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Dominant third period pushes Thunderbirds past Everett

Thunderbirds forward Keltie Jeri-Leon shoots on Everett goalie Dustin Wolf. (Christopher Mast/Silvertips)

EVERETT – The puck hit the post twice before the Seattle Thunderbirds were able to poke it past Dustin Wolf for what would end up being the game-winning goal Saturday night against the Everett Silvertips.

Keltie Jeri-Leon would get the goal with just over six minutes left in the third period and it would give the Thunderbirds a 2-1 win over the U.S. Division-leading Silvertips at Angel of the Winds Arena. Initially, there was some confusion as to who scored the goal. Conner Roulette was credited for it in the building and Henrik Rybinski was in the pile-up at the Everett goal mouth as well.

“It was a crazy sequence,” Jeri-Leon said about his ninth goal of the year. “Roulette fell and kind of shot it off the post and it was just sitting there. Rybie came in and shot it off the post again. I just saw it on the line and came over the top and got the toe on my stick on it to get it over the line. At the end of the night, we got the goal we wanted.”

The goal capped off a dominant third period that saw Seattle (8-13-2-1) outshoot Everett (17-6-1-0) 20-6 to get a much needed win.

It was an all-out team effort for the Thunderbirds who killed of five Silvertips power plays and got 32 saves from goalie Roddy Ross who picked up his seventh win of the year.

“Our formula worked,” Thunderbirds head coach Matt O’Dette said. “We wore them down through the course of the game and in the third period, it was starting to show. We were playing in their end a little more.”

Thunderbirds have a response

Things didn’t start well for Seattle as the Silvertips struck early, 1:05 into the game when defenseman Ronan Seeley scored his second of the year. Rather than get on their heels, the Thunderbirds would get an unassisted goal from Andrej Kukuca two minutes later to tie the game.

“On the bench, everyone stayed up, stayed positive,” Jeri-Leon said. “You have to score a goal to win the hockey game anyway so we kept chipping away. They scored early and there was so much game to go.”

Momentum swings early in the year were a problem for the Thunderbirds and more times than not, they would be on the wrong side of them. Things could have turned again later in the game.

In the second period, Everett was given three power-play chances in the final seven minutes of the period. Seattle killed all those off and came out firing in the third.

“We talk about it all the time in this building, it’s a momentum roller coaster ride,” O’Dette said. “You have to stay even-keeled. Whether you score a goal or get scored on you have to refocus on your next shift. We’ve been in these situations before, in loud buildings, and we’re learning to handle those swings a little better.”

The penalty kill was a perfect 5-for-5

Coming into Saturday’s game, the Silvertips power play was the best in the league, converting at just over 25-percent.

Giving that unit five looks over the first 40 minutes is not normally the recipe for success but the Thunderbirds were up to the task. Ross was big on the back end but the Thunderbirds sold out, blocked shots and got clears.

“Blocking shots is contagious,” O’Dette said. “You want to be the next guy to eat that big shot block and that was spreading through our team. It does give you momentum and frustrates the other side. I think in the second period we could have done with fewer penalties. It taxes your killers but we got through it.”

It wasn’t just one guy.

Brendan Williamson got in the way of shots, as did rookie forward Lucas Ciona. Down low, the defensemen like Owen Williams, Tyrel Bauer, and Cade McNelly were there.

Not only did they kill off the penalties, but they built momentum off them.

“It just brings energy to the bench,” Williams said of the blocked shots. “Everybody gets up and everybody starts cheering. When the momentum starts swinging it’s a major positive and everybody starts to feel better and has more energy than they had before.”

There is an old saying that a team’s goaltender needs to be the best penalty killer and Ross fit that role perfectly Saturday night. When shots did get through, Ross kicked them away.

He fought through traffic to find the puck, spotted it in scramble plays, and made all the saves that his team needed. Having him in net also gave the players in front of him confidence.

“When you have confidence you make the right plays so it’s huge to have that support back there,” Williams said.

Everyone on board

Coming off a game Wednesday where O’Dette didn’t feel everyone was pulling in the same direction, he got a nice response from his team Saturday.

“We’ve got a ton of character in the room,” O’Dette said. “We’ve had a difficult week and guys rose up to the challenge. It’s just following that effort up and bringing it every night.”

There were a number of players who showed up on Saturday.

Ross made the saves, Williams and the defense blocked shots and found rebounds, Williamson was a key penalty killer, Matthew Wedman won two big faceoffs late, and the line of Jeri-Leon, Rybinski, and Roulette was dangerous all night.

“It was everybody and that’s what it takes,” O’Dette said. “Everett is a really good team and you can’t beat them with any passengers.”

The Thunderbirds will head on the road for their next three games, beginning with a Tuesday night contest in Spokane.

They’ll head out with a good feeling after a big win against a division rival.

“You love it,” Jeri-Leon said. “2-1 win in Everett, you love it.”

Game Notes

• When Ross and Wolf get together in Everett, goal scoring is a premium. In the last three games played in Everett, the two goalies have only allowed three regulation goals and two overtime markers.

• Seattle’s record against Everett this season moves to 1-1-1-0. The two rivals will play seven more times this year.