Thunderbirds super in Tuesday night rout of Americans

Mar 1, 2016, 11:23 PM | Updated: Mar 2, 2016, 8:09 am

KENT – Tuesday’s game against the Tri-City Americans started out as another tight affair for the Thunderbirds.

That was until the third period, when the T-Birds exploded for four goals on their way to routing Tri-City 7-2 for their fifth straight win.

Mathew Barzal and Ryan Gropp each recorded hat tricks as the T-Birds are playing some of their best hockey of the season.

“It’s a good stretch,” head coach Steve Konowlachuk said. “We’ve had other stretches, but I like the feel that everybody is chipping in and doing their part.”

It was the T-Birds’ ninth win in their last 10 games and they have pulled to within one point of first-place Everett.

This stretch has seen the T-Birds get contributions from their entire roster, but their best player has been electric. Barzal’s hat trick – his second in the last 11 games – give him seven markers in Seattle’s last four games. He has points in his last 11 games and has picked up 25 points over that span. He did more than score on Tuesday as he added two assists for a five-point evening.

As flashy as all those offensive numbers are, Barzal’s coach praised the other parts of his game.

“Matty had three goals but he blocked a shot today,” Konowalchuk pointed out. “Those are the things, when you get everybody doing what it takes, you keep building in that direction. Those things are big and that’s why you score goals.”

12-games ago, Barzal was sitting on a three-game pointless streak, the longest such stretch of the season. He said that stretch was tough and unpleasant.

“I went through a bit of a rough patch here for a few games and was playing some bad hockey,” said Barzal, the New York Islanders’ first-round pick. “I kind of turned it around mentally more than I have physically and that’s been the big difference.”

Like his coach, Barzal said the defensive aspects of his game helped in his turnaround.

“I think that’s why it’s turned around,” he said. “Lately I’ve just been focused on starting with good D-zone and then offense will come.”

Barzal wasn’t alone on Tuesday.

Gropp picked up his second hat trick of the season and added an assist. His point-streak was stopped on Sunday but he has points in 10 of this last 11 games.

His third goal came after Barzal’s on Tuesday, which meant there were fewer hats for the ShoWare Center crowd to throw on the ice.

“He took all the hats,” Gropp said with a chuckle. “I’m not sure the fans knew what was going on but I’ll take it. Good win for us.”

Barzal got the game’s first goal early in the first period when he put back a rebound past Tri-City goalie Evan Sarthou. Tri-City tied the game in the second when Parker Wotherspoon walked through the Seattle penalty killers to beat Landon Bow for his 11th of the season.

The lead lasted less than 2 minutes, however, when Barzal struck again on a power play. The Americans evened the game up at two a few minutes later when Michael Rasmussen was the benefit of a nice pass from Vladislav Lukin for an easy tap in.

Barzal fed Gropp in the high slot late in the second for Gropp’s first of the night to give Seattle a 3-2 lead after two periods.

That’s when the fireworks started.

Scott Eansor made a nice play at the Americans’ blue line and fed a streaking Gropp up the middle. He beat Sarthou for his second of the night and his 31st of the season.

Gropp then set up Barzal for the hat trick in what turned out to be one of the best goals of the season. Barzal’s first shot was stopped but he snapped the rebound between his legs and past Sarthou.

“I haven’t done that in a game before, to be honest,” Barzal said. “It was just a total reaction. I didn’t even think about it. I should have buried the first one but it’s something I tried in practice a few times.”

Up 5-2, the T-Birds didn’t take their foot off the gas and Nolan Volcan scored his 14th of the season on another power play from right in front.

After that it was Gropp’s turn as he swatted at a Nick Holowko pass and the puck bounced past Nicholas Sanders, who had replaced Sarthou.

“It was a great pass by Holowko,” Gropp said. “I didn’t really get too much on it, but luckily it when it so it was fun.”

Seattle not only drew closer to Everett but it put some distance between it and Portland. The Winterhawks are in third place and now nine points behind Seattle with nine games left to play.

The T-Birds will play the Silvertips Friday night in Everett with a chance to take over first place. Konowalchuk has been consistent in his message about not worrying about the standings and only focusing on the next game.

“I’m not going to start (worrying) now,” he said

Notes

• Barzal’s five-point night gives him 82 points in only 51 games this year. That’s good enough for a sixth-place tie in the league’s scoring race. He’s also scored six of Seattle’s last 13 goals.

• Volcan’s goal gives him 24 points on the season, which is a new career high for him.

The T-Birds’ win was even more impressive considering they were playing short-handed. Ethan Bear, Keegan Kolesar and Donovan Neuls were all scratches on Tuesday. Bear and Kolesar are nursing injuries and listed day-to-day while Neuls was home to tend to a family matter.

• Lost in all the goal scoring was another solid night by Landon Bow. The big goaltender made 25 saves for his 10th win with the T-Birds.

Follow Andy Eide on Twitter @andyeide.

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