Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Now Comes the hard Part

Playoff wins aren't supposed to come easy. The Thunderbirds can attest to that after three, one goal, come-from-behind, overtime wins in this first round series against the higher seeded Kelowna Rockets. The margin of error in this series has been razor thin. You can make the arguement that the T-birds could just as easily be down 3-0 as up 3-0.

Have the 'Birds gotten some fortunate bounces? Have the Rockets been unlucky with bounces going against them? Maybe, maybe not, but I subscribe to the theory that luck is the residue of hard work and no one can accuse Seattle of not working hard and earning these first three wins. Even had the results been reversed and it was the Rockets celebrating three overtime wins you'd have to tip your hat to the effort the T-birds are putting out there on the ice. They are, as they say, "in it to win it". They aren't just happy to be here. They aren't intimidated by the higher seeded, 52 win Rockets. It's the playoffs and they know it's win or go home.

In a series which has seen over 200 minutes of hockey, Seattle has led for less then nine minutes, when they had a 3-2 lead for much of the second half of the second period of Game 1. That may be one of the most amazing stats of this series. The T-birds have also won three straight playoff games without benefit of a power play goal; ten goals so far and all have been even strength.

In a tight, close to the vest series like this, you need scoring from where ever you can get it. In the first four games the T-birds are getting much of it from their back end. in the first three games the ''Birds six defenseman have combined for 10 pts (4g, 6a)and are +10. Two of those four goals have come from Jared Hauf and Evan Wardley who, during the regular season, totalled three goals between them in 132 games. And they've made those goals count. The four goals by Seattle defenseman have either tied the game, won the game or given the T-birds a lead.

Of course most of those points from the back end are coming from Jesse Forsberg who has picked the right time to be playing some of his best hockey. Forsberg has tallied five pts (2g,3a) and is +3 through the first three games, currently ranking him 9th in playoff scoring. Forsberg, who doesn't turn 20 until August, is the senior leader of what is a very young group of defensemen. You never know when you'll reap the benefits of an offseason trade but the deal that brought Forsberg to the T-birds from Prince George (for Colin Jacobs) last summer, is paying off in spades right now.

The goaltending in the series has been excellent. It's hard to fault Kelowna's Jordan Cooke for any of the goals the T-birds have scored. But Brandon Glover has been more then equal to the task for Seattle. Glover, whose career regular season numbers in 161 games include a 3.49 GAA and an .890 save percentage, is a different player in the WHL postseason. In nine playoff games between Moose Jaw, Calgary and the T-birds his GAA is 2.00 and his save percentage is .933.

Seattle may not be getting a lot of points from their fourth line (1a), but they are getting a lot of quality shifts from Andrew Johnson, Mitch Elliot, Michal Holub and Taylor Green. Depth is huge in the postseason, epecially when every game goes to overtime!

The last time the Thunderbirds had a chance to close out a playoff series? Spring of 2008, Game 7, first round series at KeyArena against....Kelowna. T-birds won!

In memory of Bruce McDonald, 1971-2012

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