I'm back!! And I want you at the ShoWare Center Tuesday night!
Photo courtesy of Brian Liesse
Six games into the postseason and Seattle has yet to drop a game. It's the first time in franchise history Seattle has started the playoffs with six straight wins. It's a good position to be in but, as every one of Seattle's players will tell you, they are still a work in progress and they are building for something bigger.
The Thunderbirds were in a similar position in round one, up two games to none on Tri-City, but knew it takes four "W's" to win a series. They weren't celebrating those first two wins but rather focusing on Game 3. The same is true here in round two. After winning twice up at Xfinity Arena to open the second round series, the T-Birds are putting those two games behind them and focusing all their energy on Tuesday's Game 3 at ShoWare Center.
When Seattle gave up two goals midway through the first period in Game 2, it marked the first time in the postseason they had trailed in a game. Prior to that the T-Birds had played 312:52 seconds of the postseason either tied or in the lead. So of course we were curious to see how they would respond to their first playoff deficit. What a response as they exploded for three goals in about a five minute span of the second period, to retake the lead.
Six games into the postseason and 15 of the 19 skaters Seattle has dressed in the playoffs have registered at least one goal. Two of the bigger goals in the first two games of the Everett series have been scored by a pair of unlikely sources. Tyler Adams diving backhander in the second period of Game 1 gave Seattle a 2-1 lead and came right after an Everett push to take the lead had been thwarted.
In Game 2 Zack Andrusiak got his first postseason goal to put the T-Birds back into a 2-2 tie. It also seemed to give the Thunderbirds a boost of energy and they responded quickly with two more goals to build a 4-2 lead enroute to their 4-3 win. I had written last week that Andrusiak played well in the opening round against Tri-City, giving his coaches confidence to use him in big game situations. He had shown sporadically through the regular season that he has a terrific shot. His goal against Carter Hart was no cheapie.
There were three keys to that Andrusiak goal. One, defenseman Ethan Bear with a heady play to jump on a loose puck just outside the Seattle blue line and push it up to Luke Ormsby. Two, the speed of Ormsby and Andrusiak to gain the Everett zone, creating a 2-on-1 rush and, three, a perfect pass from Ormsby to Andrusiak. Remember, that's Seattle's fourth line creating that goal. The night before it was Adams and Seattle's third line with the key goal.
Seattle's winning goal Saturday was Bear's power-play goal at 16:34 of the second period. The T-Birds don't get the power play without the aggressive play of Sami Moilanen. Moilanen fought along the boards at center ice for a loose puck, then muscled his way around Everett defenseman Jake Christansen and was about to break into the Silvertips zone when Christiansen slashed him. A minute later Bear one timed a Donovan Neuls pass into the back of the Everett net. Moilanen's name doesn't end up on the scoresheet there, but his effort will get a big assist from the coaches.
I hope the NHL scouts in the buildings over the last month are taking notice of how big the 5'8" Moilanen plays. Meanwhile he also has a deft scoring touch as was evident on his go-ahead goal Saturday from in close on Hart. Forehand-backhand-forehand from within three feet of the goal line while skating left to right. He showed terrific patience, no panic and an ability to think the game in a key moment. Smart, smart hockey player.
Over the course of six playoff games, a goaltender is probably going to have an off night or a few moments where he's not at the top of his game. Saturday in Everett it was evident that young Carl Stankowski was fighting the puck at times. He had issues with his rebound control which directly led to the Silvertips first goal. But when he needed to make a big save he did. That's the sign of a goalie who doesn't let anything bother him. After the 'Tips took the lead midway through the first period, they had at least two or three chances before that period ended to add to their lead. Stankowski held them at bay. The Stank Eye may have blinked, but in the end he won the stare down.
At least four times throughout the second and third period Saturday I got texts or tweets wondering why they weren't counting all the shots being taken. Seattle was credited with just one shot in the third period and only five in the second. Did they really only get one shot at the Everett goal the final 20 minutes? I don't know how accurate that is but I do know they had the puck deep in the Everett zone for long stretches of the final frame. Often they had the puck pinned in the corner by virtue of a suffocating forecheck.
This is another case where a player's hard work doesn't end up on the scoresheet but that was Seattle's third line of Adams-Matthew Wedman and Alexander True at their finest. Adams in particular seemed to be in Noah Juulsen's hip pocket much of that third period. Of course Juulsen was probably skating on fumes. The Montreal Canadians prospect has logged a lot of minutes so far in this postseason.
Which makes me wonder how the 'Tips could end up with seven third period shots to Seattle's one when the 'Tips could barely get up ice with the puck. If those shot counts are accurate, I do know this; Seattle scored on 50% of their final six shots.
We figured special teams would factor into this series and they certainly have. Seattle is 2-for-5 on the power play while the 'Tips are 0-for-5. Those two Seattle power-lay goals, one each night, have been the difference on the scoreboard in a pair of one goal games.
My T-Birds Three Stars for Games 1 and 2:
Third Star: G Carl Stankowski. Yes, he struggled a bit in Game 2 with his rebound control, but he came up with the big stops at key moments. He was also rock solid in Game 1. Both nights he's been at his best late, protecting a one goal lead. He's been mentally focused as both nights there have been long stretches where all the action is taking place at the other end of the ice. He now has twice as many playoff wins (6) as he does regular season wins (3). Tell me a month ago if you knew this would be the scenario (no Rylan Toth and a seldom used rookie in net) that you had Seattle 6-0 in the playoffs. They're 6-0 BECAUSE of Stankowski, not in spite him.
Second Star: LW/C Donovan Neuls. One big game winning goal in Game 1 and one big assist on a game winning goal in Game 2. Three points so far in the series. His game winner late in the first game was a thing of beauty. Not only that, it kept the game from going overtime. It also crushed a potential serious shift in momentum as Everett had just tied the game moments before. Third on the team in playoff scoring (one point behind Bear and Keegan Kolesar), he's also 7th in the league with 11 points (4g, 7a). Two of his four goals are game winners.
First Star: C Mathew Barzal. Seattle has goals from 15 different players so far in the postseason. They have points from 18 of the 21 players who have seen postseason ice time. Yet Barzal is still the straw that stirs the drink and that was most evident in his first two games back from illness. After a month of inaction he picked up where he left off. Three points (1g, 2a), +3 and a lot of puck possession. His weave through the Everett defense late in Game 1 led to the Neuls game winner. His deke to the front of the net and persistence to bang away at his own rebound, led to the power-play goal in the same game. His work along the boards in underrated. And I lost count of how many times he stripped the puck away. After the long layoff, he's only going to get better the more he plays.