If you are the Seattle Thunderbirds, you want the puck on centre Mathew Barzal’s stick when the game is on the line.
If you are the Kamloops Blazers, that is the last thing you want.
But that’s how things unfolded Sunday night at the Sandman Centre.
Barzal, Seattle’s leading scorer and a magician with the puck, scored on a rebound at 17:58 of the third period to give the
Thunderbirds a 4-3 victory over the Blazers.
The Thunderbirds won the season series 4-0-0 — the Blazers went 0-3-1 — and for the first time in their history have beaten Kamloops in five straight games.
“I was just going to the net kind of looking for a rebound,” Barzal said. “I was just lucky enough to put it upstairs.”
The winner, Barzal’s 22nd goal this season and his team-leading seventh winner, came just 4:28 after Kamloops defenceman Dawson Davidson had tied the game on his club’s third power-play goal of the night.
The Thunderbirds were intent on taking the play into the Kamloops zone. Right-winger Nick Holowko got off a shot on Kamloops goaltender Connor Ingram, who made the save and in attempting to move the puck away with his stick, put it right on Barzal’s tape.
“We couldn’t shut down a real good player,” said Kamloops head coach Don Hay. “Barzal’s one of the top players in the league. We weren’t hard enough on him and we didn’t shut him down. He was able to get the rebound and put it away.”
Seattle head coach Steve Konowalchuk, who gets to watch The Barzal Show on a regular basis, offered: “What a big goal for him. The last few games he has really stepped up his game.”
Barzal, who also had an assist, now is riding a 10-game point streak. During that stretch, the New York Islanders' first-round selection in the NHL's 2015 draft has 20 points, including eight goals.
The victory allowed Seattle (36-23-3), which won three times on the weekend and has won four straight, to stay within three points of the U.S. Division-leading Everett Silvertips, who beat the visiting Tri-City Americans, 3-2, on Sunday. Seattle holds a game in hand.
“We’re in a race for the division and every point matters,” Barzal said. “It really doesn’t matter who we play . . . we’re going to play the same way. But it would be pretty cool to have a banner in our rink, something we can remember.”
The Blazers (29-25-9) now are 2-1-1 in their last four games. They, too, were looking to sweep three weekend games. They remain tied with the Spokane Chiefs for the Western Conference’s two wild-card spots. Kamloops also is fourth in the B.C. Division, three points behind the Prince George Cougars. Each team has nine games remaining.
“We wasted a game today,” Hay said. “This was our game in hand and we had the opportunity to get a point and we let it slip away.
“I’m just disappointed in not finding a way to get a point when we had the point in our grasp. That was the big disappointment.”
Each team was playing for the third time in 48 hours, and they went hard at each other for the better part of 40 minutes. But, by early in the third period, things had slowed to a snail’s pace with play halted frequently by offside and icing calls.
“Three-in-threes are tough,” Barzal said. “There was a lot of travel for both teams this weekend. It was a gutsy effort by both teams.”
The Thunderbirds beat the host Americans, 4-2, on Friday, then returned home to defeat Everett 2-0 on Saturday. The Blazers won, 3-2 in OT, in Everett on Friday, then got past the visiting Vancouver Giants, 4-2, on Saturday.
“We weren’t fatigued,” said Hay, in what was his curtest post-game media briefing this season.
The visual evidence, however, suggested otherwise.
“You have to do them sometimes in junior,” Konowalchuk said of the three-game weekends. “The way I look at it is as long as both teams are doing it, it kind of evens it out.”
Still, this one was there for the taking on a night when five of seven goals came via the power play.
Centre Gage Quinney put the home side up 1-0 at 13:12 of the first period, with his 25th goal, a lead that held until Seattle defenceman Bryan Allbee scored at 4:17 of the second period. Seattle left-winger Nolan Volcan gave his guys their first lead at 8:17, only have Kamloops defenceman Ryan Rehill tie it at 13:53.
The first four goals all came on power plays.
Allbee got his second goal of the game and eighth of the season just 26 seconds after Rehill had scored and the Thunderbirds had the lead, again.
It held until Davidson’s power-play goal pulled the Blazers even for a third time.
Konowalchuk was in a running battle with referees Reid Anderson and Steve Papp for much of this game and it almost cost the Thunderbirds. Seattle had a 3-2 lead and both teams were running on empty when left-winger Andreas Schumacher drew a roughing penalty for giving the gears to Kamloops winger Deven Sideroff as both players were trying to exit the ice at 12:59 of the third period.
Konowalchuk reacted by throwing his arms in the air and, yes, his lips moved. He was hit with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, which gave the Blazers a 5-on-3 advantage.
Davidson tied the game 31 seconds into the power play, but Kamloops wasn’t able to beat goaltender Logan Flodell again before the second penalty expired.
“No comment,” Konowalchuk said. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
On this occasion, Barzal’s stick spoke for him.
JUST NOTES: The announced attendance was 3,322. . . . The Blazers were 3-for-7 on the power play; the Thunderbirds were 2-for-4. . . . ingram, who went the distance in all three weekend games, stopped 23 shots. . . . Flodell, taking over from Landon Bow who started Friday and Saturday, finished with 32 saves in improving to 20-13-3. . . . Allbee, who was acquired by Seattle from the Kootenay Ice in January, enjoyed his first career two-goal game. He now has four goals in 22 games with the Thunderbirds. . . . The Blazers scratched F Erik Miller, D Nolan Kneen and F Garrett Pilon. . . . The Thunderbirds scratched D Ethan Bear, F Keegan Kolesar and F Owen Seidel. Bear is the WHL’s fourth-highest scoring defenceman, with 58 points in 60 games. Kolesar has 30 goals and 30 assists in 58 games. He is Seattle’s first 30-30 man since F Burke Gallimore (2010-11). . . . Left-winger Ryan Gropp of the Thunderbirds, who is from Kamloops, had his point streak end at nine games. He had 14 points, including five goals, during that stretch. . . . According to a pre-game tweet from TBird Tidbits (@TBirdTidbits), the Blazers and Thunderbirds last played in Kamloops on a Sunday on Jan. 28, 2007. The Blazers won, 5-3. The Blazers are 11-4 with a tie against the Thunderbirds when playing here on Sundays. . . . The Blazers, who are at home to the Spokane Chiefs on Wednesday and Kelowna Rockets on Friday, went 6-7-1 in February. They have nine games remaining, with four of those scheduled for home ice. . . . The game was down to one referee for a stretch late in the third period after Anderson took a deflected clearing pass in the face. He left quite a bit of blood on the ice when he went off for repairs. After taking three stitches in the tunnel behind the Blazers’ bench, he returned to finish the game.
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