By Andrew Eide
The Seattle Thunderbirds skated onto the ice at the Toyota Center in Kennewick Thursday night hoping for a win. Win was something they had not done in that building in their last 22 visits. Down by two goals in the second period the T-Birds erupted to score six unanswered goals to beat the Tri-City Americans 8-4 and kill their 22-game Kennewick losing streak.
"It was a wild game," head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. "It was a bad start for us. We were getting out-worked and they had momentum. We had some guys, guys like Holub, Rouse, Lockhart and others who got us competing again."
Seattle (15-13-1-0) got on the board first with a Seth Swenson goal eight minutes in. The T-Birds got a bit sloppy and coughed up some turn overs that led to Tri-City (17-11-1-1) odd man rushes. The Americans scored two goals to take a 2-1 lead after twenty minutes. A testament to the 'out working' Konowalchuk mentioned showed up on the shot totals which saw the Americans out-shoot Seattle 16-5.
The second period was one for the ages. Down a goal the T-Birds tied it up with a short-handed goal by Luke Lockhart who got the puck from Brendan Rouse in the slot and beat Tri-City goalie Eric Comrie. The tie did not last long though, as Tri-City took the lead back on the same power play when Malte Stromwell got the power play tally. Seattle then went down 4-2 a minute later as Beau McCue scored a goal that deflected off a T-Bird's stick in front of Brandon Glover.
It seemed that the losing streak would stretch to 23 games.
That's when Seattle started competing, started pushing back and the game got chippy. Five fights broke out in the second period as the teams' seemed to have no love for each other. The scraps seemed to galvanize the Thunderbirds and Konowalchuk feels that's when the team started to finally compete in the game.
"We decided to compete," he said of the second period. "Guys responded, we have guys who can score and when we start to respond we start to play."
Seattle competed, and burst out with three goals in a two minute span. It started with Seth Swenson's second of the game as he knocked home a rebound off of a Connor Sanvido shot. Roberts Lipsbergs then extended his scoring streak to 10 games when he scored a power play goal, his 14th goal of the year, on a nice feed from Luke Lockhart. That goal tied the game and then Sanvido put the T-Birds ahead with less than two minutes left in the period as he stole the puck, walked in and beat Comrie.
The Sanvido, Rouse and Swenson line had a big night. Both Swenson and Sanvido scored two goals, Sanvido added two assists and Rouse picked up three helpers.
"They were good all night," Konowalchuk said. "They have some good chemistry going right now and have been a good line for us, we talk about having more than one good line. Lockhart's line is reliable and Delnov's line continues to be dangerous."
With a slim one-goal lead the T-Birds had twenty minutes to end one of the longest loosing streaks in the league. They put away any doubt early as Alex Delnov scored two minutes in to extend the lead to two goals. Seattle then extended the lead as Riley Sheen deflected a puck in the net and they finally put the game away as Sanvido notched a short-handed empty netter.
Seattle ended the streak, but more importantly, they've won their third straight game, all against teams ahead of them in the standings and may be playing the best hockey of the season. The team seems to be playing with confidence.
"We were better in the second period," Konowalchuk said. "We didn't have it (confidence) in the first and we had to find it. This should be a confidence boost for them and they should know that the bar is raised higher and we expect to win these games."
Seattle takes their three game win streak to Everett Friday night with a game against the Silvertips before hosting the Portland Winterhawks on Saturday night at the ShoWare Center.
The last time Seattle won at Tri-City was February 1st, 2008. The T-Birds were led in scoring that year by Bud Holloway, that's how long it's been. Konowalchuk mentioned that the team was not focused on the streak and nobody even mentioned it. He felt that in junior hockey, with the high turn-over, the players don't dwell on things like that.
Seattle has beat Kelowna, Kamloops and now Tri-City in their last three games. Those teams have a combined record of 57-27-3-4 (stick tap to Tim Pigulski for that stat)
With the win the T-Birds are creeping up on the Americans in the U.S. Division standings. They now are five points behind Tri-City with a game in hand. It will be interesting to keep an eye on that the rest of the season.
Brendan Rouse was +6 on Thursday night. Connor Sanvido was +4 and Jarred Hauf and Jarret Smith were each +3. Tri-City's Mitch Topping took it on the chin with a -4 for the Americans.
Seattle was 1-9-0-0 against Tri-City last year and is off to a 2-0-0-0 start so far this year.