T-Birds trip up Vancouver 5-3
KENT â€“ Coming off a gut-wrenching loss last time out in Everett, the Seattle Thunderbirds bounced back nicely Tuesday night at the ShoWare Center.
Donovan Neuls tied a career high with three assists as five different T-Birds scored goals during their 5-3 win over the Vancouver Giants. Goalie Logan Flodell made 23 saves to pick up his 18th win of the season.
Seattle seemed to be able to shake off any ill effects from last Saturday’s loss to Everett.
“Pretty solid,” head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. “I thought in the second and third period we buckled down pretty good and got the commitment we needed.”
Neuls set up three goals playing with Cavin Leth and Alexander True, and the three players combined for a goal and six assists while going plus-8. Getting scoring from the third line is a big boost for the T-Birds as opponents often focus on shutting down their top line that features Mathew Barzal.
“That’s huge,” Neuls said. “Especially coming into the playoffs where they’re going to shut down our top lines, it’s big to get goals from our third and fourth lines.”
Having his most productive season to date, Neuls has really stepped it up offensively in the second half. He’s scored seven of his 11 goals since Jan. 1, and Tuesday showed that he can help create as well.
“He plays the game the right way,” Konowalchuk said. “He wins battles, he’s smart with the puck, has a game plan and doesn’t shy away from the net. A good player you can trust in all situations.”
Neuls, the game’s first star, was playing with a heavy heart. He lost his 18-year-old cousin Megan on Monday night in a car accident back home and after the game she was on his mind.
“I just wish my family and friends all the best in this hard time for us,” he said.
Neuls and Leth set up Seattle’s first goal, a slap shot from the red-hot Ethan Bear from the point in the first period. It was Bear’s 17th marker of the season and his fifth in the last four games.
Vancouver would fight back to tie the game late in the first period on a power-play goal from Brennan Menell. The Giants would then jump out to a 2-1 lead early in the second when Alex Baer flew in the zone and ripped a shot past Flodell.
That goal seemed to ignite the T-Birds as they stormed back to score twice in the second to get the lead back. Leth notched his 10th of the season as he put back a Neuls rebound, and two minutes later Scott Eansor scored in the slot after a nice set up from Keegan Kolesar.
Earlier in the month Seattle struggled to score five-on-five but Tuesday night all of its goals came at even strength.
“Just keeping it simple,” Neuls said. “Throwing pucks tonight as you saw tonight on Leth’s goal. Just about getting pucks there and finding a way to score.”
The Giants, who are desperate to climb into the playoffs, managed to tie the game in the third period on a Tyler Benson goal, but Seattle would gain the lead back a minute later. Turner Ottenbreit flew in from the point, Ryan Gropp hit him with a pin-point pass, and the big defenseman didn’t hesitate to knock it home for the T-Birds’ fourth of the season.
Jerret Smith would put the final nail in the coffin later on as Seattle now has won five home games in a row.
Flodell closed the door late as the Giants pulled goalie Ryan Kubic with over three minutes left in the game. Flodell made his best saves late as Vancouver put together several good scoring chances.
Landon Bow was dressed Tuesday night but relegated to the back-up role. After the game Konowalchuk wasn’t sure when the big goalie would be back but for now is happy with what Flodell has provided.
In the month of February, Flodell is 5-2 with a 2.92 goals-against and a .902 save percentage.
“Good win for him,” Konowalchuk said. “With the game on the line at the end there he had a couple of big saves. I know that’s when he seems to be more confident, when you need him to make the big saves he makes them.”
The win was an important one for the T-Birds as they cut Everett’s division lead back to five points and put some more distance between them and the teams trailing. Portland lost in Calgary Tuesday so Seattle is now four points ahead of the Winterhawks and five ahead of Spokane.
“It’s big,” Neuls said of Tuesday’s win. “Just any time we can get a win down the stretch, it’s huge with how tight our division is. Every point counts.”
â€¢ Bear’s goal extended his scoring streak to seven games. He trails Lethbridge’s Andrew Nielsen for No. 1 in defenseman scoring by two points.
â€¢ Barzal added an assist on Tuesday to keep his own seven-game scoring streak going.
â€¢ Seattle did allow one power-play goal against but came up with some big kills in the third period while the game was still in doubt.
â€¢ The T-Birds have a big three-in-three weekend coming up. They will be on the road Friday to play the Tri City Americans before coming home Saturday to host the Everett Silvertips. Sunday they will travel to Kamloops to take on the Blazers.
Follow Andy Eide @andyeide.