T-Birds drop Americans in 4-2 win
By Andy Eide
Coming into Friday night’s game in Kennewick the Tri City Americans had not lost a home game in regulation since December 19th. The Seattle Thunderbirds beat the Americans that night and they returned to the Toyota Center and did it again on Friday.
The T-Birds opened up an early lead and then hung on to hand Tri City a 4-2 loss. Mathew Barzal paced the Seattle offense with a goal and assist and goalie Landon Bow returned to the Seattle net to make 27 saves in picking up the win.
The Toyota Center is a tough place to play and the Americans have been especially good of late. The T-Birds wasted no time putting the home squad on it’s heels by scoring three times in the first period.
“Its big,” head coach Steve Konowalchuk said of the start. “They usually come out pretty hard. They’re a real desperate hockey team and we knew we’d have to come in and compete, I thought a lot of guys stepped up.”
Tri City is playing for their playoff lives. They are on the outside looking in but have made a charge in the past month and are knocking on the playoff door. The T-Birds put them in a hole by setting the tone early and did so by continuing to get secondary scoring.
Cavin Leth opened up the goal scoring 1:43 into the game when he beat Evan Sarthou with a wrist shot that the Tri City goalie didn’t seem to see. Three minutes later Nolan Volcan picked up a loose puck at his own blue line and took off up the ice on a breakaway. He slid the puck past Sarthou for his 12th goal of the year and just like that, the T-Birds were rolling.
Seattle would add to their lead mid-way through the period when Ryan Gropp took a shot from the slot that Sarthou initially got a piece of but couldn’t keep from trickling in. It was a power-play goal and gave Seattle a commanding 3-0 lead.
That score would also end the night for Sarthou as he was replaced in goal by Nicholas Sanders.
The Americans pushed back in the second period however. Nolan Yaremko made a nifty move to get past the Seattle defense and chip the puck over Bow’s shoulder to get Tri City on the board. With just under four minutes left in the period Michael Rasmussen found himself with some room and beat Bow with a back hand.
Suddenly the T-Birds had a game on their hands.
As they’ve done over the last couple of weeks, the T-Birds played a strong third period.
Just under five minutes in, Nick Holowko slid a puck to Barzal who was at the side of the Tri City net. He got the puck and made no mistake in burying it for his 19th of the year. It re-established Seattle’s two-goal lead and took some of the steam out of the Americans.
It was the kind of big goal you expect your best players to score but Konowalchuk praised more than Barzal’s scoring on Friday.
“He had a strong game today,” the coach said. “He got the goal but he had a huge back check in the third period and if he’s not back there it might be a different game. It’s all those little things, desperation and playing without the puck, it’s good to see him play that 200-foot game.”
With just over three minutes left in the contest the Americans pulled Sanders from the net for the extra skater. They were able to pin the Seattle defenders in their own zone for nearly two minutes but could not get through for even a shot.
“We couldn’t get the change,” Konowalchuk said of the frantic final moments. “We’d still like to jump the puck and maybe not spend so much time in there but our guys were smart and protected the shot lanes and passing lanes.”
The horn eventually sounded and the T-Birds had earned a tough road win against a strong team. With the results around the rest of the division they also picked up at least a point on every other U.S. Division rival. Everett lost in overtime Friday night which brings Seattle to within five points of first place. If the T-Birds can find a way to finally solve Everett they can pull to within three points Saturday evening when the two teams meet at the ShoWare Center.
It’s a big game but this time of year, you can’t expect anything less. The T-Birds continue to just worry about the next game and the next shift.
“It’s just a short term focus,” Konowalchuk said. “That’s the way it has to be right now. Its going to be a tight grind to the finish, we’ve got the short term focus and worry about.”
Seattle and Everett will face off at 6 PM Saturday night at the ShoWare Center.
The three-game mini-drought that Barzal had earlier in the month seems like a distant memory now. His two points on Friday extended his point-streak to eight games. In that span he has five goals and 11 assists.
Keegan Kolesar was a late scratch on Friday after taking warm ups. Konowalchuk said that he suffered an upper-body injury but could not say how severe the injury was.
Konowalchuk would not commit to whether or not Bow would start all three games of this weekend’s three-in-three.
Ethan Bear was held off the score sheet which snaps his seven-game scoring streak.
Follow Andy Eide on Twitter @andyeide.