay focused, and get back to the game plan.”
The Thunderbirds finish the season this weekend with a grueling three games in three nights finale. They will start by travelling to Portland to play a Winterhawks team that still has its sights on the U.S. Division flag.
Seattle has its playoff spot clinched but still can move up in the seedings to pass Tri-City. As the schedule winds down, the margin for error to do so is shrinking.
“We’re still pushing to win as many games as we can,” O’Dette said. “We’re focusing on what we’re doing and making sure we’re playing the right way and cleaning up our details and habits. It’s one game at a time, keep trying to win games, and we’ll see what happens in the standings.”
• With six goals on the board, the offense got all the attention Wednesday night but goalie Liam Hughes quietly had a strong night. He stopped 37 shots and only allowed one even-strength goal against the division’s top scoring club.
• Volcan’s two-point night extends his point streak to five games and he has five assists in his last three.
• Wedman’s goal was his 17th of the year and the big center has an outside chance to hit the 20-goal mark for the first time in his WHL career. Moilanen scored numbers 20 and 21 on Wednesday, giving the Thunderbirds five players to reach that plateau this season.
• Andrusiak is two goals away from the most in any season for a Seattle player since Prab Rai scored 41 in the 2009-2010 season.