T-Birds find power play to beat Regina 4-2
KENT – After a couple of weeks where they couldn’t buy a power-play goal, the Thunderbirds found the magic with the extra skater on Friday.
Seattle scored three times on the power play to set up a big 4-2 win over the Regina Pats in front of 4,701 ShoWare Center fans. Ryan Gropp scored twice on the power play, Mathew Barzal notched three assists and Landon Bow made 35 saves as the T-Birds won their fourth game in their last five.
The T-Birds were ready from the opening drop of the puck as they hit everything that moved, created chances and took the game’s first seven shots.
“I thought our whole team was ready, it was a good start,” head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. “We were flying and had the momentum at the start of the game, it was a good first period.”
Amongst those seven shots was Seattle’s first power-play tally of the night. Keegan Kolesar buried his 19th goal of the year after a tic-tac passing play between Barzal and Gropp to get him the puck.
After a tough month of December, the team is playing with some of the confidence they had earlier in the season.
“I think with a couple of games back with the whole lineup and we’re all getting to know the new faces,” Gropp said. “I think we’re getting in a groove and playing good hockey right now.”
Big hits helped set the tone and put the Pats on their heels early. Most notable were two big open ice hits by defenseman Jared Hauf. Those hits fired up the crowd and the rest of his teammates.
“He’s a big force out there and a big body,” Konowalchuk said of his big defender. “There’s three, four skill guys on every team that if you can hit them or anybody else they really start looking around a little bit…it was a really good game for him.”
Regina was game on Friday and pushed back during periods of the contest. They got some momentum back in the second period and tied the game on a goal by Luc Smith.
The T-Birds withstood the Regina pressure however and got back on the board, once again on the power play.
Gropp scored his 20th goal of the year when he crashed the net and fired a rebound past Regina goalie Jordan Hollett. He would pick up another power-play marker ten minutes later when he ripped a tough wrist shot that Hollett had no chance to stop.
Seattle (24-15-3-0) was 2-for-21 with the man advantage coming into the game but would go 3-for-5 on Friday.
“It’s been a little bit cold lately but tonight we really moved the puck quick and just kept it simple,” Gropp said. “Working on pucks, being heavy on pucks.”
As the second half winds down and the games get bigger, having the power play working will pay dividends for the T-Birds.
“It’s huge, it’s tough to score five-on-five for every team,” Konowalchuk said. “If you can keep your power play going not only is it a threat to score but the other team has to play a little bit more cautiously.”
With a 3-1 lead heading into the final frame the T-Birds would add a big goal when Donovan Neuls tipped home an Ethan Bear slap shot from the point to give Seattle it’s largest lead of the night.
Regina (19-20-3-3) pushed back and got the game to 4-2 when Sean Richards scored on a nice back-hand shot. Bow took the game over from there and made his biggest saves down the stretch to keep the game from getting any closer.
“I liked adding on,” Konowalchuk said of the third period. “I thought we buckled down. They kept forechecking us hard and made it hard on us at times but we got it done.”
Bow is now 4-0 as a Seattle Thunderbird goalie and he’s given the team a shot of confidence on the back end. He’s a big goalie which makes it hard to score on him and he plays with a quiet calmness as he never looks flustered, despite the chaos surrounding him.
Gropp is glad he’s on his side as he’s found it hard to beat him in practice.
“Really hard (beating him in practice),” Gropp said. “He’s quick and big. I’ve never faced a goalie that big.”
• Despite the win, Seattle did not pick up any points on Everett who won in Vancouver on Friday. That sets up a big game Saturday night in Everett as the T-Birds can cut the Silvertips U.S. Division lead to one point. “We’ve just got to be ready to go,” Konowalchuk said of Saturday. “Be ready to go four lines, they’re going to come at you and are good at moving the puck so we’ve got to be real smart with what we do.”
• There was a scary moment Friday when Regina’s Connor Hobbs fell to the ice hard during a scrap with Nolan Volcan. He cut his head and was bleeding profusely as he left the ice. He did not return the game.
• It took Barzal one game to get his legs back from being in Finland. In the four games since he has three goals and nine points. Ryan Gropp is probably happy to have Barzal back as he has three goals and eight points in his last four games.
• Seattle killed off all four Regina power plays which moved it ahead of Kamloops for the top penalty kill in the WHL.
Follow Andy Eide on Twitter @andyeide.