T-Birds come back but lose to Royals 3-2 in shootout

Mar 2, 2015, 10:51 PM | Updated: Mar 3, 2015, 8:15 am

The Thunderbirds were on Vancouver Island Monday night and were beaten by the Victoria Royals in a shootout at the Save-On-Foods Memorial Arena. While that is Seattle’s fourth straight loss, there was a lot to like in this game.

The Royals got out to a 2-0 lead early in the second period but Seattle came back to tie on goals by Jerret Smith and Keegan Kolesar. Victoria’s Greg Chase beat goalie Taran Kozun in the shootout to win the game for the Royals 3-2.

Kozun did not start Monday’s game and in fact didn’t see the ice until the shootout. Logan Flodell got the nod to start and played well. He made 20 saves and kept the T-Birds in the game long enough for them to come back and tie.

Head coach Steve Konowalchuk said the move to switch goalies had more to do with Kozun’s experience in shootouts this year.

“That’s all (it was),” he said. “I mean, that’s not a knock against Flodell. We’ve got one of the better goalies in the league sitting on the bench; why wouldn’t you use him? He leads the league in shootout wins so I’m going to get him in there when I can.”

Kozun stopped two of the three Victoria shooters but all three Seattle shooters were stopped at the other end by Coleman Vollrath. He ended the night with 25 saves for Victoria.

It was an evenly played game against two very similar teams that happened to be tied in the Western Conference standings coming in. After a weekend where the T-Birds did not compete as consistently as they’d like, Monday was an improvement.

“I thought it was pretty good effort,” Konowalchuk said. “In the second half everybody was on page with what we needed to do. I thought there were a few chances that we could have got the go-ahead goal in the third period.”

The T-Birds played a decent road period to open up the game. They withstood a strong, physical opening push by Victoria and while the Royals had the territorial play, Seattle kept them to the outside for the most part. The Royals would get a goal, however, when Joe Hicketts fired a shot from the top of the face-off circle that Flodell could not see through traffic.

In the second period the Royals would strike early – just under 3 minutes in – when Jack Walker banged away at a rebound in the crease. Flodell made the first three saves but was unable to make the fourth.

With the way the T-Birds played over the weekend it would have been easy to throw in the towel, down a couple of goals on the road. They dug in though and got back in it.

It started when Ryan Gropp got the puck and raced into the Victoria zone. He slammed on the brakes and dropped the puck back to a streaking Jerret Smith. Smith fired a one-timer slap shot that Vollrath had no chance at. Just like that the T-Birds had some momentum.

“They came back, they kept playing,” Konowalchuk said of his team. “There’s some good stuff to take from that I thought. We’re competing closer to the way we need to.”

It looked like the momentum might swing back to Victoria when Mathew Barzal was called for hooking on the shift after the goal but Seattle’s penalty-kill unit – and Flodell – held off the Royals to keep the deficit at one goal.

That was a big moment because 5 minutes later Kolesar fired a puck from Vollrath’s right and somehow managed to squeeze it through the short side to tie the game at two.

Konowalchuk made a slight line change Monday that paid off. He moved Donovan Neuls to center between Kolesar and Gropp. Those two had been playing with Scott Eansor. With Eansor’s defensive acumen, they were out on the ice against the opponents top line each game. That forces them to spend more time defending and less time in the offensive zone.

Eansor moved to a line with Calvin Spencer and Nolan Volcan. Konowalchuk said the rational behind the move was simple.

“Just mixing it up a little bit,” he said. “I think the Neuls line with Volcan and Spencer were playing good defensively. I wanted to see if I could create some more offense with (Neuls with Gropp and Kolesar).”

It worked as Gropp set up Seattle’s first tally and Kolesar potted the second.

The two teams played an even third period but the T-Birds felt like they had chances to win. They had two third-period power-play opportunities but could not find the go-ahead goal. Seattle ended the night 0 for 3 with the man advantage.

“Specialty teams on both ends,” Konowalchuk said. “We had a big penalty kill but our power play could have won us the game in the third period and I didn’t think we beared down enough. We’ve got to be better on that tomorrow.”

After a scoreless overtime period Vollrath stopped Barzal, Theodore and Neuls in the shootout. Kozun came in and stoned Jack Walker and Brandon Magee before the Chase winner.

The point creeps the T-Birds to within eight points of idle Portland for home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. They will take on the Royals again on Tuesday night with a chance to pull even closer.

“It’s frustrating to lose in shootouts,” Konowalchuk said. “When you win you feel real good, when you lose you still feel like you lost. But against a good hockey team in a tight hockey game we’ve just got to regroup and get back at them tomorrow.”

Notes

• Shea Theodore assisted on Seattle’s first goal Monday to extend his assist streak to seven games. Barzal was held off the score sheet, which snapped his seven-game scoring streak.

• Seattle out-shot Victoria 27-23, which is the third straight game that Seattle has out-shot its opponent. The T-Birds have lost all three games.

• Jack Walker has scored four goals against the T-Birds in his last two games against them. He had a hat trick when the two teams played at the ShoWare Center on Feb. 15.

• After giving Prince George seven power-play chances last Friday, the T-Birds have tightened up their discipline. They have only been short-handed twice in their last two games.

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