The Thunderbirds host Vancouver Tuesday for what could be a magical night
The Seattle Thunderbirds host the Vancouver Giants at the accesso ShoWare Center Tuesday night and there is going to be magic in the air.
Magic, as in a magic number for Seattle of two to clinch the Western Conference’s second wild card slot. The Thunderbirds need to win against Vancouver or have the Kamloops Blazers lose in regulation to feel that magic. The Blazers will also be in action Tuesday as they will host the Spokane Chiefs.
Over the past weekend the Thunderbirds players, as well as head coach Matt O’Dette, all said that they wanted to win their way into the playoffs and not have to rely on a Blazers loss. To do that, they will have to win a second straight game against a division champion.
Saturday night it was a 2-1 win against the U.S. Division winning Everett Silvertips and Tuesday it will have to come against a Giants squad that has already wrapped up the B.C. Division. The Giants are still playing for something as they come into the game tied with Everett for the top seed in the Western Conference, which means that Seattle is also going to have an impact in who it will play in the first round.
The Thunderbirds have had success against Vancouver this season, although, that success has been on the road. Seattle is 2-1 against the Giants with both wins coming at the Langley Events Centre. The Giants won in their previous visit to the ShoWare Center, 4-2 back on Nov. 21st.
These teams have not faced each other since the Thunderbirds went through their extreme make over at the WHL trade deadline. Six of the Seattle players who played in that last game are no longer with the Thunderbirds, for various reasons.
The Thunderbirds are a better team than they were on Nov. 21st and come into Tuesday’s game with a 5-0-1-1 record in their last seven games and have only lost in regulation once in their last 10. While that’s the good news, the Giants are equally as hot, sporting a 7-2-0-1 record in their last 10, so something will have to give Tuesday night.
Both clubs will be missing a key player up front as Andrej Kukuca will be out for Seattle and Calgary Flames prospect Milos Roman will miss for Vancouver. Both Slovakian imports have returned home to complete required testing. Kukuca has had a strong second half and Seattle will miss his 25 goals and 54 points. Roman is third on Vancouver’s scoring list with 27 goals-32 assists-59 points.
Kukuca has been a key part of Seattle’s power play and has scored nine power-play goals along with 12 assists. He’s tied with Matthew Wedman for the team lead of power-play goals. Seattle managed to score on its only power-play chance, without Kukuca, on Saturday night against Everett.
Tuesday will be test as the Giants have the league’s second ranked penalty kill and fifth best power-play unit so special teams will be a factor.
That Vancouver power-play is good thanks to one of the league’s top defenseman manning the point. Bowen Byram is the WHL’s leader in goals scored for a defenseman and is considered a top-five pick in this June’s NHL Draft. He’s second on the Giants in scoring with 26 goals-43 assists-69 points. Seven of those goals and 26 of his points have come from the power play.
Combating Bryam Tuesday will be one of the hottest goaltenders in the WHL, Roddy Ross. Since joining the Thunderbirds on New Year’s Day, Ross has been critical to the Thunderbirds turn around. He has only allowed three goals in his last three starts which was good for an incredible .972 save-percentage.
He’s shown that he can stare down the league’s top team as well. In his last four games against the U.S. Division winning Everett Silvertips he’s only allowed five goals. He also made 32 saves on 33 shots in a 4-1 Seattle win on the road against the WHL’s top team in the Prince Albert Raiders.
The Giants have goaltending of their own and are getting it from a pair of guys. Whether they start Arizona Coyotes prospect David Tendeck or Trent Miner, Seattle will have to deal with one of the top goalies in the WHL. Vancouver has allowed the third fewest goals in the league, thanks in large part to their goaltending tandem.
Tuesday’s game is big for both clubs and will have an impact on who Seattle plays in the first round, if they do in fact, qualify for the post season.
The Thunderbirds will end up facing the Western Conference’s top team in the first round which right now will either be Vancouver or Everett. The two teams are tied for the top spot and Tuesday’s outcome could swing the race, with just three games remaining on the schedule for both.
Seattle can’t worry about which team is the better match up as they hit the ice Tuesday.
The Thunderbirds need to just win, get the two points, and let the chips fall where they will in terms of a first-round match up.