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Thunderbirds come up goal short in bid for back to back wins over Everett

Keltie Jeri-Leon chases down the puck during the Thunderbirds Sunday loss to Everett. (Brian Liesse/T-Birds)

KENT – With just over three minutes left in Sunday’s tilt with the Everett Silvertips, Payton Mount banged home his 15th goal of the year into an open net on a Thunderbirds power play.

It cut a Silvertips lead to one goal and gave Seattle some life.

Unfortunately for the Thunderbirds, that’s as close as they would get as the Silvertips held on for a tight 3-2 win at the accesso ShoWare Center.

“It’s a tough assignment, any way you slice it, Everett’ a good team,” Thunderbirds head coach Matt O’Dette said. “I thought our guys battled hard, but I thought we ran out of gas a little bit at the end. You can’t fault the competitive fire that we had out there. I thought that was there tonight. The last two games we had that ignited and just fell short today.”

Seattle (24-32-4-3) played toe-to-toe with the Silvertips Sunday but Everett broke a 1-1 tie in the second period with a couple of goals in close, building a 3-1 lead heading into the third period. Gage Goncalves ended up with a goal and assist for the Silvertips while goalie Dustin Wolf made 23 saves.

The Thunderbirds got the power-play goal from Mount and one from Keltie Jeri-Leon – the second score in two nights for both players in the loss – but would suffer from an inconsistent power-play.

A night after being perfect on the power play, Seattle added two more conversions but failed to score on six others, including four in the third period. Two of those attempts in the final frame were truncated by Seattle penalties but the Thunderbirds had trouble getting into the Everett zone.

“In the third, we had a lot of opportunity and the execution wasn’t quite there,” O’Dette said. “I thought we were gripping our sticks a bit with the key power plays in the third period. Not giving ourselves a chance to get in and get set up. They have a good PK, so it’s not easy, but I thought we could have been better.”

Everett (46-13-3-1) scored three goals of the ‘greasy’ variety.

In the first period, Goncalves crashed the net where goalie Roddy Ross made a save only to have Bryce Kindopp follow up to score his 40th of the season. After Jeri-Leon tied the game with a power-play point shot in the second period, it would be Goncalves who would put Everett back in the lead when he found a loose puck in a goalmouth pileup.

With 2:45 left in the second, Ty Kolle would put back a rebound from in close to give the Silvertips their 3-1 lead heading into the third period.

“When we play these guys, net-front battles are important,” O’Dette said. “We get a lot of greasy goals around their net and that’s what we have to do against Wolf. I’m sure they’re saying the same thing about getting to our net, and they did. I think we have to do a better job of boxing out. I thought there were some pucks laying around their crease that we couldn’t quite find.”

The loss kept the Thunderbirds from reducing their magic number to clinch a playoff spot but after a lackluster effort Friday night in Kelowna, they found a way to play competitive hockey against one of the best teams in the WHL.

Winning in Everett Saturday was a positive as Seattle rekindled a fire that had been missing for a couple of starts. The key now is to keep that fire burning.

“It’s that time of year and these are basically playoff game from here on out,” O’Dette said. “Every team is battling hard for something, whether it’s a playoff spot or seeding, or whatever the case may be. I think we raised our level the past two games and we just have to keep it there.”

After a hectic schedule in February and the start of March, the Thunderbirds will have a week off now to get some practice in and some rest. They’ll be back in action Friday night as they start a home and home matchup with the Vancouver Giants in Langley, B.C.

Game notes

• The power play has been a struggle for the Thunderbirds all season but they managed four goals over the two weekend games against Everett. Previously Seattle had managed five power-play goals over two games in October during games against Victoria and Kelowna.

• Sunday was the final game in the season series against the Silvertips. Seattle ends the series with a 3-6-1-0 record. If the Thunderbirds do clinch a playoff spot there is the potential that the Thunderbirds would face the Silvertips in the first round of the playoffs. For that to happen, Everett would have to win the U.S. Division — a race the Silvertips currently trail Portland by one point in.