Wednesday, March 13, 2013

T-birds Shoot Their Way into Second Season

Time to update the pace to the playoffs....just kidding! With an 8-3 win Tuesday night over Tri-City, coupled with Prince George's loss in Spokane the Thunderbirds have earned a spot in the 2013 WHL postseason! Thus ends the T-birds three season playoff absence. All that remains now is to find out the 'Birds first round playoff opponent.

Seattle will face Kelowna if they finish as the 7th seed, their current position. If they fall to the 8th seed, the T-birds will go up against Portland in Round One. No matter the opponent we do know the first round, best-of-seven, series will start on the road with Games 1 and 2 next weekend (March 22nd-23rd). Games 3 and 4 will be at the ShoWare Center Tuesday, March 26th and Wednesday, March 27th and tickets are on sale now!

And what a great deal for that first home playoff game in four years! It's a Director's Mortgage 2-for-Tuesday, with great 2-for-1 ticket specials and $2 concessions. In their playoff clinching win over the Ams, a 2-for-Tuesday crowd of over 5,000 spurred the T-birds on to the win.

It was only fitting that the only player on the current roster who has ever played a playoff game in a T-bird uniform was the catalyst for this victory. Luke Lockhart scored an early power play goal, then broke a 1-1 tie midway through the first period with his league leading, 7th shorthanded goal of the season, and second in as many games. Lockhart also added an assist and was his usual excellent self on the penalty kill as the T-birds denied the league's third best power play on all five of their chances. Over his last eight games Lockhart has stepped it up and has picked up 11 points (7g, 4a) and is +3.

I know there was a lot of concern that with Brandon Glover on the sidelines serving out a two game suspension that the team would be hard pressed to win a game over the final week with a young 16 year old Danny Mumaugh in goal. But T-birds head coach Steve Konowalchuk has always expressed supreme confidence in Mumaugh and the Centennial, Colorado native delivered a solid 28-save performance to earn his first WHL win. What a memorable way to get your first win in the Dub; in a playoff clincher with the number one guy unavailable. I think Mumaugh has played better but he was good enough last night and he got better as the game progressed. I'm sure he'd like a second crack at stopping those first two Tri-City goals but both were the result of defensive breakdowns by Seattle and its hard to fault Mumaugh on any of the Americans goals.

After the frustration of the past weekend and just coming up short against both Prince George and Everett, it is nice to see that the 'Birds aren't "backing" into the postseason. They earned their playoff berth. They came out very committed to winning this one and played sixty minutes of purposeful hockey. The play by Justin Hickman along the wall inside the Americans zone on the Lockhart shorthanded goal was a tone setter for Seattle. He fought off three Tri-City players to get that puck to Lockhart for the go ahead goal.

Anyone else notice how well Griffin Foulk is playing recently for the T-birds? The 17 year defenseman has really picked up his game, first in the absence of Jesse Forsberg for five games, and then last night with Evan Wardley out. He's still a young player too, with room to improve, but I'm liking that acquisition more and more each game. It makes you wonder just how good this group of d-men will be in a couple of years after they've played two seasons together.

The Thunderbirds have two games left on the regular season schedule and while, yes, they have clinched a playoff spot, they still have something to play for in this weekend's home and home series with Portland. The T-birds want to hold on to the 7th seed. Everett, with three games left on their schedule is only three points behind Seattle. If the Silvertips were to win out, they would grab the 7th seed if the T-birds don't win out as well. The 'Tips play a home and home with an injury plagued Victoria team then close out the season Sunday at home against Tri-City.

So, to hold on to that 7th spot, the T-birds are going to have to pick up a point or two in these games against the Winterhawks and look for help from the Royals or Americans.

In memory of Bruce McDonald, 1971-2012

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