By Andrew Eide
The Thunderbirds were in Portland Saturday night and were shut out 3-0 by the Winterhawks in a game that can only be described as frustrating for Seattle.
Portland goalie Brendan Burke picked up his second straight shut out by making 16 saves as Portland has now won 11 out of their last 12 games. The Winterhawks scored two power play goals as well as a short handed goal as the T-Birds wasted a strong performance by goalie Taran Kozun who made 46 saves to keep the game close.
The story Saturday night was penalties. Seattle gave Portland eight power play chances on the night which kept the T-Birds offense on their heels and if not for Kozun and a strong penalty kill the game could have been much uglier.
"The penalties in the first two periods were a big part of the game," head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. "That being said, disappointing third period. We're down a goal, the penalty killers did a great job, goalie does a great job and our skill guys don't come out and work hard enough."
Seattle did manage to only be down a goal heading into the third despite being out shot 33-10 through the first forty minutes of play. That shot disparity was mostly due to the fact that Portland had six straight power play opportunities, including a five-minute power play and a two-minute 5-on-3 chance.
The penalties began late in the first period after the T-Birds had a decent start to the game. Heading into the second period scoreless the T-Birds made things worse for themselves.
Keegan Kolesar was given a five-minute fighting major penalty for going after Portland's Brendan Leipsic. The two players have a history as Leipsic was suspended seven games for an illegal hit on Kolesar in the last match up between these two teams. While Kolesar may have been looking for some payback, the altercation ended up putting his team down.
Leipsic was not given a penalty on the play as he did not drop his gloves. The Seattle bench was upset as they felt that Leipsic should have been called for something as he got his stick up into the face of Kolesar during the scrum. Konowalchuk said that the referee indicated to him that the stick infraction was not called because Kolesar had instigated the altercation.
The end result was that Portland's power play, which is the best in the WHL, would be on the ice for five minutes. Seattle made things even tougher on themselves after Jerret Smith was called for roughing, giving the Winterhawks two full minutes of a two-man advantage.
Despite hard work by the penalty kill, and some spectacular saves from Kozun, the Winterhawks were finally able to capitalize. Portland threw the puck around and found Nic Petan on the back door for an easy tap in goal.
Portland had the lead and would get more power play opportunities but could still not crack Kozun. Going into the final period the T-Birds were somehow only down one goal, despite having no offense. Konowalchuk reminded his guys that they were still in the game.
"We're in good position, now we just have to come out and play your best period," Konowalchuk said of his message to the team. "Power play get ready, you're going to get your chance, the game is on the line...and we just didn't seem to be able to find it."
In the third Seattle was finally given a power play chance of their own, only to give up a back-breaking short handed goal. Seattle turned the puck over in the neutral zone and Portland's Adam Rossignol took the puck in alone on Kozun and was able to beat him.
It was a big goal in a game that was still up for grabs and deflated Seattle. The T-Birds skill players never seemed to get going, whether it was Portland's defense or the fact that they had not seen the ice much because of the penalties, they just couldn't generate chances.
"Doesn't matter the reason," Konowalchuk said. "You've got to be able to work hard....that's disappointing when we battled that hard and we should have come out with more energy in the third period...that's a frustrating part of the game."
The Winterhawks would add another power play goal, this time from Oliver Bjorkstrand, later in the third to seal their 36th victory of the year.
Lost in the result was another outstanding performance by Kozun. His 46 saves were not of the easy variety as the high-flying Winterhawks had several good chances. The loss was his first as a member of the Thunderbirds and came in a game that might just have been his best.
"He was really good," Konowalchuk said. "That's why this game was really frustrating, we should have been able to come out in that third period and muster more energy than we did."
The loss put Seattle eight points back of the division leading Winterhawks and the T-Birds will now have to regroup and continue to try to reel them in. Seattle's next game will be back at home on Tuesday as they host the Everett Silvertips.
Portland continued to be a frustrating venue for the T-Birds. They have beaten the Winterhawks three times at home but have not fared well down South. They are now 0-4 in Portland and have been outscored 28-9 on Winterhawks' ice.
The shut out was the fourth time this year that Seattle has been blanked in a game. Previously they were shut out by Everett, Tri City and Edmonton.
Burke's shut out was his second straight as he made 32 saves Friday night against the Spokane Chiefs. Saturday's shut out was much easier as Seattle only mustered 16 shots on goal.
Branden Troock returned to the T-Birds lineup Saturday after being out since January 4th when he suffered an upper body injury against Edmonton.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide