Daunting schedule or not, the Thunderbirds know to hold onto their playoff spot in the Western Conference, they need points, points and more points. Any way they can get them, they need them. Regulation wins, overtime losses, it doesn't matter, they need points to hold off either Kamloops or Kelowna. If Kelowna and Kamloops drop games, all the better for Seattle.
That is why this past week was a success for the T-Birds. Seattle went 3-2 their last five games. That one game-above-.500 mark may not seem like much but combine that with the fact Kamloops is just 1-3-1 in their last five and Kelowna 2-3 in their last five and that is a net gain in the standings for the T-birds. Over that span Seattle played five teams with winning records and won three. The Blazers played three teams above .500 and won once. The Rockets went head-to-head with three teams over .500 in that span and lost them all.
Seattle will face Kamloops March 1st up at the Sandman Centre in what assuredly will be the most important game of the 11 they have remaining. Before Seattle gets to that game they have to, once again, head into the eye of the storm this coming weekend with games at Everett Friday and then at home versus Portland Saturday. As they did this past weekend, the T-birds have to find points in one, if not both, of those games. While Seattle awaits those weekend games, Kamloops has a Monday matinee against Tri-City, then hosts Conference bottom dweller Prince George Friday before traveling to Kelowna to meet up with the Rockets Saturday. Before that home game against the Blazers next weekend, Kelowna will hit the road for a pair of games in Victoria then a single in Spokane.
I'm sure all three teams, Seattle, Kamloops and Kelowna, are treating every game left on their respective regular season schedules as if it is a playoff game. There's no postseason for one of them if they don't. Even with that said, one of these team is going to be the odd man out. There is only room in the postseason for two of them. On paper Seattle, even with their current five point lead for the eighth spot, has the more difficult path, 11 games left and ten against teams with winning records. Seven are against the top three teams in the conference; Vancouver (1), Everett (3) and Portland (3). Seattle has six on home ice and five on the road.
Kamloops went into Monday with 14 games left on their schedule. Three of those are head-to-head battles with division rival Kelowna. they also have three left against last place Prince George, including two to finish the regular season. Their other eight games feature a pair against Tri-City, of course the Seattle game, three against the B.C. Division leading Vancouver Giants, and one each against Victoria and Spokane. Ten of the Blazers remaining game are at home and just four are on the road.
Keep an eye on Kelowna. They may end up the team Seattle has to beat out for a postseason spot. The Rockets sit currently third in the B.C. Division but actually have one point less then Seattle (52-51). They also are only four points up on Kamloops. They may end up having as tough a path to the postseason as the T-birds. Going into Monday games, Kelowna has 12 games remaining. They have the three huge head-to-head games with the Blazers but their other nine games are all against teams with winning marks including a combined five games with Vancouver and Portland. The Rockets split their last dozen games with six at home and six on the road.
As to the past weekend games, Seattle played well in all three. Just some mismanagement with the puck in the Portland game that directly led to a couple of Winterhawks goals. Seattle, down 4-2, was pushing hard the first half of the third period to get one back and make it a one goal game but just couldn't find the lucky strike. Portland got the fifth goal and that was that.
My T-birds three stars for the weekend:
Third Star: W Henrik Rybinski. The more I see of him the more I won't be surprised if some NHL team uses a late round draft pick on him come June. A Tasmanian Devil on the forecheck. He has an uncanny knack for winning puck battles. He almost sneaks up on opposing players to do it. The scoring will come around now that he knows the coaches want him to shoot more but I think he will always be a pass first type of player and rack up a lot of apples. Finished the weekend with five points (2g, 3a). This deal to acquire him from Medicine Hat is enough to give new General Manager Bil LaForge an A+ grade for his first WHL trade deadline.
Second Star: G Roddy Ross. Ross went 2-0 on the weekend, highlighted by a stellar 46 save performance against Everett. He was at his best in the first ten minutes of the contest as the T-birds were being outshot, 9-0. His play kept Seattle in it while they found their game. He collected 72 saves in his two wins. He now has as many wins (10) in just over a month of play as former goalie Liam Hughes had in three-plus months the first half of the season. Yes, a better supporting cast around him, but the defensive group is actually younger.
First Star: C Matthew Wedman. I'm just wondering which NHL rookie or development camp he will attend next fall because there's practically no way NHL scouts aren't taking notice of his all around game. What a beast he's been. When Nolan Volcan missed nine and a half games with injury Seattle was able to tread water (4-5-1) because Wedman wouldn't let them sink. He's on an eight game points streak (9g, 5a 14 pts). In the three games this weekend he finished with six points (4g, 2a) and now leads the team in points with 63 on 32 goals and 31 assists. While it came in a loss, his wrap around power play goal Sunday in Portland should be a WHL Play of the Week candidate.