Updated Mar 17, 2013 - 1:19 am
T-Birds clinch seventh place in 6-5 shoot out loss to Portland
Seattle's Danny Mumaugh stops Oliver Bjorkstrand during Portland's 6-5 win Saturday (Seattle Thunderbirds)
By Andrew Eide
KENT -- Seattle finished out their regular season schedule by hosting the Portland Winterhawks with seventh place on the line Saturday night at the ShoWare Center. The T-Birds earned that seventh place spot despite losing an entertaining game in the shoot out. Seattle was led by a four goal night by Roberts Lipsbergs but still could not finish off the Winterhawks. Portland's Chase De Leo ended the back and forth game with a nice shoot out goal sending the Portland bench on the ice to celebrate.
"That was an exciting game," Steve Konowalchuk said afterwards. "The fans got their money's worth, it was a fun game. Nice to get a point, still disappointed that we can't finish out these overtimes or shoot outs but there's no more shoot outs now."
With the point Seattle earned, and Everett's loss in overtime, the T-Birds clinched seventh place which means that they will face the B.C. Division Champion Kelowna Rockets in the first round of the playoffs.
The T-Birds did not want to leave anything to chance and earning the point was huge and will keep them from having to scoreboard watch, helplessly, Sunday afternoon. Seattle played one of their most spirited games of the season Saturday against the best team in junior hockey, coming back to tie three times before going to an extended shoot out.
"It was fun to play in, those close games are always fun to play in," Luke Lockhart said afterwards. "They're very intense, and its hard-working, it's a battle but they are games that are fun to play."
For the 5,529 fans in attendance the game was fun as well.
The star for Seattle was Roberts Lipsbergs who scored four goals, including the game-tying goal with just over a minute left. It was his second hat trick of the season and pushed his team-leading total to 30 on the year. There was praise for the Latvian import all around.
"What a night," Konowalchuk said. "He has an unbelievable shot, it's an NHL shot, there's two to three guys on NHL teams that can shoot the puck like that, in that kind of traffic and under that kind of pressure. With his quick release and power there are not many guys on NHL teams that can shoot like that."
About three weeks ago Konowalchuk moved Lockhart to Lipsbergs line to play center and it has been paying off. Saturday night, Lockhart assisted on three of Lipsbergs goals and seems to gel well with his new line mate.
"Obviously it's (playing with Lipsbergs) is great," Lockhart said. "He's a good player to play with, he can shoot the puck and it's just one of those days where you just get him the puck and it's going to go in."
The game got off to an auspicious start for Seattle. Portland took an early lead on a Nic Petan goal and got the game's first seven shots. Coming off a rough third period the night before it seemed that Seattle was still reeling from Friday night. Sensing his team was flat Konowalchuk called his timeout after the goal, trying to calm things down and wake up his players.
"I just wanted to get our guys going," Konowalchuk said about the timeout. "There were a couple guys who didn't have the cobwebs off and we needed to wake them up quick before the game was out of hand."
The T-Birds responded and tied the game on an Andrew Johnson goal, as he deflected a pass from right in front of Brendan Burke. Despite that goal Portland still had the better of the first period play and picked up another goal as Paul Bittner scooped up a turned over puck and beat Brandon Glover to give Portland their lead right back.
Lipsbergs heated up in the second period and got his first goal early in the frame to tie the game back up again only to have Portland strike twice in response. The second Portland goal of the period came on a wicked slap shot from top NHL prospect Seth Jones as he blasted the puck from the point to beat Glover. That goal ended Glover's night who made 17 saves on 21 shots for the night.
With Mumaugh in net the T-Birds began their long uphill climb back into the game. Lipsbergs cut the Winterhawks lead to one with his second goal, a power play goal, but once again Portland got their two goal lead back after Brendan Leipsic beat Mumaugh. The T-Birds showed the last two nights that they could fight back and Lipsbergs completed his hat trick 20 seconds after the Leipsic goal to pull Seattle back to within one heading into the third.
"Guys kept playing," Konowalchuk said. "The difference tonight, when they got the two goal lead, we stayed disciplined and chipped away. When they got the two goal yesterday we started taking penalties and that hurt us."
In the third period Mumaugh played perhaps his best hockey all year. He made several stellar saves, robbing Leipsic on more than one occasion which left the star winger perplexed. The young Seattle goalie stood tall keeping the high powered Winterhawks at bay, giving his team a chance to tie the game.
"He went in and played great," Konowalchuk said. "He earned us a point and gave us ample opportunities to get the second point, we just couldn't get the puck in there. He played a super game and down the stretch here I have the up most confidence in putting him in."
With time winding down Mumaugh raced to the bench for an extra attacker and with just over a minute to go Lipsbergs completed his epic night with his fourth goal to tie it, sending the crowd into delirium. In overtime both teams went back and forth and had several good chances only to be stopped by the two goalies.
The game headed to a shoot out and was not decided until the sixth shooter when De Leo was able to beat Mumaugh for the win.
While Seattle technically lost this game, it felt like a victory in many ways. The T-Birds had their sights set on finishing seventh and played hard the last week to secure it. They won a big game to clinch their playoff spot and played a great game Saturday to earn the point that clinched seventh. They didn't back in, they didn't have to wait around for some other team to lose -- something that should bode well for their play next week.
"Our guys should be more and more confident," Konowalchuk said about moving forward."I think we've battled in every game down the stretch here. Obviously Kelowna is a real good team, we got to come out and work real hard. It's not necessarily where you start, we tell our guys that. We had a young D-core to start the year that kept growing and growing and I think as of late you can see the defensive play more and more confident. Now it's a whole new life and outlook, the playoffs take on a life of their own, it will be fun."
Seattle plays Game 1 at Prospera Place in Kelowna at 7 pm.
The last Seattle player to record four games in a goal was Marcel Noebels in the 2010-2011 season.
Lockhart said the team was not aware they had clinched seventh place until after the game. He just missed on his shoot out attempt and claimed he was 'devastated' he missed. Talking about it he shook his head and said, "I had him, I had him."
Before the game Suzette Cooke, mayor of Kent announced that she was declaring Saturday 'Luke Lockhart' day to celebrate the captain's career with the T-Birds. "It's an honor," he said of the pre-game ceremony. "I've had a great five years here, the fans have been great to me, everyone's been great, lot's of support. It's not something I expected, or asked for but it's a big honor."
Seattle will play Game 1 and 2 in Kelowna on March 22nd and 23rd. Game's 3 and 4 will be in Kent on March 26th and 27th. If needed game 5 is scheduled for March 30th in Kelowna, game 6th in Kent on April 2nd and game 7 in Kelowna on April 3rd.
Here are the exciting highlights:
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