Sunday, March 22, 2009

WHL Playoffs: T-Birds even series with 2-1 win over Spokane

The Seattle Thunderbirds faced the Spokane Chiefs last night in Game 2 of a “best of 7” playoff series. Spokane won Game 1 in a hard fought 2-1 battle, but they could not hit the ice resting on their laurels. If there’s anything I’ve learned about the T-Birds this season, it’s that they do not take losing lightly. And I don’t know what kind of pep talk Coach Rob Sumner delivered in the locker room Friday night after the loss or yesterday before Game 2, but the team that hit the ice had only one thing on its mind: WIN.

The first period started with both teams taking the puck to each other’s red line, but unable to take it any further. This back and forth action went on for at least six minutes, highlighted by a battle for the puck behind Spokane’s net that resulted in a high sticking penalty for the Chiefs’ Justin McCrae. As he skated to the box, the radio guy for Spokane, Mike Boyle, who’s providing play by play for the live video feed on the WHL’s website, says the penalty should have gone to Seattle’s Greg Scott, because Scott grabbed McCrae’s stick and held it. I’m sorry, but I would hope that a referee would be able to see something so blatant.

Seattle failed to capitalize on the power play and the back and forth action continued, but the tide seemed to be turning slowly in the T-Birds’ favor. The puck ended up in Spokane’s end more. And on the few occasions that the Chiefs drove into the T-Birds’ end, goalie Calvin Pickard and a host of Seattle players made sure that Spokane did not get a chance to score. One frightening moment came when Drayson Bowman grabbed the puck and drove hard at Pickard, before backhanding it at the net. The puck seemed to hit Pickard straight in the chest and he brought both hands up to hold onto it then bent over until the ref blew the whistle.

The rest of the first period played out the same way, with the T-Birds breaking up plays, stealing pucks and driving to Spokane’s end. The Chiefs’ shots seemed to keep going wide, and no players were in position to try to capitalize on any rebounds, mostly because a T-Bird was always there to knock the puck away.

With two minutes left in the first, the action heated up a little. Pickard had no trouble catching a high shot at Seattle’s net. At the other end of the ice, Chiefs goalie Dustin Tokarski gloved a hard shot by Thomas Hickey. That play resulted in some pushing and shoving next to the net as some Chiefs seemed to think that Hickey had gotten too close to their netminder. This action resulted in a hooking penalty for the Chiefs’ Kenton Miller. Again, radio guy Mike Boyle accused Greg Scott of causing the penalty, by grabbing Miller’s stick. Scott was called for interference with a minute left to go. The Chiefs tried to end the first period with a goal, but they were foiled by Calvin Pickard, who snatched the puck out of mid-air to keep it from flying into the net over his shoulder.

The first period ended with no score and the shots on goal pretty even: Spokane 11, Seattle 9.

The second period began with 4-on-4 action, as Greg Scott and Spokane’s Kenton Miller sat out the rest of their penalties. Both teams were getting in some good shots. Devon LeBlanc’s slapshot at 7:30 just flew just over the crossbar of the Chiefs’ net. A minute later, Calvin Pickard knocked away a hard shot by a Chief using his arm pad. A charge to Spokane’s net at 8:31 ended with the puck somehow wedged under a bar on the side of the net. On the next play, T-Bird Brenden Jacobs was so intent on getting the puck past Dustin Tokarski, he ended up flipping head over heels into the net himself! Too bad the puck didn’t go into the net with him. At the other end of the ice, defenseman Brad Haber made it his mission to keep all comers away from the T-Birds net. He slapped pucks away and knocked players away from Calvin Pickard. A minute later, Tokarski had to think fast to deflect another hard shot by Brenden Dillon.

At the 15 minute mark, the Chiefs tried to attack Seattle’s goal, with three shots in a row. The first was slapped away by Pickard. Brad Haber deflected the second shot. The third went wide and then was cleared by Seattle. Following that flurry of activity, Spokane got hit with a penalty at 15:24. Tyler Johnson went to the box on an interference call. This time, the T-Birds took advantage of the momentum they’d been building all period. Thomas Hickey took a pass from Greg Scott and sent a rocket to the net. Dustin Tokarski turned it away, but it deflected off the Chiefs’ Jared Spurgeon and went in. Spokane’s radio announcer went a little ballistic here, sarcastically saying that Spurgeon should get credit for the goal and not Hickey.

The T-Birds worked hard to protect that one goal lead. In the final minute of the period, they went down a man, as the refs called Thomas Hickey for tripping. The Chiefs’ Ondrej Roman fired a pretty good shot on net, but it hit the left post and Calvin Pickard kicked the puck away with his skate before anyone could jump on the rebound.

The second period ended with Seattle up 1-0. The shots were pretty even here, too: Spokane 12, Seattle 10.

The third period picked up where the second period left off, with lots of physical play on either end of the ice. But this night would belong to the T-Birds. At 5:11, Sena Acolatse slapped the puck past Dustin Tokarski to put Seattle up 2-0. Luke Lockhart was credited with the assist. The T-Birds had another scoring chance a few minutes later, when Greg Scott stole the puck away from Stefan Ulmer and fired a shot. It missed wide. At 7:36, Spokane’s Steve Kuhn leveled a slapshot at Seattle’s net, but he aimed right at Calvin Pickard’s glove and Pickard caught it easily. A minute later, Pickard fell down and slid across the front of the net to deflect another Spokane shot. A play at Spokane’s end around 12:31 looked as though it had ended in a Greg Scott goal, but the puck went in after the refs had whistled the play dead. Stefan Warg was called for interference at 14:19. Just as his penalty ended, a bad pass by Greg Scott at 16:26 set up Spokane’s only score. Somehow, Scott passed the puck right to Drayson Bowman, who drove down the ice and went top shelf to beat Calvin Pickard. Stefan Ulmer got the assist here, although I don’t know why, as no other Chief touched the puck after Scott inadvertently gave it to Bowman.

The Chiefs really stepped up the attack here, feeling a renewed sense of purpose. After all, there were still three minutes on the clock, plenty of time to score again at least once, to take things into overtime. But the T-Birds stepped their game up another notch, as well, running down the clock and breaking up plays. The Chiefs got one good shot on Calvin Pickard at 18:20. Mitch Wahl aimed one right at the net, but Pickard kicked it away.

With 55 seconds left in regulation, Seattle was called for icing and the face off came back to the T-Birds end. The Chiefs pulled goalie Dustin Tokarski to send an extra man on the attack. The Chiefs Ondrej Roman tried to go top shelf against Calvin Pickard, but Picks reached up one gloved hand and snatched it out of the air. The puck ended up sliding all the way to Spokane’s end and just missed an empty net goal by a couple of feet. The clock wound down and the small group of diehard T-Birds fans who made the trek to Spokane jumped up and down and cheered along, as the team gathered around Pickard.

Final score: Seattle 2, Spokane 1. Shots on goal for the period: Spokane 11, Seattle 9. Total SOG for game: Spokane 34, Seattle 28.

The playoff action now moves to ShoWare Center in Kent. Game 3 take place Tuesday, March 24, with Game 4 the next night, Wednesday, March 25. Both games begin at 7:05pm. For more information on the games and tickets, click here.

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