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Thunderbirds improve playoff positioning with 4-2 win over Tri-City

Henrik Rybinski's goal and assist led the Thunderbirds past the Tr-City Americans. (Brian Liesse/T-Birds)

KENT – The Seattle Thunderbirds 4-2 win over the Tri-City Americans Tuesday night was big.

It gave the Thunderbirds a 10-point cushion over the Americans in the race for the last playoff spot in the West and moved Seattle to within two points of the Vancouver Giants for the first wild card position.

It was an important win but was perhaps tougher than it should have been.

“We did enough to get the job done,” Thunderbirds head coach Matt O’Dette said. “I thought we could have played better.”

Tri-City (14-16-4-1) was missing eight players from the lineup and called up three young, affiliated players to fill in. That included 2004-born goalie Ronin Geraghty who made 39 saves in what was his second start in the WHL.

The Thunderbirds dominated the play against the young Americans.

Seattle (19-22-3-2) had more shots on goal – a 43-30 advantage – and took 67 percent of the game’s shot attempts while playing five-on-five.

Despite that, it took a Lucas Ciona empty-net goal with 40 seconds left in the game to put the Americans away.

“We missed some pucks around (the net) and opportunities we couldn’t get to,” O’Dette said. “I would have liked to finish more of those chances but give their goalie some credit. We’ll take the two points, but we know that we have better than that.”

Henrik Rybinski and Max Patterson led the Seattle offense with a goal and assist each while Roddy Ross turned away 28 Tri-City shots.

Ross wasn’t too busy but in the third period, with the Thunderbirds only up one goal, 2-1, he was called on to make some big saves down the stretch.

“Too many than we would have liked,” O’Dette said. “I think it’s been a little bit of a problem, cutting corners here and there defensively. Getting on the wrong side of the puck. We have to eliminate those things while trying to close teams out. They came to work, and they came to beat us. It wasn’t an easy game, that’s life in the WHL.”

Patterson scored a goal, his seventh, with 3:27 left in the game to give the Thunderbirds a 3-1 lead but Tri-City would get closer with an extra-skater goal.

As badly as Seattle dominated the play, the Americans hung in there and put the game in doubt.

“When you have a lot of quality chances, frustration creeps in,” Rybinski said. “One thing I’ve learned is that you’ve got to focus on the next shift and don’t dwell in the past. I think if we worked on that maybe some of those chances go in.”

Rybinski scored his 11th of the season in the second period. It was a deflection in front of the net and gave the Thunderbirds a 2-1 lead. Tri-City had tied the game late in the first with a short-handed goal by Krystof Hrabik.

Matthew Rempe opened the scoring Tuesday with his seventh when he reached around Geraghty to slide the puck in on a Thunderbirds power play.

The Americans have been struggling in the second half of the season and Tuesday’s loss was their seventh straight and ninth in their last 10. It’s possible that the young Thunderbirds took them lightly.

“These guys are young kids and we’re constantly trying to eliminate those tendencies that they think it’s going to be easy,” O’Dette said. “We knew going in, as a coaching staff, that it’s going to be a hard game and these guys were going to come at us…it’s a learning lesson and we learned a lesson tonight.”

With the lesson learned, the Thunderbirds picked up two big points in the playoff race and improved their chances moving forward.

Tuesday was the last chance that Seattle had against Tri-City as the season series is complete.

“On the board (in the dressing room) we had this as a four-point swing, playoff game tonight,” Rybinski said. “Most important game of the season. It was on our minds and we knew we had to get this win.”

Game Notes

• When Rybinski scored his goal, the P.A. inside the accesso ShoWare Center played the ‘Cantina Song’ from Star Wars. It wasn’t a coincidence as the Thunderbirds players get to pick their individual goal song. “I like Star Wars,” Rybinski said. “I saw some videos and remembered it and it was part of a meme and I thought it would be funny. I had another song, but I switched it after the break because I thought it would be hilarious.”

• Rempe’s goal was his second in as many games and the rookie center has 22 points in 30 games.

• The Thunderbirds have a rare Friday off this week and will next be in action Saturday night in Portland.