Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Final Countdown

Just one weekend, three games, left in the regular season. Three games in three nights to determine Seattle's first round playoff matchup.

Far too many possibilities to detail here because of the possibility of overtime or shootout losses by not just the T-birds but Spokane and Everett as well. In the Western Conference the one, two, three, seven and eight seeds are already locked in. What needs to be decided is the 4th, 5th and 6th seeds and which of those three teams will get home ice advantage in a #4-#5 matchup and which team heads to Victoria next weekend to face the Royals.

One thing we do know, if Spokane claims the 4th seed, no matter if Seattle or Everett finish in the 5th spot, The T-birds or Silvertips would begin the first round series against the Chiefs at home. The Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena is occupied by the NCAA basketball sub-regionals next weekend so it is unavailable for hockey. Now, Spokane, as the higher seed, would still get four home games and I'm assuming game seven on home ice if necessary, but they would have to begin on the road which seems to be standard operating procedure for the Chiefs in recent history because Spokane always seems to be hosting NCAA basketball this time of the year.

Seattle, because they currently sit 4th, controls their own destiny. The simplest formula for the T-birds is this: One more Seattle win clinches the 5th seed and eliminates Spokane from finishing ahead of the Thunderbirds in the final standings. One more Seattle win and one more Everett loss, whether that is regulation, overtime or a shootout, and Seattle claims the 4th seed and home ice in round one. Of course, if the T-birds just win out this weekend, it won't matter what the Chiefs or 'Tips do.

We know Seattle's remaining games. They have a home-and-home against Portland beginning Friday night at the ShoWare Center in the final regular season home game. After a rematch in Portland Saturday, the 'Birds travel to Kennewick to finish up the regular season against the Tri-City Americans Sunday.

Spokane with just two games left, finishes with a home-and-home with the Americans. First up is a meeting Friday in Spokane before the Saturday rematch in Kennewick.

Everett has three games left including a pair against Victoria. Everett is on Vancouver Island Friday night then both teams take the ferry ride back for a game Saturday at Comcast Arena in Everett. The Silvertips finish the regular season on the road with a Sunday game in Portland against the Winterhawks.

First though, Seattle has to get back to playing better team defense. They are back to generating more offensive opportunities but they are making d-zone errors that are ending up in the back of their net. Their last couple of games have reminded me of the way they were playing at the beginning of the season. They were scoring nearly four goals a game but were also giving up just as many.

The Thunderbirds fortunes started to turn when they made a more concerted effort to play better inside their defensive zone. When they won eight in a row from late November to mid-December, and again when they were winning 12 of 13 games from Mid-January to Mid-February, they reduced their goals against average greatly by committing to playing better team defense.

In the last ten games Seattle is just 3-6-0-1, with only one of those wins in regulation. Not surprisingly over that span the T-birds have surrendered 38 goals, or 3.8 per game. You can't win too many games allowing nearly four goals against every night. Get back to playing the way the played most nights between Mid-November and mid-February and they should be alright.

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