Updated Mar 1, 2013 - 10:37 pm
T-Birds come up big, beat Tri City 3-1
By Andrew Eide
Coming into this season Seattle had lost 22 straight games to the Tri City Americans at the Toyota Center in Kennewick, where they found themselves Friday night. Despite already winning there once this year the odds seemed stacked against a T-Birds team that desperately needed a win. Tri City had won seven games in a row coming into Friday and Seattle had been struggling, losing four in a row. None of that mattered Friday night as a suffocating Seattle D led the T-Birds to a gritty 3-1 win.
"Very strong effort," head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. "Very good, right from the start our heads were in it, guys were doing their jobs, sacrificing the body, blocking shots and getting in the passing lanes."
Seattle (22-35-7-1) played perhaps their best road period of the season Friday as they out-shot Tri City 14-7 to start the game. They threw a relentless forecheck at the Americans, giving them no room to move the puck and when the puck did end up in the Seattle zone it was quickly going the other way.
Seattle got on the board first with a gritty goal, the kind they had been struggling to score, when Seth Swenson banged away at a loose puck at the side of the Americans net. He whacked away five or six times before getting it under goalie Troy Trombley for his 17th of the season.
"It's always good to get the first one," Konowalchuk said. "That happens because we were ready, he kept whacking and hacking at it, until he heard a whistle."
The T-Birds kept the pressure on and scored three minutes later after a Daniel Wray shot was blocked and Roberts Lipsbergs knocked home the rebound for his 23rd goal of the season. Seattle had a two goal lead that was well earned by their tough play and relentless pressure on the Tri City forwards.
Tri City (37-23-1-2) faced more of the same for the first half of the second period. Seattle refused their forwards any passage and the Americans could not establish anything in the Seattle zone. They finally were able to break through as Connor Rankin tipped a Drydn Dow point shot, giving the 5,040 fans in attendance some excitement.
Two minutes later the Americans went on the power play and it seemed like the momentum was about to shift. Down only a goal Tri City had a chance to tie it up and shift the feel of the game. Seattle's penalty kill was strong all night and among the heroes was Connor Sanvido who blocked shots, broke up passes and on the second period kill lugged the puck up ice and drew an interference call against the Americans. It killed the penalty and calmed the game back down.
"The penalty kill was very big," Konowalchuk said. "We had chances to put the game out of reach with our power play but we couldn't do it, the only problem was that taking penalties put us on our heels a bit."
Seattle found themselves on their heels during the third period as Tri City gave them all they could handle. The Americans poured the pressure on and out shot Seattle 14-6 in the final twenty minutes but could not get anything past Brandon Glover who made 28 saves on the night. After two periods where he did not get much work the T-Birds leaned on their 20-year-old goalie and he didn't let them down.
"He made the saves," Konowalchuk said. "He had good rebound control too and he froze the puck which allowed us to make line changes and mix it up a bit."
With two minutes left in the game the Americans pulled Trombley for the extra skater. It was in this same situation they managed to tie up a game in Kent only a couple of weeks prior - the tension was building again. They had Seattle pinned in their own end as the T-Birds could only manage to ice the puck on three separate occasions. With a tired group of Lockhart, Alex Delnov, Lipsbergs, Jerret Smith and Griffen Foulk trapped on the ice the T-Birds scrambled to keep the puck out of the net for a minute and a half before finally getting a line change.
Key to those final minutes was Lockhart winning face off after face off in his own end, making Tri City have to chase the puck instead of being able to set up. Lockhart was rewarded for his effort with an empty net goal to seal the deal with only three seconds left. It was Lockhart's 20th goal of the season and the icing on the cake of his strong effort Friday.
"He's one of the best two-way players in this league," Konowalchuk said. "I think he's a top three or four face off guy as well. It was good to see him get rewarded, it was good to see the team rewarded for playing the right way."
The win put Seattle three points ahead of Everett, who lost to Edmonton 7-1, for seventh place and eight points ahead of the Prince George Cougars who are in ninth place. For a game that not many outside the T-Birds room felt they could win, Friday's game was huge. It was a gritty, strong effort that the team won with a great deal of heart.
The two teams will do it all over again Saturday night at the ShoWare Center in Kent, face off is at 7:05.
Seattle was without Connor Honey again Friday and defenseman Jesse Forsberg. Forsberg was hit with a high stick in the head Thursday against Kelowna. Honey remains day-to-day.
The T-Birds special teams were a bitter-sweet affair Friday as the power play struggled and went 0-for-5 on the night and gave up two short-handed break a ways.
Seattle wasn't the only team desperate for points and playoff positioning. The Americans came into the night in fourth place, one point ahead of Spokane. With their loss and Spokane's overtime win in Victoria the Chiefs jumped ahead of Tri City.
The game represented the first loss for Americans goalie Troy Trombley on the year. Trombley, nick-named 'Too Tall' for his 6'6" frame, was called up when Eric Comrie was done for the season. He had won his first six starts.
Tri City captain Justin Feser set a WHL record by playing in his 312th consecutive game. Feser, a 20-year-old is having another stellar season and should be an MVP candidate.
Follow Andrew on twitter @andyeide
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