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Thunderbirds bear down to win third straight in comeback over Everett

Seattle's Conner Roulette celebrates, while avoiding stuffed animals, scoring the 'Teddy Bear' goal Saturday night. (Brian Liesse/T-Birds)

KENT – The Seattle Thunderbirds 4-3 comeback win against the Everett Silvertips Saturday night started with a spark.

That spark wasn’t Conner Roulette’s Teddy Bear goal in the first period. It wasn’t even a go-ahead power-play goal from Conner Bruggen-Cate in the second.

Instead, it was a second-period penalty kill that turned the tide and led to three unanswered Thunderbirds scores as they would skate away with their third straight win and second straight against their Puget Sound rivals.

Trailing 2-1 in the second, the Thunderbirds took two penalties early. The second came at 7:24 of the period and gave the Silvertips, with the second-best power-play unit in the league, a chance to bust the game open.

The Thunderbirds killed both chances off and changed the game.

“I think that’s where the penalty kill goes under the radar,” Bruggen-Cate said. “Big kills like that, blocked shots, getting pucks out of the zone and hearing our fans being loud. It really builds some momentum and that was a big turning point for us.”

Seattle (17-20-2-1) killed off two of three power-play chances on the night while scoring two power-play goals of its own – a third Thunderbirds goal would come just after a power-play chance ended.

A unique and challenging travel day that saw the Thunderbirds bus from Kennewick Saturday morning, only to arrive at the accesso ShoWare Center two hours prior to the game, presented some problems early on.

Everett (26-10-2-1) controlled the puck and dominated the play in the opening 20 minutes.

The Silvertips were faster, got to loose pucks first, won the battles along the boards and took nearly 75-percent of the shot attempts while playing five-on-five in the first period. It looked like it might be a long night for the Thunderbirds after Cole Fonstad scored his ninth goal with just under three minutes to go to put Everett up 1-0.

Seattle’s Roddy Ross made 15 first-period saves to keep the Thunderbirds within striking distance however, allowing them to eventually find their legs.

“Credit to our guys, they hung in there,” Thunderbirds head coach Matt O’Dette said. “Credit to Roddy for holding the fort down for us. Time and time again, when it’s time to show character in a difficult situation our guys rise up and rise to the occasion. Big game, big crowd, teddy bear toss, rivalry game against a very good team. We needed every single guy to get it done.”

Ross would end the night with 34 saves to pick up his 14th win on the year and second against Everett.

After the two, second-period kills, the Thunderbirds started to play better five-on-five.

Over the final two periods, the possession numbers were closer. Unofficially, the Thunderbirds would end up taking 52-percent of the second and third period shot attempts which was a stark contrast from the first period.

As the case has been in the second half of the season so far, it wasn’t just one guy or line.

“We got our legs under us, got our momentum,” O’Dette said. “I thought they did a heck of a job stifling us from moving the puck well in the first with their speed. We started to simplify and getting more available and making sure we got pucks in to get our forecheck going. Once we got that going, we were able to start to get some zone time.”

The Thunderbirds got a boost from the power play.

Roulette and Bruggen-Cate scored with the man advantage while Max Patterson scored on what was, in essence, a power-play goal. Special teams gave Seattle it’s first lead of the night in the second period, a lead they never gave up.

“It starts with the breakout,” O’Dette said of the power play. “I thought we did some good things on the breakout getting it in. It’s just showing some poise…it’s been a lot of work, a lot of work and repetition.”

Seattle tied the game at 1-1 with 54 seconds left in the first on a power-play when Roulette batted a rebound out of the air and past Everett goalie Dustin Wolf. It was the 14th of the season for the rookie – who would also add an assist on the night – and sent a shower of plush toys to the ice from the sold-out crowd.

It was the annual Teddy Bear goal, something that every player on the team wants to score.

“Me and (Tyrel) Bauer were in the (room) and I was telling him that I had a pretty good feeling that I might score that goal,” Roulette said. “I had a bunch of visualizations of what I’d do if I scored that but I kind of went blank when it happened. I was just full of excitement and joy when it happened.

“It was so fun watching them all come down, I was tripping on them, I fell a couple of times. Just the highlight of the night seeing everyone happy out there. If you can do that and win the game, it’s unreal.”

Roulette would set up Keltie Jeri-Leon for his team-leading 17th goal early in the third period for what would end up being the game-winning marker as the Silvertips scored a late power-play goal from Jackson Berezowski to cut the lead to 4-3.

The win moved the Thunderbirds to within one point of the Vancouver Giants for the Western Conference’s first wild-card spot and Seattle has won four of its last five games.

“The team’s chemistry is in a good place,” O’Dette said. “The guys are having fun playing for each other. Credit to our leadership and our older guys in the room to make sure that’s happening. A little bit of success helps breed that too, it’s fun to win.”

Game Notes

• Patterson’s goal, his sixth of the year, was the first against the team that traded him to Seattle in December. “It was a great pass from ‘Bruggy and it felt good to score that,” the 20-year-old said. “I played with those guys for a year and a half so it feels nice to put in the back of the net and get the two points.”

• Four goals are the most that Seattle has scored against Wolf. The previous best that the Thunderbirds had managed against the Calgary Flames prospect was three during a Feb. 22nd game last season.

• Andrej Kukuca picked up an assist Saturday to extend his point streak to six games. Bruggen-Cate extended his point streak to eight games while Roulette has goals in four straight.

• Saturday’s game had a playoff-type feel, as to be expected in a rivalry game, and the loud crowd was not lost on the Thunderbirds players. To a man, they mentioned the boost they got from the home faithful. “They’re a team with us, they’re part of our team,” Roulette said.