Two games into the first round of the playoffs and the series between Everett and Seattle is tied at one game apiece. After a sub-standard performance in Game 1, Seattle bounces back in Game 2 for a 5-4 overtime win thanks to a beauty of a goal by Zack Andrusiak.
Games 3 and 4 now head to the accesso ShoWare Center. Seattle earned the road split to wrestle away home-ice advantage but that will only mean something if they protect home ice. I'm not sure home-ice advantage means what it used to in postseason play. Look around the rest of the WHL and through Saturday road teams, the lower seeds, won seven games opening weekend. The T-Birds always get a boost from their rabid fans at the ShoWare Center. Let's hope that is the difference this Tuesday and Friday. Come early, come often, be LOUD!
In Game 1 Friday, Seattle didn't seem as ready as Everett for the start of the series. The Silvertips came out very aggressive. The T-Birds struggled at times with puck management. It led directly or indirectly to goals against. Yet the turning point came early in the second period when Seattle, down just a goal, had a chance to tie things up on the power play. Instead they turned the puck over. It led to an Everett shorthanded goal and Seattle never recovered from that 2-0 deficit, eventually losing 4-1.
It was a slow start in Game 2 as well. Everett had the first seven shots on goal and converted on an early chance. Unlike Friday night though, Seattle took advantage of an early power play to tie the game and get the ice tilted back in their favor. Austin Strand scored on the power play and soon after Sami Moilanen poked home a rebound giving Seattle their first lead. After that it was back and forth until Andrusiak's overtime heroics.
Of note in this series, Seattle has scored six goals and they've come from five different players. Only Andrusiak, who had the T-Birds lone goal in Game 1, has scored twice. By contrast Everett has scored eight goals and half of them have come off the stick of Garrett Pilon. Patrick Bajkov has scored twice. That's 3/4ths of their goals from their top line. Seattle needs to keep up the balanced offenvise attack.
Everett gets the special teams nod in Game 1 since they scored the shorthanded goal. Seattle earns the edge in Game 2 with a pair of power play goals, while limiting Everett to one on five chances. So far in the series the T-birds have limited the Silvertips to just one power-play goal and that came with the 'Tips skating 5-on-3.
Shots on goal through two games heavily favor Everett 95-59. Take that with a grain of salt. Shots are typically inflated up in Everett. I literally saw Liam Hughes cover up a loose puck on the side of the Seattle net and a SOG was added to the Everett tally. I will say that the 'Tips have had more puck possession, especially in Game 1 and that is what concerns Seattle more, not inflated shot totals.
Everett does dump a lot pucks toward the net, which is what I would do as well and it is what Seattle should do against Carter Hart. They did more of that in Game 2 then they did in Game 1. No surprise that it led to a five goal outburst and a win. This is the third time in the last three postseasons that the T-Birds have scored five goals in a playoff game against Hart. It is not easy to do but Seattle should have the confidence they can score on him. In 11 playoff games versus Hart, the T-Birds have recorded 35 goals. It takes a mindset that they have to consistently drive the net. It may not be the first shot or the tenth shot that beats him but if you keep shooting, eventually you'll get pucks in.
I think a lot of players think Hart can only be beaten with a perfect shot, so they sometimes are reluctant to shoot or teams overpass against Everett which leads to blocked shots, blocked passes and turnovers. The T-Birds need to use the KISS method, Keep It Simple Seattle. Shoot, shoot and shoot some more. Get traffic and get the greasy goals.
If the Thunderbirds are too pull off the upset, they'll need more of Game 2 and less of Game 1. Limit the mistakes, the unforced turnovers and take fewer penalties. I didn't think either goalie was at their sharpest in Game 2. We'll see which one is on their game Tuesday in Game 3. With that being said Hughes has faced more scoring chances and has come up with some key saves for Seattle.
My T-Birds Three Stars for the first two games:
Third Star: D Turner Ottenbreit. Monster effort in Game 2 with three points (1g, 2a) while logging lots of ice time, especially after Seattle lost d-man Jake Lee for a good chunk of the game after he took a knee on knee hit. Seattle played that entire third period with just five defenseman and Ottenbreit seemed to be the one taking up that ice time.
Second Star: G Liam Hughes. He's been credited with 87 saves in two games, far and away more then any other goalie in the early postseason. I don't think he's even played his best yet but Seattle would be in an 0-2 hole without him. He has that ability you want from your goalie to shake off a bad goal and come back with a key save.
First Star: LW Zack Andrusiak. Andrusiak now has three playoff goals in his last five playoff games versus Everett and Hart, dating back to last spring. Seattle's leading goal scorer in the regular season is also leading them in playoff goals. His overtime winner Saturday put on display his offensive attributes; good skating, good puck handling, a nose for the net and a deft scoring touch. You want your best goal scorer to have confidence he can score from anywhere on the ice. Andrusiak is not lacking in that confidence.