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Third period goals propel Thunderbirds over Moose Jaw

Andrej Kukuca (right) celebrates one his three goals with Conner Bruggen-Cate as the Thunderbirds picked up a big win. (Brian Liesse/T-Birds)

KENT – It took two periods, but the Seattle Thunderbirds finally found a way to cash in and put away the Moose Jaw Warriors Tuesday night at the accesso ShoWare Center.

Despite dominating the play for the entire night, the Thunderbirds found themselves tied at 2-2 heading into the third period. Seattle exploded for three goals in that final frame to skate away with a crucial 5-2 win.

“Their goalie made some nice saves and there were a couple of chances we could of buried,” Seattle’s Max Patterson, who scored a shorthanded goal Tuesday, said. “I think the big thing is that we stuck with it and the goals started coming our way.”

Andrej Kukuca led the way for the Thunderbirds with a hat trick, pushing his season goal total to a team-best 22. Patterson added his eighth of the year while Conner Roulette picked up his 18th in the victory.

Seattle (22-27-3-3) dominated the game in nearly every facet.

The Thunderbirds reached their second-highest shot total of the year, outshooting Moose Jaw 54-21. They also controlled the play and had a five-on-five shot attempt edge of 81-24. If not for an outstanding game by Moose Jaw goalie Brock Gould, who made 49 saves, the game could have been a rout.

“We knew we were hemming them in for a lot of the play,” Seattle’s Payton Mount said. “We knew we were just trying to bleed them out the entire game by playing our game style. We knew not to get too frustrated that we weren’t getting as many goals and chances. We just stuck to our game plan and it worked out for us.”

Seattle broke a string of six games where it failed to score more than twice and got big contributions from veteran players like Patterson and Kukuca. The 20-year-old Kukuca broke a five-game drought with his hat trick and Patterson ended an eight-game dry spell.

The Thunderbirds had been relying on younger players over the last five games.

“The young guys have been picking up the slack,” Seattle head coach Matt O’Dette said. “Some of the older guys have been playing well but not necessarily seeing results for their hard work. It’s nice to see them convert and get that confidence going by seeing the puck in the back of the net.”

After trailing 1-0 after the first period, Roulette tied the game a minute into the second with a toe-drag wrist shot but Seattle would fall behind six minutes later. Kyle Crosbie would be credited for his fourth of the year when the puck rebounded off Kukuca and past goalie Roddy Ross.

Kukuca scored his first of the night, on a feed from Brendan Williamson with under two minutes left in the second to tie the game up.

It was turning into a night where despite dominating the play, the Thunderbirds were one shot away from a bitter defeat.

“It’s always scary when you let your opponent hang around when you’re getting that many chances,” O’Dette said. “The chances we gave up, especially early, were of the high quality version which we want to try and avoid. I thought our body of work and extended play in the O-Zone contributed to wearing them down over the course of the game and we finally broke through.”

The breakthrough started with Kukuca scoring on a breakaway to make it 3-2 and Patterson would add an insurance goal when he raced in on Gould short-handed and converted with a back-handed top-shelf shot.

“I think someone threw my jersey on there to make that play,” Patterson said with a chuckle.

At times this season the Thunderbirds have struggled to put teams away when they held a lead. That wasn’t the case Tuesday.

Up 4-2, Kukuca would finish the hat trick by scoring an empty-net goal.

“Sometimes these games, when you’re getting lots of chances guys can start to shade to the offensive side of things, which you don’t want,” O’Dette said. “I think for the most part, especially late, out guys buckled down and made sure we got lines. Made sure we made smart plays managing the puck and we capitalized on some of their mistakes.”

It was an important win for the Thunderbirds and moved them 11 points ahead of Prince George for the final playoff spot in the West and to within two points of the Kelowna Rockets for the first wildcard slot.

Moose Jaw is a young team that is struggling this season and the Thunderbirds avoided overlooking them on Tuesday.

“Anyone can win any game in this league, that’s been proven before throughout the year’s past,” Mount said. “We just had to come into the game with that mindset. We just had to play our game style and we knew if we did that we would put ourselves in a good position to get a win.”

The Thunderbirds will next be in action Friday night in Portland when they play the first place Winterhawks.

Game Notes

• Playing their fourth game in five nights, the Thunderbirds showed no signs of fatigue, physical or mental. “I think the biggest thing is that we kind of felt like we had our backs against the wall,” Patterson said. “We needed these two points and any day that you’re playing hockey, it’s easy to get up for.”

• Roulette’s goal extended his point streak to six games, with two goals in his last two, and is the longest streak of his rookie season.

• Ross made 19 saves to pick up his 18th win of the year.