T-Birds topple Vancouver Giants in Sunday matinee

Dec 29, 2014, 6:02 AM | Updated: Dec 31, 2014, 12:45 pm

When the final horn sounded Sunday afternoon in Vancouver, Thunderbirds goaltender Taran Kozun was hot. Giants forward Mason Geertsen had shot the puck at him after the horn and Kozun took exception, giving the Vancouver player a shove.

You can understand Geertsen and his teammates being frustrated with Kozun. The Seattle goalie was the player of the game as he robbed Vancouver of a win Sunday, making 33 saves to pace the Thunderbirds to a 3-2 afternoon victory at the Pacific Coliseum.

It was Seattle’s third straight win and Kozun’s 15th on the year.

“Really strong game,” head coach Steve Konowalchuk said orf his netminder. “Right from the start it looked like he was seeing the puck well. He gives us confidence when he sees the puck well and is moving well.”

After building an early two-goal lead the T-Birds leaned on Kozun to keep them in the game. The Giants managed to tie the game in the third period at two, but Seattle would get a late goal from Scott Eansor to seal the win.

The Giants outshot Seattle 23-14 over the final two frames but could only manage to get two pucks behind Kozun as he made big save after big save. For the second straight night the Thunderbirds had to play short-handed up front, which allowed the Giants to dictate the play for most of the game.

“Two games in a row we shortened our bench,” Konowalchuk said. “Yesterday we basically had three lines on the bench, today we needed to go down to three lines and play our top line a bunch. We bent but we kept going and ended up with a big win.”

It was also the second straight game that Seattle started strong. Both teams were coming off games Friday night but it was the T-Birds that had the jump early. They had the extra burst in the first period and used that to build a lead.

It started with Lane Pederson scoring his fifth goal of the year after picking up a loose puck in front of the Giants goal. He beat goalie Payton Lee two minutes into the game to get Seattle going.

Lee ended the night making 21 saves.

Five minutes later the T-Birds would capitalize on a power play. Justin Hickman won a battle for the puck in the corner to gain possession. Seattle would then work it to the point where Ethan Bear fired a slap shot that Lee had no chance on. It was Bear’s eighth goal of the year and was a shot in the arm for Seattle’s power-play unit, which has struggled of late. The T-Birds ended the night 1-for-4 with the extra skater.

“It was a good start again,” Konowalchuk said. “Our guys came out ready to play in the first period and it ended up being a big part of the game.”

The lead could have, and perhaps should have, been larger. While short-handed, Hickman was awarded a penalty shot after he was drug down on a break away. Lee was able to stop him, however, and Seattle could not build on their lead. Later Ryan Gropp appeared to have poked a puck past Lee, who was fumbling it in his crease. The official had blown a quick whistle however and the goal was not allowed.

Those two events allowed the Giants to stay within breathing distance and they would claw their way back.

Vancouver came out on fire in the second period, and if not for Kozun’s heroics may have taken the lead. As it stood, it managed to cut the lead in half on a Jackson Houck goal 12 minutes into the second period.

They got the game even in the third when Alec Baer walked in front of the Seattle goal and was able to wait out Kozun to pot his ninth goal of the season. It looked like perhaps the T-Birds would run out of steam, as they struggled to get any offense going in the final two periods and Vancouver had all the momentum.

That’s when one of Seattle’s hardest working players stepped up.

With just over two minutes left in the game, Scott Eansor picked up a rebound at the side of the Vancouver net and fired it home to give Seattle a late lead. It was the scrappy forward’s fifth of the year and a just reward for one of Seattle’s toughest players.

“I’m happy for him,” Konowalchuk said. “Big goal for our team, big goal for him. I know he puts a lot of pressure on himself to score goals and I’m sure he’ll feel good for the night. He should feel good. He works his tail off every game, no doubt about it. He’s a big part of our team.”

The game was Seattle’s 18th one-goal affair, and third in a row. After dropping the majority of these close ones early, Seattle is now starting to win its share of them.

“I guess more practice, eh,” Konowalchuk said with a chuckle. “You just keep going and playing and try not to take yourself off the path and give yourself a good chance at getting some of these close games.”

The T-Birds have won three of them in a row now and are off to a good start in the second half of the season.

The win was their sixth in the last ten and has drawn them closer to the pack of jumbled teams in the Western Conference. Seattle will get a shot at moving up further on Tuesday night as it hosts the Everett Silvertips back at the ShoWare Center in Kent.

Notes

• When you’re goaltender is playing as well as Kozun was on Sunday, you’re probably doing a good job of killing penalties. Seattle killed off all five of Vancouver’s power-play chances Sunday, which was another big key to the game. “That’s a good power play over there, we did a good job,” Konowalchuk said. “I thought we did a good job of taking away what they were trying to do. Taking away the first and second option and definitely a big part of the game.”

• Justin Hickman picked up an assist on Ethan Bear’s first period goal and he now has points in four straight games.

• Sunday marked the WHL debut of Seattle’s affiliated player Wyatt Bear. Bear is 15 years old and a guy the Thunderbirds have some high hopes for after a strong training camp this fall. He did not figure in the scoring on Sunday.

• The Giants had won seven games in a row prior to this weekend. They lost in overtime on Friday night in Everett and now have lost two straight.

• Geertsen was slapped with a two-minute roughing and ten-minute misconduct penalty for his actions at the horn. The players all gathered and some pushing and shoving occured. Eansor and Jared Hauf also picked up roughing minors as did Vancouver’s Joel Hamilton. Since nobody threw any punches there should not be any suspensions to come from the incident.

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