Monday, March 4, 2019

Weekend Warriors

Back on February 12th, Seattle faced Tri-City on a 2-For-Tuesday at the accesso ShoWare Center. They built up a 3-1 lead early in the second period. Unfortunately they couldn't hold that lead. Tri-City scored the last three goals and skated out with a 4-3 victory. It was two points that the T-Birds let slip away. Their playoff hopes were teetering on the brink. After that loss they were staring up at a schedule that featured either Everett or Portland in five of their next seven games. The most difficult part of a difficult schedule was in front of them. It was like having to scale a 30 foot high cliff while boulders were rolling down on top of them.

Fast forward to this past Sunday and the T-Birds are once again hosting the Americans. Once again they build up a 3-1 lead early in the second period. Tri-City closes to within a goal just past the midway mark of the period. How will the T-Birds respond this time? Instead of wilting Seattle fights back and scores a goal before the period ends. They add two more early in the third and skate away with a 6-3 win. It put a cap on a five point weekend. In between those two games against the Americans, Seattle not only faced a daunting schedule, they attacked it head on. This team is too legit to quit.

The last three weekends have seen the Thunderbirds play a combined eight games. Seattle has compiled a 5-1-1-1 record over that span. With the exception of the Kamloops game this past Friday, every game was versus a team with a winning record. Outside of Red Deer, none of those winning teams were less then 10 games above .500. It was a murderer's row of opponents with five of the eight games against either Everett or Portland. It was a significant chunk of a make-or-break stretch of the schedule as far as the team's playoff hopes were concerned. With their season on the line, the T-Birds earned 12 of 16 points and pushed their lead in the battle for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference to seven points.

The work is not done. The schedule from here on out doesn't get any easier. In fact, it gets harder. Six games to go. All six are against teams with winning records. No one left on the schedule with a winning percentage below .565. Four of the six games against the top three teams in the Western Conference and against three of the five best records in the entire WHL. That's right, four of the six games are against teams with winning percentages above .650. The combined record of the teams left on Seattle's schedule? 192-97-12-10. Saddle up, let's go!

Is their a "magic number" for Seattle to clinch a playoff spot? Yes. Heading into this week the T-Birds magic number to clinch at least a play-in game is seven. Any combination of points Seattle earns or Kamloops fails to earn going forward equaling seven and the T-Birds would at least get a one game playoff game against the Blazers to determine the second wild card spot. The magic number for Seattle to claim the last Western Conference playoff spot outright, would be eight. That could change midweek as the Blazers host Vancouver Wednesday night. Obviously the T-Birds will be cheering on the Giants. A Vancouver regulation win would reduce the magic numbers to 5/6 before Seattle plays again this coming weekend.

The Thunderbirds don't need that help going forward. They do control their own destiny. Four wins or eight points earned over the final six games will do the trick. Of course, with their schedule, that's easier said than done, although the T-Birds proved over the past three weeks that their bite is as good as their bark. Still the T-Birds haven't accomplished their goal yet. There is a lot of heavy lifting still to be done. While there are only a half dozen games left in the regular season, they are still not guaranteed that playoff berth.

Every team deals with injuries. Everett right now is missing Riley Sutter, Portland has seen Cody Glass in and out of the lineup recently and Tri-City limped in this past weekend with three defenseman out. But you do wonder where this T-Birds team might be the second half of the season with a healthy Dillon Hamaliuk. Hamaliuk, of course, was lost for the season back on December 29th when he suffered a season ending lower body injury in a game against the Winterhawks. Hammer was on pace for a 25 goal, 58 point season. How might he have helped the newly constituted second half roster? Might the T-Birds be battling for the first wild card spot, rather then the second? Would they have already clinched? His absence makes what they have accomplished the second half of the season all the more remarkable. He was a top six forward when the injury struck. Since starting the second half 1-2-0-0, the new look roster has gelled together and gone 14-7-2-2 in the last 25 games.

My T-Birds Three Stars for the Weekend:

Third Star: C Nolan Volcan. Huge goal to help ice the big road win in Kamloops Friday night. Tough as nails, Volcan was a physical presence all weekend. If you get a chance, watch the play he made in Everett where he put on the jets and raced up ice to deliver a big check on a Silvertips breakaway chance. Never. Give. Up. He leaves it all on the ice as was evident when he blocked a shot Sunday against Tri-City with his face. He's doing this while still not fully back to 100 percent after suffering an injury in late January.

Second Star: C Mathew Wedman. He's just playing with a remarkable amount of confidence right now and it has him leading the team in scoring with 71 points. His 37 goals is more then any T-Bird has had in a season since Prab Rai registered 41 back in 2009-10. After his 11-game point streak was snapped in the overtime, shutout loss Saturday in Everett, he jumped right back on the scoresheet with a three point game (2g, 1a) Sunday against Tri-City. To top it off he is +25 on the season on a team that allows more goals than it scores.

First Star: G Roddy Ross. Ross didn't even get the win in his best performance on the weekend, the 1-0 overtime loss in Everett. In his two games (1-0-1-0) he faced 87 shots, making 40+ saves both nights. He outdueled an NHL draft pick in Kamloops, Dylan Ferguson, and went toe-to-toe with Everett's Central Scouting ranked netminder, Dustin Wolf. We talk about Wedman possibly getting drafted by an NHL team this spring but I imagine Ross is opening some eyes and he could earn himself an invite to an NHL camp. His 6'4" frame alone, should get him some notice.

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