T-Birds advance after 5-0 shut out of Everett
Adam Henry and Branden Troock celebrate with their teammates during Seattle’s 5-0 win (Thunderbirds)
By Andrew Eide
KENT — For the first time in six years the Seattle Thunderbirds have advanced into the second round of the WHL playoffs.
A night after getting blown out, the T-Birds erupted for four third period goals Saturday night at the ShoWare Center to bury the Everett Silvertips 5-0 and win their first round playoff series 4 games to 1. The T-Birds got two scores from Branden Troock, another gritty game from Scott Eansor and added 24 saves from Taran Kozun to get the shut out.
“It was nice,” Seattle head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. “It was nice because it wasn’t over. They’re a really good hockey team…sometimes its unfortunate that two teams get matched up like that and lose. That’s a really good hockey team over there and I’m really proud of our guys to beat them.”
In contrast to Friday’s game, Seattle came out hard and strong Saturday night. They managed the puck better, took the body to the Silvertips and eventually wore them down. The game was almost the exact opposite of Game 4 where Everett blew the doors open in the third period.
“We weren’t happy with our game last night,” Troock said. “They came out and played a really good game. We wanted to respond and we play really well at home so we came out and we were physical in taking the body and kind of wore them out through out the game.”
On Friday night the T-Birds did not get their physical game going at all. Saturday night, with Everett missing two of their defenseman to injury, hitting them was going to be key. In the end it set a tone and wore down the Silvertips.
“I think that was a major factor tonight,” Justin Hickman said. “We came on the body, it’s their fifth game against us. That’s the way we play, we play physically, to get on their [defense]. You know Mueller plays a lot, Betker plays a ton, Pufahl, to get on those guys was definitely a big key to wear them out.”
Despite getting hit a lot early, the Silvertips did not go away easily. For the first 27 minutes of the game Everett was hanging with the T-Birds as neither team could score.
Easnor broke the tie when he potted a back handed, top shelf shot after Jaimen Yakubowski and Sam McKechnie got shots on Austin Lotz. It was Eansor’s third goal of the playoff series, after only scoring three during the regular season.
As big as the goals have been, his play on Seattle’s shut down line has been even bigger. Tasked with stopping Jujhar Khaira and Ivan Nikolishin Saturday night, Eansor and his linemates dominated a line that combined for six points in Game 4.
That match up was an adjustment that Konowalchuk made for Game 5 as he took Eansor’s line away from Josh Winquist. Not only did Eansor’s line score the goal but they controlled the play. Through two periods, when the game was still close, Seattle out shot Everett 8-2 when Eansor was on the ice.
“They split those two guys [Winquist and Khaira] up the last two games,” Konwalchuk said of the adjustment. “I thought that was a tougher match up for us a little bit. Khaira, he’s a line himself, he’s a beast. I thought Eansor, with his quickness would work there.”
Eansor, who has been excellent all series, said there was somewhat of an adjustment to taking on Khaira, as opposed to Winquist.
“Khaira’s really strong,” Eansor said. “He plays the body really well, he uses the body really well. In order to beat him in the corners you’ve got to play safe and space him out more.”
It worked as Khaira was held off the score sheet and excluding his Game 4 out burst, was pretty silent in the series.
A big moment in the game came with two minutes left in the second period. The T-Birds were called for the game’s first penalty, giving Everett a power play, and a chance to tie. Seattle’s penalty kill, which had been struggling in the last two games, was solid and held the Silvertips at bay.
“I really wanted to get into that intermission there with that one goal lead,” Konowalchuk said of the big penalty kill. “It could have been a tough third if they tie that up there. You get in there and now they can start gripping their sticks a little bit, knowing that time might be running out. Big kill.”
Seattle carried the momentum of that kill into the third period where Branden Troock scored the first of his two goals just over a minute into the final frame. It was a big goal as it extended Seattle’s lead and seemed to take some steam out of the Everett sails.
Three minutes later Alex Delnov got his first goal in the series as he beat a screened Lotz. Russell Maxwell and Troock then teamed up for a two-on-one that led to a second Troock goal and Seattle could start planning for the next round. The party really started when 20-year-old Mitch Elliot crashed the net and beat Lotz for his first WHL playoff goal.
For Troock, it was his fourth goal of the series — the first playoff experience of his career.
“I just kind of had a couple lucky goals,” Troock said of his two-goal night. “There was one down low, won the battle down low and squeezed a shot through the five-hole. And then Maxwell made a really nice pass, right to the stick so I had an easy tap in.”
The T-Birds will now move on for a rematch with the Kelowna Rockets in the second round. The two teams played a classic seven-game series last year, one that saw Kelowna erase a three game Seattle lead to survive. The two teams played close games during the season and it should be another fun match up.
“It’s going to be exciting,” Hickman, a Kelowna native, said. “It’s going to be a great series again against the Rockets. They were the best team in the WHL and one of the best teams in the CHL this year. So, we’ve got a big test as a group but we’re all excited for it.”
Seattle can worry about the Rockets on Sunday. On this night, they were happy with their accomplishment and that they were able to get past a good Everett squad.
“I know that our guys have high goals,” Konowalchuk said. “There wouldn’t be one person in our locker room, from the coaches to any player that would have been satisfied if we didn’t win this series. We knew it was going to be tough but that was our goal.”
Saturday’s game was the first one of the series that Seattle out shot Everett.
The game was relatively penalty free as the officials only whistled down three plays on the night.
Taran Kozun had a nice bounce back game after Friday’s Game 4. He made all the stops he needed to and got some solid play from his mates in front of him clearing pucks.
There was a scary moment in the first period when Troock lost and edge and hit the end boards hard. He lay on the ice for a long time and needed assistance getting off to the dressing room. He came back ten minutes later and seemed to be fine. After the game he referred to the injury as a ‘stinger’ and said it was ‘no big deal’.
The top four seeds in the Western Conference have now all advanced and went a combined 16-2 in the first round. Out East, Kootenay completed their upset of the third seeded Calgary Hitmen in six games. That means that the sixth seed (Kootenay) and seventh (Brandon) both will advance to the second round.
Game 1 of the second round series with Kelowna will be Thursday, April 3rd at the Prospera Place. Seattle will next be home for Games 3 and 4 on April 8th and 9th.
Follow Andrew Eide on Twitter @andyeide.