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Push in third period not enough as Thunderbirds fall to Portland

Henrik Rybinski's return from injury wasn't enough as the Thunderbirds fell to Portland. (Brian Liesse/T-Birds)

KENT – The Seattle Thunderbirds were battling back against the Portland Winterhawks Saturday night.

They had cut a three-goal Portland lead down to 4-3 thanks to a third-period goal from defenseman Owen Williams. The accesso ShoWare Center was loud and the momentum was turning as Seattle still had over five minutes to tie the game.

Then the pass happened.

A bad clearing pass was intercepted by Portland’s Jake Gricius in the neutral zone. He took it in deep and around the Thunderbirds net. The puck was thrown in front and Robbie From-Delome banged it in from the doorstep.

That would do it.

“Can’t allow that one,” Seattle head coach Matt O’Dette said. “That was untimely, to say the least. We had them on their heels, we had tons of momentum, tons of juice and you can’t give that up. Just poor execution try to break the puck out and then poor defending.”

Portland (42-10-3-4) then added an empty-net goal to skate away with a 6-3 win.

The Winterhawks were led by a hat trick from Seth Jarvis, who now has 40 goals on the year, and 21 saves from goalie Joel Hofer in the win.

Seattle (20-30-4-3) got goals from three different players – Ryan Gottfried, Conner Bruggen-Cate, and Williams – and 25 saves from Blake Lyda.

Lyda was starting back-to-back games for the first time this season in what was somewhat of a surprise. Roddy Ross did get into Friday’s game in relief but did not lead the team on to the ice Saturday night.

“He was unavailable to start,” O’Dette said of Ross.

Portland skated out to a 2-0 lead in the first period. Jarvis opened the scoring 13 minutes into the game when he cashed in on a two-on-one break. On the play, a Seattle defenseman carried the puck in deep and took a shot.

The shot was blocked, and no winger had backfilled his spot on the blue line. That allowed the Winterhawks to break the other way on an odd-man rush.

“That’s the transition game,” O’Dette said. “We know that they front pucks in the D-Zone. We threw a weak puck to the net and when they intercept those, the wingers are gone and that’s what happened there. If you don’t have a lane to the net you have to put it below their goal line, and we didn’t do that.”

Gottfried cut the Portland lead to 2-1 in the second but another awareness type of mistake would cost the Thunderbirds.

After winning a faceoff in the Seattle end, Portland’s Jack O’Brien stripped the puck from a Seattle defender. The rest of the Thunderbirds had headed up ice, leaving Jarvis alone in front of the net. O’Brien found him for an easy score.

The Thunderbirds, down 4-1 in the third, did get some push. Bruggen-Cate scored to spark the team and then Williams would cut the lead to one thanks to a strong cycle game. That was as close as Seattle would get, however.

“I don’t think we quite applied our game plan that’s worked for us against these guys,” O’Dette said. “I don’t think we put them in as many uncomfortable positions in their end. I think we started to do that when we made a push in the third…that’s how we have to play against these guys.”

Henrik Rybinski returns to the lineup

It had been nine games since Seattle had seen Rybinski on the ice but he was back in action Saturday night.

“I think he was ready to play a lot of minutes right away,” O’Dette said of the Florida Panthers prospect. “I thought he played hard, played well and gave us some energy and juice. Probably a little rust but he didn’t show much of it.”

He was especially good in the third period.

Rybinski played with speed and energy and helped set up Seattle’s third goal.

“It was just good to be back with the team,” Rybinski, 18, said. “When you’re hurt you feel left out sometimes, watching… It was frustrating, I’m not going to lie. There were times when you think ‘I can do something out there’. Honestly, it was a good learning experience, you can see little things to add to your game and improve on.”

His presence in the lineup will be key as the Thunderbirds attempt to make the playoffs.

He is the team’s top center, plays in all situations, and provides a spark. He said he felt a little bit of rust to start the game but by the end, he was flying around the ice.

“For me, this was a restart button to kind of get back into things for the playoffs,” Rybinski said.

Game Notes

• Seattle was without 20-year-old Max Patterson Saturday who was injured during Friday’s game in Spokane. There was no word as to how severe of an injury that was.

• Despite the loss, Seattle inched closer to the playoffs as the Prince George Cougars lost on Saturday as well. The Thunderbirds magic number to clinch the wildcard berth is eight points. Any combination of Seattle points earned or missed by Prince George will reduce the number.

• The Winterhawks were without two key players as Johnny Ludwig and Reece Newkirk were out with injuries. Portland holds a slim one-point lead over Everett for the U.S. Division lead heading into a Sunday showdown with the Silvertips.