Thunderbirds beat Tri City for seventh straight win
By Andrew Eide
The Seattle Thunderbirds continued their rampage through the U.S. Division Tuesday night and picked up their seventh straight win, beating the Tri City Americans 3-1 at the Toyota Center in Kennewick. Seattle got the go-ahead goal from Mathew Barzal in the third period, two goals from Roberts Lipsbergs and rode 22 saves from Danny Mumaugh in the win.
Like Saturday’s win against Spokane, Seattle (19-9-1-3) had to grind this one out.
“It was a pretty good battle for 60 minutes there,” head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. “I give them (Tri City) credit, they battled hard from start to finish and we had to work and I thought our guys did that. … I thought we played a fairly solid game.”
The Thunderbirds’ seven straight wins is the longest win streak since the 2006-2007 season. The franchise record is 15 straight games, which was set in 1994-1995.
Tri City (17-14-1-2) goalie Eric Comrie, one of the best in the business, stood tall and almost managed to steal the game for the short-handed Americans. He made 29 saves on the night, many of them from point-blank shots off Seattle sticks. While Comrie was good, Konowalchuk felt his team could have used more shots on the Winnipeg Jets prospect.
“We didn’t shoot enough,” he said. “The first period, the first 10 minutes we passed up so many shots. I thought the whole game we passed shots and finally, on the game-winning goal we just put it on net. We should have been doing that all game. He’s (Comrie) going to make a lot of first saves but if you put it on net you’re going to get chances.”
Tied at one early in the third period, that’s exactly what the T-Birds did.
Seth Swenson broke into the Tri City zone just over 2 minutes into the period and took a shot on goal that Comrie stopped. The rebound deflected off the Americans’ goalie and into the chest of the crashing Barzal. Comrie couldn’t stop the deflection and Seattle took the lead for good, proving to be true the old adage about good things happening when you go to the net.
The T-Birds then had to play hold on as Tri City pushed for the equalizer, but Mumaugh stood tall and bailed out his teammates that got a bit scrambly towards the end. Finally, Lipsbergs flung a puck from the blue line into the empty net for his second goal to secure the win.
The T-Birds played well for most of the night. Despite not beating Comrie in the first period they played well and generated some good chances. They got on the board first, in the second period, when Barzal made a nice drop pass to Lipsbergs in the Tri City zone. He buried a top-shelf, corner shot that Comrie could not get a piece of.
For most of the second period, Seattle was controlling the play, out-shooting Tri City 16-6. While playing four-on-four, the Americans managed to tie the game when Lucas Nickles turned on the jets to get past the Seattle defense and beat Mumaugh. Like they have done throughout their winning streak, the T-Birds did not let that goal get them down. They bore down and got the game winner in the third.
All night long, Seattle’s defense played strong, limiting the chances for the Americans and giving Mumaugh a chance to match Comrie.
“I thought they played a pretty strong game,” Konowalchuk said of his defense. “They’ve got some fast forwards on that team and the D kept the play in front of them. I thought they did a good job of protecting our end, protecting the ‘house’, as we like to call it.”
Early in the year, the Thunderbirds struggled to find a win on the road in division games. They now have won three straight U.S. Division road games and are playing with a lot of confidence, no matter where the game is.
“Spokane and these guys both play really well at home,” Konowalchuk said. “They’re not easy places to play. You have to play 60 minutes and be ready to battle and our guys did that.”
The challenge for Seattle gets a little tougher this weekend when they play a home and home series with the Portland Winterhawks. After that the T-Birds have one more home game with Tri City before the league takes a holiday break. Konowalchuk wanted to have a big push through these games and so far they are getting it.
“We talked about it,” he said of these games. “We had six games and we wanted to make a big push, stay focused and see how many points we can get before the break, try to put ourselves in a good position before the second half.”
So far the Thunderbirds have picked up all 14 points available in their last seven. How many more will they get before Christmas?
The T-Birds will next be in action Friday night as they try to pick up their eighth straight win when they host Portland at the ShoWare Center.
• Tuesday night’s game was the last game for Roberts Lipsbergs before he heads off to play for Team Latvia in the World Junior Championships. He went out in style as he scored his 20th and 21st goals on the season. He leaves having scored 10 goals in his last 12 games.
Lipsbergs departure leaves an opening on the Barzal line, which has been good all year. Konowalchuk said he has yet to decide which player will take Lipsbergs’ place and will make a decision during the week. A good bet might be Seth Swenson, who played on that line at the beginning of the year when Justin Hickman was serving a suspension.
No matter who plays on the Barzal line, rookie Calvin Spencer will make his debut on Friday as Seattle does not have any other healthy forwards to play.
• With the win, coupled with Victoria’s loss in Vancouver Tuesday, the T-Birds took over sole possession of fourth place in the Western Conference.
• Barzal’s two-point night was his 10th multi-point game of the season. He is now third overall in WHL rookie scoring and the top 16-year-old scorer.
Follow Andrew Eide on Twitter @andyeide.