Late game heroics lift T-Birds over Everett in shootout

Feb 15, 2015, 12:26 AM | Updated: 12:25 pm
Donovan Neuls celebrates his shootout goal that clinched Seattle’s win in Everett. (Chris Mas...
Donovan Neuls celebrates his shootout goal that clinched Seattle's win in Everett. (Chris Mast photo)
(Chris Mast photo)

EVERETT – The Thunderbirds came within 24 seconds from losing their second straight game Saturday night in Everett.

But despite trailing the home-standing Silvertips 2-1 and with goalie Taran Kozun on the bench for an extra skater, the T-Birds would strike just before the final horn to tie the game and send it into overtime.

Seattle (29-20-3-4) would complete the comeback and win the game 3-2 in the shootout as Mathew Barzal and Donovan Neuls converted their shootout attempts while Everett (35-16-3-3) could not solve Kozun at the other end.

On the game-tying score, Ryan Gropp got the puck behind the Everett net and found a wide open Keegan Kolesar in the high slot. Kolesar rifled a wrist shot that Barzal got a piece of and deflected it past Everett goalie Carter Hart.

The goal was Barzal’s 11th of the year, but it wasn’t the highly skilled type of goal that the 2015 NHL Draft prospect is known for scoring.

“We were working it pretty good I thought,” Barzal said of the play. “Sitting on the side of net kind of thing, Keegs put it right off my pants. It was nice to get it.”

Whether it goes in off a stick or pants, the goal counts, and it gave Seattle life after a playing a tough tight-checking game against the U.S. Division-leading Silvertips.

“The guys stuck with it. Tough game,” head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. “They’re a good team over there, but our guys played well. I liked our compete level, much better than last night. We stuck with it.”

It was a game that had a playoff atmosphere and was played at a tremendously high pace in front of 7,234 loud, cow bell-ringing Silvertips fans. A night after not competing hard and giving a game away, the T-Birds responded to the crowd and to a good Everett squad.

Seattle played hard but for most of the night the Silvertips made life difficult. Everett is a strong defensive club and it blocked shots and did not give the T-Birds a lot of room on the ice. Despite that, the T-Birds kept pushing all game long.

“I thought we had a much better game than yesterday,” Barzal said. “Good bounce back, and that’s the kind of team we are this year. Nothing’s going to stop us. We know one bad game is not going to define us as a team.”

The Silvertips are a tough team to play against when they have the lead, and a lead is what they had early in the third period after a power-play goal by Remi Laurencelle. On the play the T-Birds appeared to have broken up an Everett play only to see the puck rebound right to Laurencelle, who surprised Kozun.

Down a goal, the T-Birds found themselves in a desperate situation, trying to avoid a second straight loss.

“We knew tonight was a big game and being down 2-1 against these guys, next goal’s a big one,” Barzal said. “We knew we weren’t going to win if we didn’t play like we did at the end.”

The T-Birds continued to press and played their strongest hockey of the night after falling behind. Konowalchuk praised his team’s sense of urgency.

“They were just playing,” Konowalchuk said. “You’ve got to play and not talk about the score. Play one shift at a time and play until the buzzer, whether you’re up or down. They really did that today, they just kept playing. It’s good to see them get rewarded.”

Down a goal, Seattle started to generate more offensive zone time and finally were able to get some shots on Hart. Earlier in the game the T-Birds would either pass up shots, have shots blocked by Everett defenders or get stoned by Hart. Late in the game they started taking shots and got the game even on a good shot with traffic. Seattle ended regulation with 11 consecutive shots on goal.

“When you get traffic on net and pucks to the net … if you do that you’re going to get some breaks,” Konowalchuk said. “Especially this time of year, that’s how you’re going to get goals.”

While scoring off his pants is not how they drew it up, Barzal will take it. He played another strong game Saturday night and was rewarded with a big goal at the end. Barzal was creating offense all night but perhaps even more importantly he won tough battles along the boards.

“Since I’ve been back I haven’t really been able to protect it like I had in the past,” Barzal said. “I thought tonight was a good step.”

Barzal was the first shooter in the shootout for Seattle after the two teams played a scoreless overtime period. He beat Hart through the five-hole and the puck just slid over the goal line.

“Trying to get him to go five-hole,” Barzal said of the conversion. “I’ve been watching some videos lately of guys going five-hole. It kind of trickled over the goal line so it was lucky.”

Kozun stopped both Everett shooters he faced, which set up Neuls for the winner. Neuls skated in and ripped a shot over Hart’s left shoulder as the T-Birds’ bench raced onto the ice to celebrate with him. Kozun had another strong outing, stopping 25 Silvertip shots and picking up his 26th win of the year.

Much as they did Friday night in Kamloops, the T-Birds got on the board early via the power play. Ethan Bear took a big shot from the point that Scott Eansor tipped past Hart. It was Eansor’s ninth goal of the year, and Seattle would end the first period up by the one goal.

Everett got back into the game with a power-play goal of their own in the second period. Carson Stadnyk was stopped by Kozun but the rebound went to Patrick Bajkov, who had an entire net to shoot at. Kozun had no chance and Bajkov picked up his 21st goal for the Silvertips while tying the game at one.

As Seattle moves down the stretch run, winning big playoff-type games like Saturday night can be big. Seattle has a young team and with this win – along with the big win against Kelowna Tuesday – the T-Birds are getting a feel for what the playoffs are like.

“I’m sure our guys will take some experience away from this,” Konowalchuk said. “I don’t think any of our guys are surprised by it anymore. I can tell they like to play in a fun atmosphere for sure.”

Seattle will now return home to complete a three-in-three weekend as they host the Victoria Royals. The Royals will also be playing their third game in as many nights so both teams will have to dip into their reserves to pick up a win.

Notes

• The Silvertips feature the WHL’s third rated power-play unit and Saturday they were 2-for-4 with the man advantage. Power-play goals have played a huge role in the seven games Everett and Seattle have played this year. Of Everett’s 18 goals they have scored against the T-Birds, nine of them have come while on the power play.

• The power-play goals were the first that Seattle had allowed in six games.

• While the win was a big one for Seattle, Konowalchuk still felt that the team was passing up too many shots. That was something he was not happy about in Kamloops and after the game felt it was still something that they needed to clean up.

• Saturday’s win was a big one for Seattle as they made up ground on idle Portland for second place in the U.S. Division. The T-Birds now trail Portland by three points for what would be home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Follow Andrew Eide on Twitter @andyeide.

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Late game heroics lift T-Birds over Everett in shootout