In sports, the phrase "game of inches" applies to almost any game be it hockey or horseshoes. It means one play, move or shot goes even slightly different and the final results could be altered.
It was that kind of weekend for the Thunderbirds. A 2-0 lead at home late Friday against Lethbridge dissolves but the T-Birds find a way to prevail. Which early save, poke check or deflected shot in that game, that seemed fairly routine at the time, was big later on?
Then Seattle is under seige for the first 20 minutes Saturday night down in Portland. They catch a break when a couple of Winterhawks shots miss a wide open net. But the T-Birds regroup during the first intermission and, after being outshot 22-3 in the first period but only down a goal, outshoot Portland 31-24 the rest of the way, find a way to tie the contest late in the second period, control the tempo for a good portion of the third and win the game in a shootout. What's the old adage? It's not how you start but how you finish.
I think the lesson learned by the T-Birds in both games is the same; you play to the final horn. I'm not sure but it's possible that a young team that hasn't won a lot recently may have felt a late two-goal lead against the Hurricanes was safe and eased up a little at the end Friday. It almost came back to bite them. A year ago it probably would have, but these aren't your cousin's T- Birds. They just don't dwell on it or let it linger in the back of their minds. They push forward, learning and moving on.
Saturday in Portland there was probably a vast majority in that building (everyone outside the Seattle locker room) that thought that game was over after the first period. But Seattle recognized there were still 40 minutes left (45-plus as it turned out) and they were only down a goal. There was plenty of time for them to make adjustments and get back in the game. That's exactly what they did. I said on the air during the first intermission that it was their own mistakes the 'Birds had to clean up and felt if they did that they would be fine. It goes back to something I've heard coaches say in the past; control the controllables. In other words, take care of your game and don't worry too much about the opponent.
I think the T-Birds might have been too intimidated at the beginning of that game in Portland. The Winterhawks had all those players back from NHL camps and Seattle's not supposed to be able to skate with them. So, the T-Birds started to make unforced errors in their own end of the ice, turning the puck over and failing to clear the zone. They played a bit panicky in that first period. I could envision coach Sumner in the lockerroom during the first intermission telling his players to keep it simple, take care of the defensive zone and forecheck, forecheck, forecheck!
A lot of deserved and justified praise was heaped on Calvin Pickard after that game. What was amazing was Picks didn't have to make too many acrobatic saves on the 46 shots he faced. Unreal that he was in perfect position to stop so many shots. And he was also very good in the shootout. I wonder what secret technique goaltending coach Paul Fricker has imparted to his charges because they've looked very good stopping shots in shootouts in both preseason and the regular season.
Let's not forget though that the T-Birds penalty killers were phenomenal in this game. There were at least a dozen times over the weekend when players like Luke Lockhart, Charles Wells or Burke Gallimore went down, gave up the body and blocked a shot. I saw Travis Toomey hobble to the bench on one leg after taking one off the boot. I'm sure, come Monday, you'll be able to play connect-the-dots with the welts and bruises they've earned.
Both Seattle goals in Portland were hustle goals. Chance Lund sprinting down the wing to get to a puck in the corner and feed Gallimore for the tap in and Mitch Elliot crashing the net on the hard dump in off the stick of Colin Jacobs for the game tying goal in the second period. Early on this season Seattle is scoring a lot of goals from within 4-5 feet of the goal mouth.
Unsung hero of the weekend for me was Brenden Rouse. He won some key puck battles along the boards in the third period at the Rose Garden, took some key face offs late in that game and won them as well, and when the coaches shortened the bench in the third Seattle's 4th line center was still getting plenty of ice time. In both games this weekend Rouse got stronger as the game moved along. That says a lot for a player who, at 6'1", 183 lbs, is one of the smaller players on the roster.
Next up for the T-Birds another road game as they travel to Chilliwack this coming Saturday to face the Bruins, a team like Portland, that send 6-7 players to NHL camps. The Bruins have some fire power in Howse, Horak and Sundher so Seattle will have to play another strong defensive game if they want to come away with their second straight road win. After starting the season with five games in nine days, this is the only action of the weekend for the T-Birds.