Updated Mar 7, 2013 - 12:50 pm
T-Birds come from behind to beat Chiefs 4-2
If it seems that every game the Thunderbirds play this time of year is huge, it's because they are. Wednesday night they were playing a tough Spokane club and scored three unanswered goals in the third period along with spectacular saves from Brandon Glover to earn a 4-2 victory over the Chiefs. The win was as big as they get as it allowed Seattle to pull two points ahead of Everett in the Western Conference playoff race.
"You know what, it was a good road win," Steve Konowalchuk said afterwards. "I didn't like the start but we played a good and smart second and third periods, we were in good position to win the game. Special teams was the difference in the game."
Seattle's power play unit had been struggling but scored two big goals Wednesday in the win. The first came when they were down 2-0 in the second period. Roberts Lipsbergs fired a shot from the slot for the goal, his 24th, and Seattle remained within reach of the Chiefs. Spokane out shot Seattle in the second period 16-6 but could not add to their total as the T-Birds did a good job at keeping the shots from being great scoring chances. Any that were, Glover stopped.
The third period is where the game got exciting for the T-Birds as they came out flying, playing with confidence and controlled the flow of the game. Whatever Konowalchuk told them between periods worked.
"You could feel it coming," he said. "In the first we didn't get the start I wanted but the second I thought was pretty even and I just said that we were in position to win a road game. That's probably all I said to them."
That position got stronger as they forced Spokane into penalties and got the power play clicking again. Spokane had a chance to clear the zone but Luke Lockhart stretched his 5'11" frame as tall as he could to grab the puck and keep it in the zone. He then slid the puck over to Shea Theodore who fired a slap shot that beat Spokane goalie Eric Williams to tie the game. It was Theodore's 17th game of the season.
After seven Seattle power plays you had the feeling that a call would probably soon go the other way and sure enough less than a minute after the goal Spokane was awarded a power play. With some of the bad breaks Seattle has had all year it felt like this would be a big turning point. It turns out that it was a big turning point, only this time in the T-Birds favor.
Seth Swenson gobbled up the puck and headed up ice with Connor Sanvido on his left. There was only one Spokane defender back and Swenson forced him to commit before getting the puck to Sanvido who beat Williams for a huge short-handed goal. Both Sanvido and Swenson have been playing well short-handed lately.
"Those two are clicking," Konowalchuk said. "They're clicking five-on-five as well, it's another line that's been good for us. Swenson can make offense out of nothing, he's got good hands and this last little bit he has picked his spots to make plays."
As Seattle did on Friday night in Kennewick they leaned on their goalie to preserve the lead. Glover never has stood taller for the T-Birds than he did Wednesday night down the stretch. The first big moment came as the puck was loose and seemed headed into the net. As Spokane players started to celebrate Glover dove back for the puck and managed to get his stick on it, keeping it out.
A few minutes later Spokane got another chance that Glover stymied. However, in the scrum afterwards a Seattle player covered the puck in the crease with his glove. That is not allowed and Spokane was given a penalty shot on the play. Brenden Kichton took the shot for Spokane and as he fired on Glover the goalie got his pads on it and confidently snatched the rebound out of the air with his glove. It was a statement by Glover, as if to say 'not tonight'.
Kichton got another chance a few minutes later on a break away and again Glover denied him. After that Spokane seemed to lose some morale and when Riley Sheen fired home an empty net goal with seconds remaining Seattle had earned a huge win. It was the second straight road win for Seattle, both in buildings that they have not fared well in over the past years.
With the playoffs on the line picking up wins like this are huge and it's a great sign moving forward that the team has been playing well of late.
"It's a sign we're growing as a team," Konowalchuk said. "Early on we were playing like this at home, where we had a chance to win every game in the third. We weren't playing like that on the road, now we're doing it on the road as well and its a sign we're growing up."
The win puts Seattle in good position for the big weekend coming up. They host the Prince George Cougars Friday night at the ShoWare Center before hosting Everett the following night. Both games are must-win, winnable games as they lead prince George by eight points and Everett by two.
Wednesday was the second time the T-Birds have won two consecutive road games this year. On December 6th and 7th they picked up road wins at Tri City and Everett.
Roberts Lipsbergs scored his 24th goal of the season in the first period. With five games left he has a good shot at hitting the 30 goal mark. It would be the first time a T-Birds player hit 30 goals since the 2010-2011 season when Burke Gallimore scored 34.
About four or five games ago Konowalchuk moved Lockhart to the Alex Delnov and Lipsbergs line. Since then the line has shown some good chemistry and Konowalchuk likes that Lockhart's defensive ability frees up the other two to use their speed. He also trusts them against any other line with the stability of Lockhart out there. When Connor Honey returns it will be interesting to see how Konowalchuk uses him.
One of Seattle's worst losses this year came in December when they lost to Spokane after blowing a 6-2 lead in the third period. Wednesday's come from behind must have felt like a small bit like redemption.
Follow Andrew on twitter @andyeide
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