Dominant third-period play has been a major reason for the Thunderbirds’ recent success

Mar 2, 2016, 5:07 PM | Updated: 5:16 pm
Ryan Gropp scored two third-period goals Tuesday to complete the hat trick and seal a win over Tri-...
Ryan Gropp scored two third-period goals Tuesday to complete the hat trick and seal a win over Tri-City. (T-Birds)
(T-Birds)

You’ve more than likely watched a football game where, at the end of the third quarter, players on the sidelines hold up four fingers indicating that the fourth quarter – crunch time – is only moments away.

Hockey players head to their dressing room during intermissions, so they don’t necessarily have the same opportunity to erect three fingers prior to the start of the third period, but the importance of the game’s final period remains the same. At no other time is conditioning more apparent. Mental exhaustion, in addition to physical fatigue, begins to set in. Benches are shortened as the lower lines tend to see less ice time.

The Thunderbirds are currently playing perhaps their best hockey of the season just a few short weeks before the playoffs are set to begin. They’ve secured victory in five straight and nine of their last 10, and their dominance in the third period has undeniably been crucial to that success.

In their nine victories over that span, they’ve outscored their opponents by an incredible 20-3 margin. Those third-period tallies have come as part of come-from-behind rallies, game-tying goals that led to overtime victories, extra cushion in tight games, and daggers that have sealed victories.

While the late-game numbers are impressive, it’s a 60-minute effort that has given them the ability to take advantage of their opponents in the third period.

“It starts with doing things right and doing things with the right mindset from the start of the game,” T-Birds head coach Steve Konowalchuk said following Seattle’s 7-2 victory over Tri-City on Tuesday night in which they turned a tight 3-2 lead after two into a blowout with four markers during the final period. “By the third period, you create the turnovers or the extra breakdown. The other team is worn out.”

Even when you include the T-Birds’ lone loss in their past 10, the numbers don’t look any less impressive. In that particular contest, Seattle scored two third-period goals – one early and one late – against Everett, the league’s best defensive team, to tie the game and nearly force it to overtime.

The Silvertips scored with just 16 seconds remaining to pick up two points in the standings on Seattle. If the T-Birds had been able to push through those final moments to get the game to overtime and lose there, the current one-point deficit in the standings is erased and the two teams are tied for first in the U.S. Division.

Seattle is clicking late – in both games and the season – which is exactly what the T-Birds need at this point. While winning every contest by four goals and having first place and home-ice advantage secured would be preferable, the T-Birds are making the most of the situation they’ve found themselves in. Even with some of their best players in Ethan Bear and Keegan Kolesar missing over the past few games, Seattle has found a way to win.

Learning how to win close games by doing the little things like killing penalties and getting contributions from the third and fourth lines will only serve to better prepare Seattle for the playoffs. Doing these things while missing key pieces makes their recent stretch even more impressive.

As it stands, Seattle is in second place by a lone point with the chance to move into sole possession of first in a rivalry showdown at Everett’s Xfinity Arena on Friday night. Both teams have nine contests remaining – two against each other, including the one on Friday – so once again we’ll see this race go down to the wire.

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Dominant third-period play has been a major reason for the Thunderbirds’ recent success