By Andrew Eide
Sometimes it is good for the soul to get out of town for a few days. Coming off two lack luster games within the U.S. Division the Seattle Thunderbirds headed to Medicine Hat and won a thrilling game in overtime 5-4. After Mathew Barzal tied the game on a penalty shot with 30 seconds left, Mitch Elliot, playing his first game of the season, scored at 2:24 of the overtime period to give Seattle the win.
This game had a little of everything. There were two Seattle comebacks, two penalty shots and numerous big saves at both end of the ice.
"It was a very exciting game for sure," head coach Steve Konowalchuk said after. "The fans got their money's worth tonight."
Seattle (4-2-0-0) gave up a power play goal to Miles Koules late in the third period and it looked like the T-Birds were on their way to a third straight loss. With their net empty the T-Birds poured on the pressure and with 29 seconds left in the game the Tigers were called for covering the puck in their own crease after a scramble. The result of that is a penalty shot.
Konowalchuk put the game on the stick of his 16-year-old rookie Barzal. Barzal calmly skated down the ice, made some quick stick-handling moves before depositing the puck behind Medicine Hat goalie Daniel Wapple. The goal tied the game and was Seattle's second come back of the night.
For Barzal, he has been tapped twice in shoot outs and now in a big moment at the end of the game. The young rookie does not seem to shrink from the pressure.
"He's pretty composed there," Konowalchuk said. "He likes the spot light and we have confidence in him."
The Tigers jumped on the T-Birds early in the game when Gavin Broadhead beat Jerret Smith and moved in on goalie Danny Mumaugh to score the first goal. Later in the period Hunter Shinkaruk roofed a puck over Mumuagh and the game was on the brink of being a disaster for Seattle. A minute after the Shinkaruk goal the T-Birds took a penalty and seemed to be falling apart.
That's when things changed for the T-Birds.
Justin Hickman picked up a loose puck at the Medicine Hat blue line and broke down the ice short-handed and beat Wapple to cut the lead and even more importantly keep Seattle from falling behind by three goals.
"If they get that third goal it's big," Konowalchuk said. "Two goals are only two goals and if you can get the next one you're in it but if they get that third its a big hill to climb."
The first period ended in a flurry. Shinkaruk scored his second goal of the night just after the Hickman goal to give the Tigers their two goal lead back. The T-Birds fought back though and cut the lead back to one with 28 seconds left as Shea Theodore made a pretty move around a defender and fired a wicked wrist shot that found the back of the net.
In the second period Seattle began to exert their will.
Their forecheck got going and they started to physically take the Tigers out of the game. They tied the game up when Branden Troock delivered a big hit behind the Tigers goal, took the puck and found a wide open Seth Swenson in front for the tying tally.
Medicine Hat (4-2-0-0) is considered one of the fastest teams in the league but Seattle matched their speed all night and hit them at every turn. That is Seattle's game and what makes them tough to play against.
"To me, that's our identity," Konowalchuk said. "We are a fast team, we're big and strong."
Seattle kept the pressure on in the third period but were unable to get the go ahead goal against Wapple. The T-Birds took a bad, after-the-whistle penalty with 7:21 left in the game and Medicine Hat converted on the resulting power play. Koules got behind all the Seattle defenders at the blue line and was allowed to walk in all alone to beat a sprawling Mumaugh to give the Tigers a goal that felt like the game winner.
Seattle kept pushing though and that effort resulted in the Tigers covering the puck and allowing for Barzal to tie the game. In the overtime Swenson and Elliot worked the puck down low, got it in front and started banging away at it until Elliot got it home. It was Elliot's first game back with the T-Birds after an extended stay in the AHL's Utica Comets camp this fall.
This win was a complete team effort as everybody on the roster played well and contributed.
"They played hard," Konowalchuk said of his team. "That's the effort we need. We were finishing checks and I thought we wore them (Medicine Hat) down in the third period."
Seattle now moves on to take on the Lethbridge Hurricanes Saturday night at 6 P.M.
Shea Theodore is off to a fast start offensively. His goal Friday was his third of the season and he has five points now in four games played.
In the third period defenseman Evan Warldey lost an edge and crashed hard into the boards. He left the ice and did not return to the game. Konowalchuk said that he had an upper body injury and that they would have to evaluate him Saturday to see where he stood.
Justin Hickman was among the many players who had a strong game for the T-Birds. Konowalchuk felt that Hickman, who was playing in his third game of the season, may have been too excited to be back in the first two games. Saturday he settled into his game and was strong all night.
Danny Mumaugh gave up three goals in the third period but was big in the second and third. "I thought he got better as the game went on," Konowalchuk said of his goalie. "He gave us a chance to win." The win was Mumaugh's second of the year and third in his career.
Seattle is now 3-0 in overtimes this year after leading the league in overtime losses last year with seven.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide