Thursday, March 7, 2013

The T-birds Have Spokane

A second straight solid road effort gives the Thunderbirds their second straight road win, coming from behind Wednesday night to beat the Spokane Chiefs, 4-2. After a slow start, the T-birds not only got stronger as the game progressed, but I thought they got smarter by making better decisions with the puck. But as usual with this team, they are at their best when they establish a consistent forecheck. By doing that last night they were able to draw penalties and eventually get their power play to click for a couple of goals and get back in the game after trailing by two midway through the contest.

Seattle played the game against the Chiefs without their two oldest defensemen in the lineup. Both 19 year old Jesse Forsberg and 18 year old Evan Wardley were scratched. We've talked about this young group of Seattle defensemen all season long, but last night was the first time the onus was completely on them. All the defensemen who skated last night were either 95 or 96 born players. If not for recent birthdays for Taylor Green (January 11th) and Jared Hauf (March 6th) everyone of the T-birds d-men were 17 or younger. Also, with 16 year old Kevin Wolf only getting a few shifts throughout the game, the T-birds coaches relied heavily on those five 95 born d-men; Green, Hauf, Shea Theodre, Griffin Foulk and Jerret Smith.

If there is an unsung hero in that group, it has to be Green who has been versatile enough to move up and back, depending on the day of the week because if he's not playing on defense, he's doing a solid job centering Seattle's fourth line. He's making himself a very valuable commodity.

They weren't perfect as Spokane had a few too many odd man rushes and breakaways but Brandon Glover, with an excellent night in goal, was able to bail them out on the occassion they made a mistake. Still, this was a definite sign this group is maturing and should be a strong suit of this club going forward. That win hopefully instilled them with some confidence for not only the rest of this season but the next two to three seasons as well.

I think Brandon Glover's three best games in goal this season have all been divisional road wins. First there was opening night back in September in Portland when he made 30 saves in the first period of a game the T-birds eventually won, 5-2. Then there was the 3-1 win last Friday in Kennewick over the Tri-City Americans, followed by last night's 27 save effort in the win over the Chiefs. Glover was the first star in that Portland win but for some bizarre reason was not rewarded with even a third star in the wins over Tri-city or the Chiefs. Without Glover's heroics last night in Spokane, the T-birds don't win that game. He was particularly at his best after Seattle went up, 3-2, in the third period as he made incredible save after incredible save to preserve the victory, including stopping a penalty shot with three and a half minutes left.

Luke Lockhart's solid final month continues. Over his last five games he has now registered 7 pts (4g, 3a) and is +2. Spokane was winning the majority of the faceoffs in last night's game, but late, with the T-birds nursing the one goal lead Lockhart again stepped up with a couple of key faceoff wins. The same is true of Adam Kambeitz who got a key assist on Riley Sheen's empty net insurance goal. With the team battling hard to lock up a playoff spot, it's nice to see the three 20 year olds on the roster step up their game.

Outside of Luke Lockhart, Connor Sanvido is probably the second best penalty killer on the roster. Last night he was rewarded for that hard work with the game winning shorthanded goal, set up beautifully by Seth Swenson. Swenson used great deception and stick handling to open up Sanvido for the one-timer and 'Vido made a perfect shot to get the puck in the back of the net.

Here's the current pace to the playoffs:

7. Seattle currently with 54 points and on pace for a 58 point season. Seattle has five games remaining with four on home ice, including their next three.

8. Everett currently with 52 points and on pace for a 55 point season. The Silvertips also have five games remaining with their next three on the road.

9. Prince George currently with 46 points and on pace for a 51 point season. Prince George has seven games remaining with their next six all on the road.

The T-birds magic number to clinch at least a tie for 8th place is six points (combination of points they earn and Prince George fails to earn equalling six). Seattle could conceivably have a playoff spot wrapped up be week's end. A regulation win at home Friday over the Cougars would slice four points off that magic number. If they can do that then a home win over Everett Saturday, coupled with a Prince George loss that same night in Kennewick, would eliminate the Cougars from catching the T-birds in the standings.

Once again though, the Thunderbirds control their own destiny. Just keep picking up the points and the rest will take care of itself. Seattle has earned ten points in their last ten games. Keep up that pace and it's not "if" the T-birds clinch a playoff spot but "when".

In memory of Bruce McDonald, 1971-2012

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