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Thunderbirds slide past Prince George to build playoff lead

Roddy Ross was solid in net for the Thunderbirds as they earned a big win against Prince George. (Brian Liesse/ Thunderbirds)

KENT – The Thunderbirds made a choice this weekend to rest number one goalie Roddy Ross Saturday so he would be available to start against the Prince George Cougars Sunday in a game with heavy playoff implications.

The move paid off.

Ross turned away 33 Prince George attempts to guide the Thunderbirds to a crucial 2-1 win at the accesso ShoWare Center.

“This is a four-point game and we wanted to make sure he was rested for this one,” Thunderbirds head coach Matt O’Dette said. “He was really good. He’s there to slam the door when we have those sloppy stretches.”

He only allowed one power-play goal as Seattle (21-24-3-3) moved nine points ahead of the Cougars for the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference and to within one point of idle Kelowna for the top wild card.

Seattle was paced offensively by goals from Conner Bruggen-Cate and Matthew Rempe in the win and did just enough to earn two points.

“I thought we did what we had to do to get the job done in a big game,” O’Dette said. “It’s been an emotional week for sure and I think it’s taken a bit of a toll on us. I’m happy the guys dug deep and did what we needed to do. Was it pretty? Not necessarily pretty but we got the two points.”

The Thunderbirds were looking to shake off the residue from what was a bitter loss the night before. They managed to do so and would score in the first period thanks to Bruggen-Cate’s 13th goal of the season when he followed his own rebound.

Seattle would go up 2-0 in the second period when Rempe tipped a Conner Roulette shot for his eighth of the season.

Prince George goalie Taylor Gauthier is among the league’s best as the Thunderbirds found out last week. Getting a two-goal lead on him was important.

It was the second goalie battle between Gauthier and Ross in four days.

“I’m not too worried about (the other goalie),” Ross said. “That stuff is always interesting. I think me and (Dustin) Wolf had those battles last year so I’m always interested in that stuff. I’m thinking ‘stop the puck’. I just have to stick to my job and control what I can control.”

Prince George (16-28-3-4) would cut the Seattle lead on an Ilijah Colina power-play goal in the second period. The Thunderbirds controlled the five-on-five play in the second period with a 24-10 shot attempt advantage.

But, as was the case in Wednesday’s loss to the Cougars, they couldn’t beat Gauthier for an insurance goal.

“They’re a good team and have a good goaltender,” Bruggen-Cate said. “They’re one of those teams where you have to keep nipping away, and just keep finishing checks on them and wearing them down to get rewarded.”

With a one-goal lead, the Thunderbirds relied on their goaltender to shut the door.

He would make 10 third-period saves, including many that were of the quality variety. When the game ended, the Thunderbirds had not only improved their playoff positioning but had wiped the taste of Saturday’s loss out of their mouths.

“I think that was a rough game and this win was huge,” Ross said. “I think the boys did good regrouping. We knew it was a big game and we knew that we had to take control of it. It shows the character of this team.”

The Thunderbirds will have a week off before they embark on a grueling schedule of four games in five nights and seven out of 10 days.

“Rest is important and quality practice time,” O’Dette said. “Get some things tightened up and get ready for Friday.”

Game Notes

• Seattle was without center Henrik Rybinski Sunday. The Florida Panthers prospect was injured in the first period of Saturday’s loss to Everett.

• Rempe’s goal was the game-winner and is the first such of his WHL career.

• Prior to the game Sunday, Everett forward Justyn Gurney was suspended two games by the WHL for his check to the head against Seattle’s Cade McNelly Saturday night. Seattle general manager Bil La Forge also responded to some comments made by Everett head coach Dennis Williams.