Big weekend by Thunderbirds provides optimism for stretch run

Feb 17, 2016, 3:38 PM | Updated: 3:42 pm
Seattle ended Victoria’s 11-game winning streak with a 4-2 victory Sunday evening. (T-Birds p...
Seattle ended Victoria's 11-game winning streak with a 4-2 victory Sunday evening. (T-Birds photo)
(T-Birds photo)

I wrote last week that the Thunderbirds needed to improve their consistency, particularly in the U.S. Division, if they were going to make any sort of headway in the playoffs.

This past weekend showed that Seattle may be ready to take a significant step, as its 6-0 victory over Kelowna on Tuesday was followed by a thrilling 6-5 overtime win over U.S. Division rival Portland and a 4-2 triumph over the Victoria Royals, who entered the game on an 11-game winning streak and sit second in the Western Conference.

It’s a small sample size and it’s too early to say the T-Birds have found their stride, but they couldn’t have started the season’s final month and a half in a better way. Kelowna and Victoria are the Western Conference’s top two teams in the standings by a substantial number of points and Portland is a rival that has fared extremely well against the U.S. Division this year.

In their past three games, Seattle has combined for 16 goals for and seven against, but perhaps more impressive has been its play on special teams, particularly the penalty kill where the T-Birds killed off 12 of their 13 shorthanded situations. Against Portland in particular, Seattle was able to stifle the Winterhawks’ power play on two separate occasions late in the game to give Scott Eansor the opportunity to seal the victory with just 0.8 seconds remaining in overtime.

At the other end, Seattle’s power play has converted on five of their eleven opportunities in their past three games. While that’s a very good number, it’s the even strength play that provides more reason for optimism. With 11 even-strength goals in three contests, the Thunderbirds seem to be finding the groove that shows their ability to go head to head with anyone in the conference.

Seattle has two divisional games this weekend against Spokane and Everett on Friday and Saturday, respectively. I said last week that the Thunderbirds, if they consider themselves a contender, should be able to beat an unremarkable Spokane team in each of their remaining two contests. Everett, tops in the U.S. Division and ahead of Seattle by five points, is a different story and perhaps the biggest test that Seattle will need to figure out over the next five weeks.

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Big weekend by Thunderbirds provides optimism for stretch run