Thunderbirds give one away to Prince George, lose 5-4 in overtime
KENT – The Seattle Thunderbirds’ quest for home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs suffered a blow Friday night against the Prince George Cougars.
After a first period that saw the Thunderbirds build a 3-1 lead, they would lose their discipline and Prince George took advantage to come back and win 5-4 in overtime.
Jansen Harkins ended it 4:27 in the overtime when he snapped a shot past Taran Kozun off of a rebound. Seattle picked up one point in the standings but left a big second one on the table.
The T-Birds got goals from Shea Theodore and Roberts Lipsbergs while Prince George was paced by Zach Pochiro’s two goals and two assists.
The T-Birds would take six penalties in the fateful second period, leading to Pochiro’s tallies that tied the game at 3. After Luke Osterman got the lead back for Seattle a couple minutes later the Cougars struck again on Jordan Ross’ first career WHL goal. Ross’ goal was technically even-strength but was scored a second after Ryan Gropp stepped back onto the ice after a penalty.
Simply put, Seattle gave this one away.
“With the penalties and with the little bit of five-on-five time we had we started playing pond hockey,” head coach Steve Konowalchuk said about the second period. “We let them back in the game.”
The turning point of the period, and the contest, came 2:06 into the second. Evan Wardley was called for an interference penalty after knocking over a Prince George player in front of the Seattle net. After the whistle he engaged with Brad Morrison and slashed him. A scrum ensued and Wardley was called for an additional cross check.
The result was a six-minute power play for the Cougars. Things got worse for Seattle four seconds after the ensuing face off when Jerret Smith shot the puck out of play for a delay of game penalty. That gave Prince George nearly two full minutes of a five-on-three advantage.
“We talked in the room after the first about how they gave us a lot of powers in the first,” Shea Theodore said about the penalties. “We knew going into it they were going to call everything and they did that. We can’t take those penalties in a game like this.”
Both of Pochiro’s goals came while Prince George had the two-man advantage. Both goals were from nearly the exact same spot in the face off circle to Kozun’s right.
It was the second straight loss for the T-Birds as they have hit a stretch where they have suffered from some sloppy play and inconsistency.
“Our guys are pretty stubborn at times and winning is not the No. 1 priority at times and that’s too bad,” Konowalchuk said. “For two periods we played a pretty good hockey game and some guys changed the way they played and other guys took penalties. It gave (Prince George) a chance to win that game.”
Prince George’s first goal of the game also came via the power play and it opened the scoring midway through the first period. It was scored by Jari Erricson and came on the Cougars’ second shot of the game. After that it looked like Seattle was going to have an easy go of it.
It was the Cougars who played without discipline in the first, a period that also saw the two teams combine for 68 minutes in penalties and four fights. Seattle would end up with five power-play chances of their own and outshot Prince George 20-3.
Theodore would even the game up 29 seconds after the Erricson score on a pretty passing play with Mathew Barzal. Theodore had fallen down but managed to sweep the puck to Barzal, get back on his blades and crash the net. Barzal gave him the puck right back and he had an easy tap in past goalie Ty Edmonds. It was Theodore’s 10th goal of the year.
Corey Millette would then score a power-play goal from right in front of the net to give Seattle a lead. Shortly after that, Roberts Lipsbergs fired a laser shot late in the period for Seattle’s second power-play goal to build the 3-1 advantage for the T-Birds.
That would be the end of the good times for Seattle as the second period spelled its doom.
In the third period the two teams calmed down and played solid, smart hockey. The T-Birds had a chance late to win but a Keegan Kolesar attempt just went wide of the net and would send the game into overtime.
“Maybe with the success in the first it got to our heads in the second,” Konowalchuk said. “I thought we regrouped and played a solid third. We had some chances to get the go-ahead goal but we didn’t play 60 minutes of smart hockey. When you don’t play 60 minutes of smart hockey it gives teams a chance to be opportunistic.”
In the overtime period the T-Birds missed a couple of chances to win it early and after a near miss the Cougars raced the puck back up ice. Kozun stopped a Pochiro shot but the rebound went to Harkins, who had the whole net to shoot at. The 2015 NHL Draft prospect didn’t miss and buried his 19th goal of the year.
The T-Birds continue to struggle against the teams at the bottom of the conference standings. They’re 4-3-2-1 against Prince George, Kamloops and Vancouver – the three teams in the cellar. Konowalchuk didn’t feel that the team overlooked Prince George Friday, especially with the way they played in the first period.
The loss really came down to the penalties in the second period. Playing short-handed for that long puts a strain on the team, messes with the lines and makes it hard to get anything going offensively.
For Konowalchuk, there were no excuses.
“The whole thing was a little bit chaotic but that doesn’t matter,” he said. “When you go out there, don’t turn the puck over inside their blue. That’s pretty easy, especially with guys who are talented enough to not turn it over.”
Seattle picked up a point on idle Portland and now trail the second-place Winterhawks by seven points. The T-Birds can make that five points Saturday night as they will host Portland at the ShoWare Center. The T-Birds have bounced back from tough losses all season and will need to do so again.
“We’ve got a pretty good rivalry with Portland,” Theodore said. “If we put this in the back of our minds hopefully it gets us going a little bit harder tomorrow and lights a fire under our butts.”
The T-Birds have to play with more discipline Saturday night in what could be a playoff preview. They’ve had some success against their biggest rivals and the game Saturday is as close to a must-win game as they’ve played so far.
“Its got to be a big win for us,” Konowalchuk said about the Portland game. “We’ve got to go out there and play a lot smarter than that for the whole game. They’ve got a number of points on us and we can’t let too many more slip away … We’re starting to run out of time to catch them.”
• The two teams combined for a total of 112 penalty minutes on the night, a season high for the T-Birds. Seattle was called for 57 minutes of penalties. Five of the game’s nine goals came on the power play as Prince George ended the night 3-for-7 and Seattle was 2-for-6 with the man advantage.
• Barzal added two assists in the game to extend his assist streak to five games. Over the streak he has piled up 12 helpers.
• Theodore’s goal marks the third time the defenseman has hit the 10-goal mark in a season. He’s also now 20 assists away from setting the franchise mark for career assists by a defenseman.
• Evan Wardley did not play in the third period. It was a coach’s decision as there was no injury.
Follow Andrew Eide on Twitter @andyeide.