(1090 The Fan) — Following a 7-1 thumping courtesy of division-rival Portland Friday, the Thunderbirds responded the way a playoff team should: It earned two points against an inferior team.
Jared Hauf connected on a slap shot from the left point, beating Kamloops netminder Connor Ingram for the go-ahead goal with less than five minutes to play. An empty-net goal from Nick Holowko in the final seconds solidified the Thunderbirds’ 3-1 win Saturday at the ShoWare Center.
It was a grind-out, hard-fought win that has been especially hard to come by for the Thunderbirds (33-24-4-5) against this Blazers team of late.
“You wouldn’t get anything but that against (Kamloops) in the way they always play and the situation they’re in,” Seattle head coach Steve Konowalchuk said.
Kamloops (25-34-4-3) held wins in all three of the previous meetings between the teams this season, including a 3-2 shootout win in February. The Blazers trail Tri-City by two points for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot with six games to play.
Seattle’s win created some much needed separation between the Spokane Chiefs, a team that trailed the T-Birds by seven points with two extra games to play entering the night. Third place is a coveted position because it means facing the second-place U.S. Division team rather than the division winner in the opening round of the Western Hockey League playoffs. A 1-3-1-1 record from Seattle over its previous six games left the Chiefs a window of opportunity.
After a stalemate in the first period, Cory Millette gave Seattle a 1-0 lead at 4:53 of the second period. His deflection of an Ethan Bear shot from the top of the point sneaked just under the crossbar. The early goal did nothing to cement Seattle’s advantage. Instead, Kamloops controlled puck possession, earned two power plays and dominated with a 22-8 shot advantage.
“We let up. Started turning pucks over, just not working, shortcuts,” said Konowalchuk. “When you take shortcuts, you spend a lot of time in your end especially when you’re playing against a team that doesn’t take shortcuts.”
At 17:16 Matt Needham tied the score 1-1. If it weren’t for some special saves from Seattle goaltender Taran Kozun, the T-Birds would have entered the third period trailing. Kozun stopped 39 shots one game after being pulled in the second period after giving up four goals to Portland.
“He was good,” Konowalchuk said of his starting goalie. “It was a big stretch for him to hold us in there and only give them the one (goal).”
From there, the Thunderbirds rebounded with a better third period and pulled out the win. Hauf found an opening from above the left face-off circle at 15:36, sending a shot over the shoulder of Ingram for his fourth goal of the season and second game-winner. Seattle did it without one power play opportunity all game, the first time it has gone without a man advantage all season.
“I know it wasn’t the second period that we wanted, but when you’re really sticking to the process I felt like we finished strong in the third and got the two points,” said Thunderbirds captain Shea Theodore.
Seattle has a full five days off before it hosts division-leading Everett on Friday. Rest it needs after a long stretch of games and another one coming to conclude the season.
“Lots of rest (to) rest the legs up. I know we have four (games) in five (nights) to finish up the year,” said Theodore. “So this week is going to be huge for us going down the stretch.”
1. SEA Cory Millette (21) (Bear, Barzal), 4:53
2. KAM Matt Needham (23) (Revel, Ully), 17:16
3. SEA Jared Hauf (3) (Wardley, Gropp), 15:36
4. SEA Nick Holowko (5) (Barzal), 19:16 (EN)
Seattle clinched a Western Conference playoff spot in the WHL playoffs for the third consecutive season Wednesday night courtesy Vancouver’s loss . . . F Keegan Kolesar (broken arm) was scratched for second consecutive game after he was injured in win over Victoria Tuesday. Forwards Alexander True (wrist) and Luke Osterman also were scratched for T-Birds Saturday.
-Anthony Dion, 1090 The Fan
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