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Slow start and late penalties costly as Thunderbirds lose in Prince George

Seattle's Brendan Williamson tries to screen Prince George goalie Taylor Gauthier. (Brett Cullen/Cougars)

Prince George forward Ethan Browne scored the game-winning goal with just over three minutes left in the Cougars 6-4 win over the Seattle Thunderbirds Tuesday but, the contest may have been decided in the first period.

Seattle started slow Tuesday and dug itself a hole.

The Thunderbirds didn’t register a shot on goal over the first five minutes of the game, was sloppy with the puck, and when the first period ended, they found themselves trailing 2-0.

“Wasn’t a good start,” Thunderbirds head coach Matt O’Dette said. “Came out not executing the game plan and trying to dictate the play. To do that we have to manage the puck better and we didn’t do that early. They had us back on our heels. They were hungrier tonight, more hungry than us.”

Prince George (15-26-3-4) would make it 3-0 to start the second-period thanks to a power-play goal from Cole Moberg.

Things were looking bleak as Seattle (20-23-3-2) had to try and battle back against a tough goaltender in the Cougars Taylor Gauthier.

The Thunderbirds would fight back, however, and it was sparked by defenseman Cade McNelly. Picking the puck up at his own blue line, McNelly skated down the ice in the second period, spun around and scored on a backhand. It was the third goal of the season for the big defenseman and a highlight-reel effort.

That led to two power-play goals for the Thunderbirds from Keltie Jeri-Leon and Conner Bruggen-Cate. Just like that, the Thunderbirds had evened the game after 40 minutes.

Seattle would take a 4-3 lead in the third period when Ryan Gottfried converted a pass from Payton Mount on a set play off the faceoff for his third goal of the year. It looked like maybe the Thunderbirds had the makings of an impressive comeback going.

Discipline, or the lack of, would end up costly for Seattle, however.

Josh Maser scored a power-play goal for the Cougars three minutes after Gottfried’s goal to tie the game at 4-4 and then Prince George took the lead during a delayed penalty on Browne’s game-winner.

Prince George ended the night 2-for-4 on the power play and scored a third with the extra skater.

“We need to be disciplined,” O’Dette said. “I think our discipline wasn’t good at times. With the PK, we’ll have to look at the video and make some adjustments.”

Despite a stretch during the second period and early into the third where the Thunderbirds scored four straight goals, the early start and late discipline issues were costly for Seattle.

With the loss, Seattle missed out on a chance to bury the Cougars in the playoff race. By winning, Prince George pulled to within eight points of the Thunderbirds for the final wild card slot in the Western Conference.

The Cougars are the team chasing in the standings and it was apparent on the ice.

“I think they’re a desperate team and it showed the way they came out,” O’Dette said. “They’re battling for their season and we weren’t ready to counter that.”

There were some positives Tuesday as the Thunderbirds did erase a three-goal deficit and scored twice on the power play but as it has at times this season, a slow start put them in a hole.

They will have a chance to turn it around Wednesday night as the two teams will play again at the CN Centre. Can the Thunderbirds build off the positives from Tuesday?

To do so, they’ll need to start executing their game plan at the opening faceoff.

Game Notes

• The two power-play goals that the Thunderbirds scored doubled their road output on the season. The road power play has been a struggle for Seattle and after Tuesday, the Thunderbirds are 4-for-93.

• McNelly continues to play the best hockey of his WHL career. Not only has he been solid in his own end but he’s proving that he can chip in offensively. His goal Tuesday gives him three points in his last two games and five in his last four contests. Coming into the season, he had two points in 61 career games.

• Roddy Ross got the start for the Thunderbirds Tuesday and made 33 saves. With back-to-back games will Blake Lyda get the start Wednesday? O’Dette wouldn’t commit, saying that he and his coaches would have to evaluate and make a decision.