By Andrew Eide
After battling down the stretch to make the playoffs the Seattle Thunderbirds stormed into Prospera Place in Kelowna Friday night and shocked the heavily favored Rockets with a 5-4 overtime thriller. Captain Luke Lockhart was the hero again as he scored two goals, including the overtime winner to give the T-Birds a surprising one game lead in their Western Conference first round playoff series.
For a team that had very little playoff experience the T-Birds played like seasoned veterans.
Seattle looked adversity in the eye three times Friday night and did not blink. They fought back to tie the game three times before ending it 19:09 into overtime.
"Its exciting," head coach Steve Konowalchuk said of his team. "The guys are excited, to come in here with their (Kelowna) record, their home record, all their talent and to put up a good road win, the guys are pretty happy."
There were many heroes in this game which included a three point night from defenseman Jesse Forsberg (a goal and two assists), Brandon Glover who made 35 big saves and of course Lockhart.
For the last month the captain has put this club on his shoulders and willed them to big wins. Friday night was no different. He killed penalties and scored what may be the two biggest goals of his career in Seattle.
"Another solid game for him," Konowalchuk said of his captain. "What a game. He's picked up offensively down the stretch, he's getting rewarded which is good, but it's a result of everyone chipping in."
Seattle also got a big performance by their penalty killing unit who killed off four first period power plays -- no small feat when you realize Kewlona has the fourth best power play in the league.
"The PK was huge for us," Konowalchuk said. "We gave them too many penalties and I thought that it put us on our heels a bit to start the game."
The Rockets started the scoring in the first when Damon Severson knocked home his own rebound to give the home team an early lead. Seattle, as they have done the last few weeks, fought back as Riley Sheen took a nice feed from Alex Delnov and buried it behind Rockets goalie Jordan Cooke.
Kelowna struck late in the first period with what, at the time, seemed like it could be a potential momentum swing goal. After a defensive break down Dylan McKinlay cashed in on a nice pass from Myles Bell and the Rockets ended the first, up a goal.
Seattle would not be swayed by the goal however. Roberts Lipsbergs and Forsberg scored back to back goals to give Seattle a 3-2 lead, and maybe more importantly, hope. That hope seemed to be dashed though as the Rockets answered with two goals of their own. Seattle was short-handed when Jared Hauf was called for a pretty questionable tripping call giving the Rockets a two man power play.
Kelowna took advantage and tied it up 11 seconds later. As bad as that seemed, the Rockets came out in the third period and got an early goal from Bell to take the lead back and it started to look like the favored Rockets had maintained order in the game.
Seattle kept grinding though and after getting some big saves from Glover managed to tie the game just over six minutes left. Forsberg took a shot from the point that Cooke stopped. Lockhart was on the doorstep and managed to get the puck and sweep it past Cooke as he was falling to the ice. It was Lockhart's first playoff goal and it gave Seattle a third life.
The T-Birds showed tremendous poise in coming back all night.
"We're just going to have fun," Konowalchuk said about his team's outlook. "It doesn't matter if they score, we score, we're just going to have fun and battle."
The game went into overtime and unlike the regular season, where Seattle struggled in the extra frame, Seattle held their own. After trading chances through most of the overtime period Seattle got the game winner when Lockhart scored his second career playoff goal. Connor Honey had a golden chance to win it but Cooke stopped him only to have the rebound land on Lockhart's stick and he buried the game winner.
Game 2 is Saturday night and both teams will have to come back after an extended game with only one night's rest. Konowalchuk is not worried about his team's energy going into Saturday night.
"Both teams had a long game," he said. "We kept most of the guys in it, some guys got used more, but it should be even and we have to expect a big effort from them tomorrow."
Friday's game was Seattle's first post-season overtime affair since a second round tilt with Tri City in 2008.
Let's hear it for the underdogs. Seattle's Eastern Conference counterparts, the seventh seeded Medicine Hat Tigers, took a two game lead on Saskatoon Friday night. Add that to Everett's surprise win in Portland and the old saying 'that's why you play the games' has never rung more true.
The last time Seattle and Kelowna faced off in the playoffs was 2008 and the road team won the first four games. Will the same hold true this time?
Seattle threw 50 pucks at Jordan Cooke, who was making his first WHL playoff appearance.
The win was Brandon Glover's 7th playoff appearance and second career win. He previously had seen action with Moose Jaw and last year with Calgary. He may save his best hockey for the playoffs as he now has a career post-season goals against of 2.23 and a stellar save percentage of .928.
With the win Seattle has stolen home ice advantage from Kelowna and will host games three and four in Kent on March 26th and 27th.
Highlights of the big win can be found here.