Last week before this first round playoff series began I wrote about how the last two times these teams met in the postseason, each series went the seven game distance. After Games 1 and 2 this time around it looks to be shaping up to follow a similar path. You never know how a series will twist and turn but it is hard to see this one being over quickly for either team and after the weekend we know there will at least be a Game 5.
So far we've had, essentially, what amounts to two 1-goal games. Seattle grabbed Game 1, 4-3 and Portland responded with a win in Game 2 winning 3-0 with their last two goals into an empty net after Seattle pulled their goalie, trailing 1-0. Before those two empty netters, the two sides had played 118 minutes of playoff hockey and were basically even on the scoreboard at 4-4. As a result we're even in the series at one game apiece.
If Seattle can hang their hat on a couple of things it would be 1). they got the split on the road and wrested home ice advantage away. It has now been reduced to a best-of-five series with three of those five games at the ShoWare Center, including the next two. So all the T-bird have to do is win their home games to advance. Easy, right? Just so you know, that's called sarcasm. If the first two games have shown us anything, it is that nothing in this series will come easy.
2). Without the ability to line match consistently on the road, Seattle has still done a terrific job defensively on Portland's top line. In fact the Winterhawks high scoring line, of Oliver Bjorkstrand, Nic Petan and Paul Bittner, has not scored a goal against Taran Kozun in the series yet while on the ice together. When Petan scored his goal in the first period of Game 2, he was on the ice with Miles Koules and Skyler McKenzie. Bjorkstrand's goal late Sunday was into an empty net as Kozun was on the bench for the extra attacker. It will be interesting to see if the T-birds can continue to hold them at bay at home where they will have last change.
I think we really need to appreciate what that Seattle line of 16 year old rookie Nolan Volcan, 17 year old rookie Donovan Neuls and 18 year old second year player Scott Eansor are doing against that Portland trio; considered the best scoring line in the WHL this season. That Winterhawks line consists of two signed NHL draft picks, including one who led the WHL with 63 goals this season, and a projected first round pick for this spring's NHL Entry Draft. Not sure how many coaches would have the, shall we say cajones, to consistently put such a young line out against such a high scoring threesome.
Certainly the Thunderbirds six defenseman have a key role in this effort as well, but don't overlook the other T-birds forwards who have contributed to this solid defensive effort, particularly Alexander True. Getting the lanky Danish center back from a two month layoff due to injury could be the key to Seattle's playoff success.
There is very little to find fault with in the way Seattle played the first two games. Head coach Steve Konowalchuk asks his team to give effort and that's what they've done. They've played hard for 60-minutes each game. As he says, you can't always control the results, but you can control your effort and that effort has been top notch.
The one thing Seattle will need to do better? Finish scoring chances. That's true of both games by the way. Even in their Game 1 win Seattle missed opportunities to score more then four goals, but especially in Game 2 where they had multiple opportunities to find the tying goal. In the first game I thought it was a lack of actual finish. They put pucks right in the chest of Portland goalie Aiden Hill and also hit a couple of posts. In Game 2 I thought the T-birds overpassed the puck, getting a little cute looking for the perfect shot. It's not a lack of chances for Seattle offensively, it's a lack of finish.
I don't know how it has been in the other first round playoff series but so far in this series I've been impressed with the officiating. Look, no one is perfect and there might be a missed call or two but through two games two separate teams of officials have let these players play. When the officials are nearly invisible on the ice and secondary to the action, that's a good thing. Of course, something could happen in Game 3 and I could be singing a different tune come Wednesday but so far WHL Director of Officiating Kevin Muench has to be pleased.
My T-birds Three Stars for the weekend:
3rd Star: The forwards
2nd Star: The defenseman
1st star: The goaltending
It was that kind of weekend. Everyone contributed. Great effort all around. Seven Thunderbirds rookies made their playoff debuts this past weekend. All played major minutes and all looked like seasoned veterans.