Mathew Barzal celebrates his first period goal during Seattle's 4-3 win on Sunday (Thunderbirds)
By Andrew Eide
KENT -- With every point valuable, the T-Birds earned two big ones Sunday afternoon as they held on to beat the Vancouver Giants 4-3 in a shoot out.
Seattle got three assists from Shea Theodore along with a big shoot out conversion as Seattle held on after blowing a two-goal lead in the third period. The win snapped the T-Birds three game losing streak and kept them in the drivers seat to earn home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
"It's a big win and it's nice to get that second point," head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. "The guys deserved it. They played a good game. I was happy with our game for maybe all about a minute."
That minute was big, and after three tough losses might have spelled doom for the T-Birds.
Up 3-1 midway through the third period it looked liked Seattle (40-22-2-4) was going to cruise to an easy win. Vancouver (31-27-7-4) picked up a power play goal when Mason Geertsen blasted a shot from the point to bring the Giants back to within one.
On the ensuing face off Vancouver's Cain Franson was able to get the puck at the blue line and scored his 30th goal of the year as he beat Danny Mumaugh. The two goals were five seconds apart and felt like they had blown away what had been a good effort by the T-Birds.
"At that point of the third you don't have time to hang your head," Justin Hickman said. "They don't feel sorry for you so you just have to keep trucking along and find a way to get the two points, whether it came in overtime or in the shoot out."
Seattle didn't hang their heads and after a scoreless overtime period found themselves in a shoot out with a big second point on the line.
Vancouver got the early advantage in the shoot out after Franson scored. Down to their last shooter, the T-Birds needed a conversion from Theodore to stay alive. The defenseman skated in, made a nice move and beat Giants' goalie Payton Lee with a backhand.
"It's the first time I've shoot as the third shooter in a while," Theodore said of the goal. "Steve told me he had confidence in me and I guess I just got it done, I liked it. I just had a fake, two or three, and just went to my backhand and I guess I caught him out of position."
That score meant that the shoot out would continue and on Seattle's fifth attempt, Roberts Lipsbergs was able to beat Lee. That meant that if Mumaugh could stop Vancouver's Trent Lofthouse the T-Birds would have their big second point. Lofthouse skated in, Mumaugh didn't flinch giving the Vancouver forward no no room and forced him into lifting a shot over the net.
Mumaugh celebrated after earning his team a big point. With the success of Taran Kozun, Mumaugh has become the back up but he performed well, making 32 saves on the night. Not bad after sitting out for a couple of weeks.
"When you're playing a lot its easy to get the ball rolling," Mumaugh said about having to come in after time off. "It's definitely a little harder when you're not in the groove but my team battled really well in front of me. They gave us, the rest of the team, a great chance to win."
Mumaugh has come up big in pressure games before, last year clinching a playoff berth for the T-Birds against Tri City, so Sunday's performance should not be a surprise.
"He's a good battler," Konowalchuk said. "He's a competitive kid, he competes every day in practice and it's tough when you don't play as much. There's pressure on those guys when they get in there once and a while to relieve Kozun. He went in there and played well and battled in the shoot out."
After a couple of tough losses the T-Birds started Sunday's game well. They played with a sense of urgency and generated a lot of scoring chances -- picking up 47 shots on the night.
Vancouver managed to get on the board early in the game on a power play goal by Arvin Atwall but then the T-Birds would strike back for three unanswered goals.
"I thought our guys played a good game," Konowalchuk said. "(We) generated more in the offensive zone. Generating and we didn't sacrifice too much defensively...better desperation in the offense to create chances and next time we get that many chances we'll score some more goals, their goalie played a good game."
Seattle got the ball rolling with a late first period power play of their own. Theodore took a big slap shot from the point that beat a screened Lee. At first the goal was awarded to Theodore, which would have tied a franchise record for career goals by a defenseman. The play was reviewed after the game and it was determined that Mathew Barzal had actually tipped the shot in and he was awarded the goal.
In the second period the T-Birds continued to pressure Lee and would get the go-ahead tally after another nice play by Theodore. He had the puck at the point and made a couple of nice moves that had Vancouver's Dalton Sward spinning and turning to try and keep up with Theodore. He couldn't and Theodore got a passing lane which he used to find Alex Delnov in the slot. Delnov spun and beat Lee for his 28th goal of the year.
Seattle extended their lead ten minutes later when Jared Smith crashed the net on a delayed penalty call and tapped in a nice pass from Scott Eansor.
In the end, the T-Birds simply needed to win Sunday. The fact that they did so after allowing Vancouver to tie the game up late is big moving forward. They have a big game Tuesday night, at home, with the Spokane Chiefs. The Chiefs trail Seattle by four points in the race for fourth place in the West.
"Huge game on Tuesday," Hickman said. "Spokane, who we very likely may play in the first round of the playoffs. So it's going to be a playoff style game and I'm sure they're going to come, they're right behind us. We're going to be ready."
While Theodore will have to wait for his franchise record goal, he still had a big game. He picked up three assists, a shoot out conversion and was seemingly on the ice the entire night. He has five points in his last three games and the three assist game was his 19th multi-assist game of the season. He has had three or more in nine games so far this year and continues to lead WHL defenseman in scoring.
Hickman returned to the line up Sunday after having to sit out two games as he nursed a hand injury. He said after that he felt fine and that there were no ill affects.
Mumaugh had not started a game since February 16th against Prince George. He did get into Saturday night's loss to Everett for 16 minutes of relief time, which may have helped get him ready for Sunday. The win was his 15th of the year.
Theodore was not aware of how close he was to the team record but after the game was quick to point out that he thought Barzal had tipped the shot. The league will often change scoring plays after video review and Sunday the word came down pretty quickly that it was in fact, Barzal's goal.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide.