Monday, February 21, 2011

Locked and Loaded

The T-birds employed the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid plan in Sunday night's shootout win over the Chilliwack Bruins; they came out guns ablazin' and poured 67 shots on goal. It doesn't necessarily guarantee victory, in fact the 'Birds were trailing by a goal with just a few minutes remaining in regulation, but when your backs are up against the wall and you are fighting for your playoff lives, I'd rather go down emptying the chambers then lose as the team did Friday in Vancouver, with only 19 shots on goal.

The win came at a cost though as Seattle, which started the weekend with Travis Bobbee back on the sideline with more shoulder issues, lost defenseman Erik Fleming to an upper body injury early in the second period. This after winger Marcel Noebels was lost back in the first period after he blocked a shot with the back of his hand. That came on a critical penalty kill as the Bruins skated 5-on-3 for nearly a minute. The extent of Noebels injury is not known as the team awaits the results of x-rays but Noebels' hand was wrapped in a splint after the game.

Then the line brawl late in the second period left the team's bench even shorter for the start of the third period. With Fleming out and Erik Bonsor and Ryan Button in the box, the T-birds started the period with only three defenseman. Additionally they had two of their top scorers, Burke Gallimore and Travis Toomey, in the box as well and another (Noebels) in the infirmary. Oh, and they trailed on the scoreboard, 3-1.

So it was up to the rest, including a good many of their young players, to hold it together until those players who could, slowly trickled back out of the sin bin and back into the action. A great goal by Mitch Elliot to pull the team back to within one; a goal set up beautifully by Jacob Doty and Tyler Alos. And when the penalty box finally emptied, the T-birds began to dominate and finally got the tying goal on the power play from Colin Jacobs.

But the young player I want to throw kudos at didn't appear on the score sheet. That would be 17 year old rookie defenseman Austin Frank. Frank was that third healthy d-man to start the third period along with Brendan Dillon and Dave Sutter (another rookie). Up until Sunday Frank had appeared in only 17 games and sometimes he only saw one or two shifts in those games. Yet despite the lack of playing time, he's never complained. He's continued to work hard in practice waiting to get his chance. Last night it paid off as he gave the coaches solid shifts in the third period. He didn't over extend himself and made smart decisions with the puck and was physical when he had to be behind the Seattle net. He was a big reason why the Bruins never added to their three goal total. I hope his teammates appreciate his efforts and his attitude because like Michael Salmon, Frank has been the consummate teammate.

It was an important win. You hate giving up the point to Chilliwack but a loss would have severely crimped the T-birds playoff hopes. They are still on the outside looking in when it comes to the postseason and they'll need help down the stretch but the two points kept them within striking distance.

Here are the updated pace to the playoffs for the Western Conference as of Monday afternoon. Portland and Spokane have already secured playoff spots (as indicated by the "X") but continue to fight for the top seed along with Tri-City. The number in parenthesis is the points earned, on average, per game and the number after that is the games left for each team in the season:

1. X Portland is on pace for 100.55 pts (1.39) 14
2. Kelowna* is on pace for 83.2 pts (1.155) 14
3. X Spokane is on pace for 98.4 pts (1.37) 12
4. Tri-City is on pace for 96 pts (1.33) 15
5. Vancouver is on pace for 81.8 pts (1.136) 13
6. Prince George is on pace for 72 pts (1.00) 13
7. Everett is on pace for 72 pts (1.00) 13
8. Kamloops is on pace for 66.10 pts (0.92) 11
9. Chilliwack is on pace for 65.8 pts (0.92) 14
10. Seattle is on pace for 62.24 pts (0.864) 13

* As the top team in the BC Division, Kelowna is automatically slotted into the #2 seed position.

So, even with the win over Chilliwack the T-birds still have work to do to catch that 8th and final playoff spot. Continuing to win at home is a step in the right direction. Seattle has won its last two at the ShoWare and have eight of their final 13 games on home ice.

Portland has gained a little breathing room in the race for the top seed while Kelowna and Vancouver continue to go back and forth with that 2nd seed.

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