T-Birds outlast Portland 4-3 in shoot out win
By Andrew Eide
The Seattle Thunderbirds erased three one-goal leads Friday night to pick up their second win of the young season.
Seattle beat the Portland Winterhawks 4-3 in a shoot out at the Moda Center in Portland to snap their mini two-game losing streak and keep their rivals winless on the season. Seattle got two assists from Mathew Barzal and goals from three different players to force the game into overtime and eventually the shoot out. Barzal and Donovan Neuls converted in the shoot out to pick up the two points for Seattle.
“Any time you can find a way to win it’s good,” head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. “This is a tough place to win, we found our desperation in the second and third period.”
This game may have been won for Seattle (2-2-0-0) in the first period. A period where they did not play well and were out shot 13-2. The Winterhawks, desperate for a win, came out and pushed the pace on Seattle. The T-Birds could never find their offense in the first and didn’t register a shot on goal until just under eight minutes had passed in the game.
It had the makings for a long night as Portland (0-5-0-1) turned the T-Birds over in the neutral zone and kept the puck in the Seattle end for the entire period. After a week of practice where they emphasized playing hard, with desperation, this was a disappointing start.
“We did not move our feet, we didn’t get pucks deep,” Konowalchuk said of the first period. “It was frustrating for the players, for the coaches. It was like we didn’t work on anything all week.”
Goalie Taran Kozun was on his game early and made 12 of his 26 saves in the first period to keep the game from slipping away. Portland did find the net as Evan Weinger led a two-on-one, kept the puck and snapped a wrist shot that Kozun could not stop. The fact that Seattle survived that period only trailing by one goal was a small victory and allowed them to right the ship.
Between periods, Konowalchuk had a strong message for his club. “It was a little bit harsh but honest,” he said of his talk with the team. “Have to compete better, buy into the system and the guys who compete are going to be the guys who play the rest of the game.”
The team responded in the second.
Right from the start of the period Seattle was on their game. They got their forecheck working and started to generate offensive chances against Portland goalie Brendan Burke. They found their desperation.
“Doesn’t matter the score, you’ve got to play with desperation each shift,” Konowalchuk said. “I’m glad we found it but in the first it looked like we still had a lot to learn.”
Seattle evened the game half-way through the period when Nick Holowko tipped a Jared Hauf point shot past Burke. It was Holowko’s first career WHL goal and gave Seattle an extra bolt of momentum. Six minutes later the T-Birds went on a power play and with it, a chance to take the lead.
On that power play Seattle fell victim to one of the best players in the league, Oliver Bjorkstrand, who was making his season debut for Portland. The Columbus Blue Jackets prospect picked up a loose puck in the Seattle zone and headed up ice with it. The play looked innocent as Jerret Smith forced Bjorkstrand to the outside, as he should. As Bjorkstrand skated to the goal line he snapped a back handed shot that beat Kozun high to give Portland the lead right back.
It was a big-league shot and while Seattle had defended the play well, they still found themselves trailing by one-goal.
The T-Birds didn’t let that shot or that goal deflate them. In the third period they tied it up again while on the power play. Barzal had the puck in the corner and fed it to Keegan Kolesar who got Burke down and swept the puck into the Portland net. It was Kolesar’s second goal against Portland this year.
Seattle then began to pour on the pressure. They forced the Winterhawks into several turnovers and generated a number of odd-man rushes in the third period, where they out shot Portland 13-6. But the Winterhawks still have a lot of talent and that talent seemed to have stolen the game back late in the period.
After working the puck around the Seattle zone, Paul Bittner cashed in on a nice pass from Keegan Iverson to give Portland a big late goal. The T-Birds wasted no time in erasing their third one-goal deficit as Ethan Bear blasted a point shot that Ryan Gropp got a piece of in front of the net. The deflection got by Burke and Seattle had tied the game 30 seconds after the Winterhawks had taken the lead.
In the shoot out Barzal and Neuls were the heroes, cashing in on their chances and giving the T-Birds their second win of the season.
“We have to take some confidence away from this game,” Konowalchuk said. “It’s always good when you get some confidence and contribute offensively, you feel better as a player.”
The T-Birds felt good about themselves Friday and will need to ride that confidence as they will host the red hot Kelowna Rockets Saturday night at the ShoWare Center.
Seattle has forced nine goals in their four games so far this year. Eight of those have come in Portland against the Winterhawks.
Friday night marked the return of defenseman Evan Wardley to the Seattle lineup. The physical blue-liner returned from the Montreal Canadiens camp earlier in the week. The T-Birds were still without Justin Hickman and Shea Theodore, who are nursing injuries.
Barzal had another strong game for the T-Birds, moving the puck, generating chances. He picked up his second two-point night of the season and had an assist on both of Seattle’s third period goals. He then made a nice back-handed move to beat Burke during the shoot out.
The T-Birds are turning into third period monsters. They have out shot their opponents during the third period in each of their games so far, all four of which were close affairs and hold a 41-16 shot advantage in the final frame.
Newly acquired defenseman Turner Ottenbreit made his Seattle debut Friday and Konowalchuk thought he played well. The 17-year-old was playing in only his 13th WHL game and was paired up with rookie Sahvan Khaira who only had three games under his belt. Despite being on the road and matched up with a tough offensive team the two held their own and Konowalchuk said he had no hesitation in playing them together. “We believe they can play,” he said. “We try not to get them in over their head but the only way they will develop is to go out there and play.”
Coming into the season the T-Birds had lost 11 straight games in Portland as the Rose City had become a house of horrors for them. They now have two wins down I-5 in the first three weeks of the season. The last time they won the first two games in Portland was during the 2008-2009 season. Seattle enjoyed Portland that year as they went 5-1 in the Winterhawks’ barn.
Follow Andrew Eide on Twitter @andyeide.