Updated Dec 1, 2013 - 10:11 pm
T-Birds blast Spokane to win fourth in a row
By Andrew Eide
It turns out three games in three nights were no sweat for the T-Birds. After two blow out home wins Seattle hit the road Sunday and scored the first five goals of the game to beat the Chiefs in Spokane 5-1. The T-Birds got goals from five different players, scored three times on the power play and Justin Myles made 28 saves for Seattle's fourth win in a row.
Sunday's game was the first game against U.S. Division rivals Spokane, who started the night two points ahead of Seattle in the standings. Seattle started the game strong, collecting the first ten shots and putting the Chiefs on their heels early -- it set a tone for the rest of the night.
"Guys, in the first period came out and played smart, played physical," head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. "I thought it set the tone of the game from the start."
Seattle (16-9-1-3) got on the board first with a power play goal when Roberts Lipsbergs got the puck in the face off circle and beat Spokane goalie Garret Hughson with a wrist shot. The Chiefs got a power play chance late in the period and picked up a bit of momentum but were unable to get anything past Myles.
The second period was more of the same for Seattle as they played a solid defensive game, managed the puck well and extended their lead when Alex Delnov fed a crashing Branden Troock in the slot. Troock knocked it home for his 10th goal of the season and now has scored in four straight games.
Spokane (17-10-0-2) came into the game with the WHL's second best power play unit and in the second period were given three power play chances to get back in the game. The T-Birds penalty kill was strong though and did not allow Spokane much of anything on any of their chances and the Chiefs ended the night 0-for-5 with the man advantage.
For Seattle, the excellent penalty kill kept Spokane at bay.
"I thought they (the penalty killers) did a nice job of staying in the lanes, not running out of position and staying patient," Konowalchuk said."When they got a chance, Myles was good."
Going into the third period the T-Birds had been the better team but still only had a two-goal advantage and the win was far from secure. As they have the last few nights Seattle's offense erupted and scored three third period goals to bury the Chiefs.
It started with Alex Delnov picking up a puck deep in the Chiefs' zone, after a nice forecheck. He walked the puck out front and beat Hughson for his 14th goal of the year.
Later in the period, Spokane's Colton Bobyk was called for two minor penalties giving the T-Birds four minutes of power play time -- they didn't need four minutes. Mathew Barzal deflected an Adam Henry point shot past Hughson on the first power play and then a pretty Barzal rush through the Spokane defense resulted in a shot rebounding to Henry who potted it to give Seattle a five-goal lead.
Spokane picked up a late goal from Riley Whittingham but by then the game was sealed.
The Chiefs big guns, Mitch Holmberg and Mike Aviani, were silenced on Sunday and even though he couldn't dictate the match ups all night, Konowalchuk liked the total team effort he got in shutting down Spokane's offense.
"It was (a team effort)," he said. "Everybody did a good job, they were responsible for pucks. At times I had the McKechnie line out there but with all the penalties and four on four hockey I didn't want to stick to that match up too much, wanted to keep everybody involved."
Everybody was involved and Seattle skated to their fourth straight win and picked up two big points against a division rival that had been ahead of them in the standings. With still two more games against the Chiefs this coming week, getting the first one was big.
"We're certainly happy to get the first win," Konowalchuk said. "They're a good hockey team over there and we wanted to get the first two points. We're bunched up in the standings so any time you get a division game it's very important."
Looking ahead in a week that feels like a playoff series Konowalchuk doesn't foresee making any adjustments to the game plan that has been clicking very well for Seattle.
"We don't do anything different," he said of the next two games. "We come out and make sure we push the pace and stick with the same game plan and we know they're going to come out with a huge effort to even it up, so we'll have to be ready to go."
Seattle's next game will be back in Spokane Friday night for a rematch with the Chiefs.
Justin Myles' bid for a shut out ended with less than nine minutes left in the game when Whittingham scored. Had he been able to hold on it would have been his first career shut out.
During their six game losing streak in November the T-Birds struggled to generate scoring chances and score goals. They have found the right mix to get back to scoring during their four game winning streak. Over that stretch they have scored 22 goals and this weekend outscored their opponents 17-6.
It's hard to say who the hottest Thunderbirds player is right now but a good argument could be made for Delnov. He now has six goals and ten points over his last seven games.
While Seattle's next opponent will be a rematch with the Chiefs, Spokane will play a game in between. They will host the Saskatoon Blades on Wednesday.
Sunday's win was the second consecutive win for the T-Birds in Spokane. Seattle beat the Chiefs 4-2 last season on March 6th -- their final game against Spokane of the year.
Sunday marked the second time this year that Seattle has won all three games over a three-in-three weekend. Earlier they defeated Medicine Hat, Lethbridge and Kootenay on consecutive nights -- giving them a 6-0 record on such weekends this year. Perhaps they should always play three-in-three.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide
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