Thunderbirds get back to winning, blast Rockets 6-0

Feb 10, 2016, 5:29 AM | Updated: 10:35 am

KENT – You wouldn’t expect the defending champs and conference-leading Kelowna Rockets to be good slump-busters, but that’s what they’ve been for the Thunderbirds.

For the second time in the last two weeks, Seattle ended a three-game losing streak by beating Kelowna at home. This time by a 6-0 score Tuesday night.

Mathew Barzal was on fire and picked up his first career WHL hat trick – while also adding an assist – and goalie Logan Flodell stopped all 31 shots he faced for his second straight home shutout of the Rockets.

“I was really happy with most of the team, real strong, solid game,” head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. “Led by Barzal and a lot of guys … good, solid four lines for 60 minutes there.”

It was one of the more complete games the T-Birds have played all year. They ignited an offense that had been struggling and despite being down two key defensemen, shut out one of the top offensive clubs in the league.

Barzal was the star on offense.

The hat trick was the highlight, but he was strong in all aspects of the game, and after a mini-slump of going three games without a point, he now has four goals and six points in his last two contests.

“I was definitely gripping my stick a bit too much the three games before (Monday),” Barzal said. “It sucks not scoring. You never know when it’s going to come. The last two games, it’s nice to get some points and it’s huge for the team.”

Seattle continued to play with the line combos it did on Monday, when the T-Birds scored four goals.

Scott Eansor again played on Barzal’s wing instead of his normal center position. Keegan Kolesar moved to a wing with Cavin Leth and Nick Holowko. The moves have paid off so far; Eansor had two points on Tuesday and Kolesar added a goal and two helpers.

“I think it came from a strong two-way effort and a lot of guys stepping up to the plate,” Eansor said. “It definitely is more fun winning.”

In net, Flodell had a stellar bounce-back game to earn his second career shutout. After giving up six goals on Monday, he shut the door on Tuesday to help snap his team’s losing streak.

“Great game for him,” Konowalchuk said of his goaltender. “I thought he played great yesterday early … but another guy with good mental toughness and he rebounded well.”

Flodell was making his second straight start as Landon Bow continues to nurse an injury. He wiped out the memory of Monday’s tough game and was ready to get another crack at the Rockets.

“I guess that’s one of the things for each goalie in the WHL,” Flodell said. “You’ve got to be able to bounce back and forget goals. It happened yesterday and you have to keep moving forward.”

Seattle again played without captain Jerret Smith and Turner Ottenbreit on the back end. Defenseman Jarret Tyszka was back in the lineup after being injured during the holiday break.

With younger defenseman on the ice, the T-Birds still shut down a potent offensive club in Kelowna.

“It’s huge for the young guys but it’s a team shutout,” Konowalchuk said. “The big difference today is we helped out our defense. We were coming back and not leaving them out to dry.”

With their own net in good hands on Tuesday, the T-Birds’ offense came to life.

Barzal opened the scoring with his first late in the opening period when he banged home a shot off of a nice feed from Ryan Gropp. With just 25 seconds left in the first, Kolesar got on the board when Holowko sent a pass across the goal mouth and Kolesar knocked it home for his 27th goal of the year.

In the second period, the T-Birds created a ton of chances but could not beat Kelowna goalie Michael Herringer.

Up two goals heading into the third, the T-Birds kept the foot on the gas.

Kolesar found Barzal up ice only 1:19 into the final frame and the New York Islanders prospect was in the clear. As Barzal moved in on Herringer, he went forehand-backhand and lifted the puck high over Herringer for his second goal.

It’s a move we’ve seen before from Barzal, mostly in shootout attempts.

“I don’t want to say it but I think goalies are starting to read it a little bit,” Barzal said of the move. “I think Herringer played me pretty well. I really had to get that up.”

Barzal didn’t waste any time to complete the hat trick as he scored on a wrap-around 36 seconds later. That caused a delay as fans tossed hats on the ice to celebrate his 18th goal of the season.

That would open the flood gates and Gropp would add a goal a minute later. The T-Birds were in cruise control at that point and Josh Uhrich got in on the fun late when he banged home a loose puck to make it 6-0.

The win was big for several reasons. It snapped a three-game losing streak and the club should gain some confidence with the offense. Seattle also picked up two points on idle Everett and now trail the first-place Silvertips by seven points in the standings.

The T-Birds now hope to carry the momentum into weekend home games against Portland on Saturday and the scorching hot Victoria Royals on Sunday.

“We know that if we play 60 minutes like that, we’re tough to beat,” Barzal said. “I don’t think there’s a team that can keep up with us if we play like that. That’s the standard for us the rest of the season.”

Notes

• Seattle had been struggling to score five-on-five over the last month of the season. Tuesday the, T-Birds found the net five times while playing at even strength.

• In the second period, assistant coach Matt O’Dette got hit with a puck in the forehead. He left the game and needed six stitches before joining the team back on the bench. “He’s all right,” Konowalchuk said. “He said it reminded him of old times.”

• Seattle ends the season series with Kelowna even at two wins apiece, with both clubs winning on home ice. The loss was big for the Rockets, however, as they have been caught in the standings by Victoria.

• Ethan Bear has three assists on Tuesday, which gives him five in the last two games.

• Eansor could have made the score 7-0 as he missed on a penalty shot in the third period. He made a nice move and had the goalie beat but the puck got away from him before he could convert. He was able to smile about it after the game. “I had him beat,” Eansor said. “I do that move all the time in practice. A little less sloppy, I guess. Knowing you got the win makes it not feel bad at all.”

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