Branden Troock scores a big goal late in the second period during Seattle's 5-4 victory (photo Seattle Thunderbirds)
By Andrew Eide
KENT -- Mark this game down on your calendar, or somewhere where you will remember it. Seattle played one of their strongest games of the season to beat the Portland Winterhawks 5-4 in overtime Saturday night in front of 4,622 fans at the ShoWare Center. Alex Delnov beat Brendan Burke 4:19 into the extra frame to send Seattle to the win.
Seattle got a big night from their captain Justin Hickman who scored two big goals, including a late game tying goal. After getting their teeth kicked in by their biggest rivals for three straight games, this one felt like a win that could right the T-Birds ship.
It didn't come easy though.
Portland made it look like it might lead to more grief after the Winterhawks stormed back in the third period to erase a two goal lead and pull ahead by one in the third. With six minutes left the T-Birds called timeout to regain their composure and get their game going again.
It worked as two minutes later Hickman picked up a loose puck in the slot and got it home to tie the game. It was his second of the night and gave Seattle a second life.
"I don't really remember how it got to me in the slot but I just kind of spun and fired one on net," Hickman said of the play. "I kept going to the net and found the rebound on my back hand and just put it in the open net. It felt good."
The game went into overtime and appeared to be destined for a shoot out until Delnov walked into the slot from the half-boards and beat Burke in the five-hole. The T-Birds bench erupted and flooded the ice to celebrate the type of win they seemed hard pressed to pick up just a night before.
"It was the complete opposite (to Friday's game)," head coach Steve Konowalchuk said about his team. "It was the reaction we would have hoped we would have had. We came out to win a hockey game and if they were going to beat us they were going to have to play a heck of a game."
For the second straight home game, Seattle (13-9-1-3) took on one of the league's best teams and played them toe-to-toe. They got going early as the emotion and energy led to two early scraps that seemed to fire up the T-Birds bench.
Hickman got Seattle on the board first with a goal that he banged home from the side of the Portland net -- in almost the same spot that he would score from later. Portland (18-5-2-1) got the goal back late as Taylor Leier beat Justin Myles while short-handed.
The second period saw both clubs take turns controlling the play and getting good scoring chances. Seattle pulled ahead again when Roberts Lipsbergs took a pass from Ethan Bear and fired a quick shot for his 15th goal of the year. The T-Birds got an even bigger goal just before the period ended when Branden Troock got a pass from Scott Eansor and beat Burke with 17 seconds left in the period.
"I just kind of took a little break and Eansor made the right play to chip it ahead to me," said Troock of the play. "I just got my feet moving and shot it in stride and beat the goalie far post."
It seemed like maybe Seattle would breeze to an easy win.
Instead, the defending WHL Champions almost turned the night into a disaster for Seattle. They got on the board seven minutes into the third on a Keegan Iverson goal and then tied it up when Nic Petan beat Myles. Seattle has seen Portland do this before -- they can score in bunches.
Two minutes after the game-tying goal the Winterhawks took the lead when Brenden Leipsic knocked home a back door power play goal. For a second the air seemed to exit the building.
The T-Birds called their time out and got the game tying goal a few minutes later. It was a big night for the captain, Hickman, as he played determined and was rewarded with the game saving tally.
"That's huge," Troock said of the captain's play. "He was on a mission tonight, he was a beast out there. When he's digging in like that all the guys are going to fall right in."
Fall right in they did. Seattle was able to erase the bad taste in their mouth's from Friday night loss in Vancouver and go into next weekend with a lot of confidence and momentum.
"It's a big win because we were building some momentum with our compete level and it was pretty frustrating to see what happened last night...this was a big rebound to keep building that momentum," Konowalchuk said.
Seattle now has played two consecutive home games where they went toe-to-toe with the two best teams in the WHL. They picked up three points in those two games and that should give them a boost moving forward.
"That's definitely a confidence boost, we know that we can play with anybody," Hickman said. "That's the top team in the league and they've given us a bit of grief but if we come out and compete like that there's nobody in the league that can beat us."
Seattle will next play on Friday as they host the Saskatoon Blades.
Roberts Lipsbergs has now scored a goal in four straight games.
Scott Eansor played another strong game for Seattle. He centered a line with Jaimen Yakubowski and Sam McKechnie and they had the unenviable task of trying to check the Leipsic-Petan line. They held their own and Konowalchuk likes what he sees in Eansor. "Eansor just seems to be improving," he said of the Colorado native. "He's a well rounded hockey player. You're going to see him get more points...he can skate with the top players in the league. He's smart, he's tenacious and he's a pain to play against."
Seattle went 0-for-5 on the power play Saturday which snaps a streak of three straight games that they have at least one power play goal.
When Hickman scored in the first period it was the fifth straight game that Seattle has opened the scoring.
The T-Birds are now 2-3-0-0 against the Winterhawks. Last season they only managed two wins in the 13 games that they played against their I-5 rivals.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide