T-Birds routed by Bjorkstrand and Winterhawks, 7-1

Mar 7, 2015, 6:57 AM | Updated: 1:31 pm

PORTLAND, Ore. – The Seattle Thunderbirds didn’t stand a chance Friday night in Portland.

They found themselves playing against a Winterhawks team fighting for the division lead and led by Oliver Bjorkstrand, who was looking to set a franchise record. In other words, they ran into a buzz saw.

Bjorkstrand accomplished it all, scoring four goals as the Winterhawks routed Seattle 7-1 at Portland’s Moda Center. Bjorkstrand set a new franchise record with goals in 12 straight games while also hitting the 50-goal mark in 50 games played – he ended the night with 52 goals on the year.

“It feels good, obviously,” Bjorkstrand said. “It was nice to get the record and 50 goals, but most importantly we got the win.”

It didn’t take long for a game that started out as a key late-season matchup to turn into a party to celebrate the Danish player’s great season. He set the new franchise mark early in the first when the T-Birds allowed him to get behind their defense. Paul Bittner got the puck to him, sending him in alone on goalie Taran Kozun. He beat Kozun with a nice backhand shot and had the team record.

“It was nice to get that one,” Bjorkstrand said. “Pauley gave me a good pass on the breakaway so it felt really good.”

That was just the beginning of his big night.

After Chase De Leo scored early in the second on a floater that Kozun never saw through a screen, Bjorkstrand put on a show. He potted his second goal – and 50th in 50 games – on a nice wrist shot after keeping the puck on a 2-on-1. He would complete the hat trick a couple of minutes later after a Seattle turnover allowed Nic Petan to feed him in front.

That goal caused hats to reign down from the fans and ended the night for Kozun, who made 12 saves on 16 shots.

Bjorkstrand punctuated his night in the third when he broke in on the Seattle net hard, and despite a defender hanging on him managed to score with a nice top-shelf shot.

Bjorkstrand has accomplished a lot in his WHL career. He’s scored 50 goals in consecutive seasons, won a WHL Championship, played on the Danish World Junior team and been drafted by the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets. Where does this night rank for him among all that?

“For myself personally, it’s probably one of the best ones,” he said. “I got 50 goals in 50 games so I’m really proud of myself for doing that, and I have to give credit to my teammates. Nic (Petan) and Paul (Bittner) and a lot of guys helped me out in getting those goals.”

For the T-Birds it was a disappointing effort as they could not muster up the energy or level of competitiveness to match the Winterhawks. They fell behind in the first and the flood gates opened in the second.

“It wasn’t a good game,” head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. “The first period was OK. It could have gone either way. I thought we could have dug in just a bit more and the opposite happened. We made some mistakes and they capitalized. They can do that if you’re not at your best.”

Seattle survived the first period and only trailed by the one Bjorkstrand goal. They outshot the Winterhawks, and while there were still signs of being sloppy the T-Birds didn’t allow Portland to blitz them.

In the second period they got sloppier, took untimely penalties and left the period shaking their heads as they found themselves down 4-0.

“The little details of our game showed that we weren’t committed to doing what it takes to give ourselves a chance,” Konowalchuk said. “Bad line changes, D-zone, the details just weren’t there. It showed that we weren’t really prepared to do what it takes to give ourselves a chance to win.”

It started with a bad line change that gave the Winterhawks easy access to the Seattle zone and ultimately the De Leo goal. The T-Birds then took an undisciplined penalty after the whistle that led to the second Bjorkstrand tally of the night. Then the turnover that lead to the hat trick score and the removal of Taran Kozun.

“It was a team meltdown,” Konowalchuk said of the decision to switch goalies. “I think he’d probably want one of those goals back as well but as a team we weren’t that sharp in front of him.”

Logan Flodell replaced Kozun but things weren’t any better for him. The Winterhawks notched three more goals in the third period, including Bjorkstrand’s fourth, as it became a celebration for Portland and their fans.

All in all there wasn’t much for the Thunderbirds to take away from this game. They didn’t show up for a big game against their biggest rivals and were left searching for answers.

The loss all but assures that they won’t be catching second place in the U.S. Division. They now trail Portland by eight points with seven games to go. It looks more likely that they will be on the road to start the postseason.

The T-Birds have had an up and down couple of weeks. They’ve looked good at times, playing well in Victoria and even in a loss to Portland last Saturday, but have been inconsistent in others. With the playoffs looming, Konowalchuk knows he has to get his players back to playing the right way.

“Guys got to get back to three periods ago when we were a good hockey team and realize there is a fine line between playing well and not playing well,” he said. “Giving yourselves a chance to win and not giving yourselves a chance to win. We weren’t mentally prepared to do that today.”

Seattle will get a chance to wipe the bad taste of this game away Saturday night when it returns to the ShoWare Center to play the Kamlooops Blazers. Kamloops is fighting for its playoff lives and have won three out of their last four. The T-Birds will have to compete in this game as they have not had any luck against the Blazers all year, losing all three previous matchups.

Notes

• Seattle had fared well in Portland this season. Friday night was only the second loss and they will end the year by going 4-2 in the Rose City. Coming into this year they had lost 11 straight in Portland.

• Bjorkstrand’s season has been nothing short of amazing. He’s missed a number of games due to being in an NHL camp and the World Junior Championship. Despite that, he now trails Medicine Hat’s Trevor Cox by only four points in the league scoring race even though he’s played in 12 fewer games.

• The last WHL player to pot 50 goals in 50 games was Emerson Etem of the Medicine Hat Tigers in 2011-12. Etem, who finished that year with 61 goals, is now playing with the Anaheim Ducks.

• Bjorkstrand is also averaging more than a goal per game. Most players would love to average a point-per-game and potting one a game is an incredible feat. The last player to go a full season doing so was Calgary’s Pavel Brendl in 1998-1999 when he finished the year with 73 goals in 68 games.

• Seattle’s lone tally came from Cory Millette in the third period. He picked up a loose puck at the Portland blue line and walked in alone on goalie Adin Hill for his 20th of the year.

Follow Andrew Eide on Twitter @andyeide.

Thunderbirds

Thunderbirds GM Bil La Forge has some moves to make this offseason. (Brian Liesse/T-Birds photo)...
Andy Eide

Thunderbirds GM Bil La Forge dishes on the upcoming offseason

Thunderbirds general manager Bil La Forge will make some moves this summer to improve his club. Will they be big ones?
1 year ago
Seattle’s Keltie Jeri-Leon celebrates his final WHL goal Sunday against Spokane. (Brian Liess...
Andy Eide

Thunderbirds end strange and hard season on a high note with dominating win over Spokane

The Seattle Thunderbirds dealt with a lot of adversity this season but end on a high note.
1 year ago
Keltie Jeri-Leon plays his final WHL game for the Thunderbirds Sunday night. (Brian Liesse)...
Andy Eide

Keltie Jeri-Leon set to play his final WHL game as Thunderbirds face Spokane Sunday

After five seasons, Seattle's lone over-aged player, Keltie Jeri-Leon will play his final junior game Sunday night.
1 year ago
Seattle rookie Scott Ratzlaff won his first WHL game in his first start. (Judy Simpson/TC Americans...
Andy Eide

Scott Ratzlaff earns first WHL win as Thunderbirds beat Tri-City

Behind a rookie goalie, the Thunderbirds kicked off the season's final weekend with a 5-2 win in Kennewick against the Tri-City Americans.
1 year ago
The Seattle Thunderbirds celebrate after snapping a six-game losing streak Sunday night. (Brian Lie...
Andy Eide

Thunderbirds enjoy winning again after snapping six-game losing streak

The Seattle Thunderbirds have been scuffling but battled against a good Portland Winterhawks club to snap a six-game losing streak.
1 year ago
Thunderbirds forward Reid Schaefer fights for position Sunday in Portland. (Megan Connelly/Winterha...
Andy Eide

Dealing with adversity, young Thunderbirds drop pair of games in Portland

Injuries and penalties have thrown a ton of adversity at the young Thunderbirds which showed up in a pair of losses at Portland this weekend.
1 year ago
T-Birds routed by Bjorkstrand and Winterhawks, 7-1