Sunday, March 3, 2013

A Doubleheader Doozy

No matter what happens Wednesday in Spokane, the Thunderbirds playoff fate is probably going to be determined next weekend when they play a pair of home games, one against Prince George Friday and one Saturday verus Everett. A few things will happen before then but the results next weekend will either solidify Seattle's hold on a playoff spot or tighten the noose in the chase for one of the final two spots.

Seattle played well in all three games this weekend but not well enough to earn more then two points. I agree with head coach Steve Konowalchuk who has talked about the T-birds lack of execution at critical moments, specifically on the power play, but in general in finishing scoring chances. It's an area in which the team has lacked consistency this season.

Instead of lamenting the injuries that have cost the T-birds a couple of key cogs from their machine recently (Conner Honey, Jesse Forsberg and for that matter Branden Troock), I'd like to sing a little praise for the team playing competitive hockey without those players. The team played hard all three nights with a lot of bus travel thrown in.

It's a sign some of the younger player are maturing and is a good sign going forward. That said, there is still lots of room for growth and improvement, even in the season's final weeks but the young crop of defensemen have definitely taken a step forward since the start of the season. Shot totals are down and so is the quality of scoring chances against.

Luke Lockhart has been the most consistent player for the team all season. Even when not scoring he's been a strong penalty killer. He's the team's top face-off guy and has always played hard at both ends while logging the most minutes. Even at that, he seems to have saved his best for the final month of his WHL career. Over the last four games he has 4g,1a, and is +2 while the team went 1-3. He's producing much needed offense. He just needs more of his teammates to chip in.

Late last season the T-birds kept their faint playoff hopes alive with a late season road win in Spokane. A repeat of that this Wednesday would keep the team in the driver's seat for a playoff spot this spring.

Here's the updated pace for the playoffs with games on tap for each team this week:

Seattle is on pace for 56.7 points. The T-birds are in Spokane Wednesday then home Friday vs. PG and Saturday against Everett.

Everett is on pace for 56.7 points as well. The Silvertips play in Portland Tuesday and are in Spokane on Friday before the game in Kent Saturday.

Prince George is on pace for 50.3 points. The Cougars host Tri-City at the CN Centre Monday and Tuesday before trekking down to Kent for Friday night's game. They then travel to Kennewick to play Tri-City Saturday night.

The T-birds magic number to clinch at least a tie for eighth place and force a one game playoff is still at ten.

Best case scenario? PG drops two games at home to Tri-City, Seattle beats Spokane then the T-birds win the showdown with the Cougars Friday at the ShoWare Center. That would guarentee Seattle finishes no worse then a tie for 8th place. But you rarely see the best case scenario so the T-birds just have to take care of their own business. They still control their own destiny.

In memory of Bruce McDonald, 1971-2012

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