Thursday, March 26, 2009

WHL: T-Birds lose to Spokane 3-2, fall behind in sereis 3 games to 1

The Seattle Thunderbirds find themselves in a very tough position. They are down 3 games to 1 in the first round of the WHL playoff series against the Spokane Chiefs. The T-Birds lost a tough match at ShoWare Center tonight, 3-2. Now, they face the daunting task of trying to win both of their next games on the other side of the state.

The first period started with a bang for both teams, with penalties a half minute into the game. T-Bird Chris Cloud was called at 00:32 for interference. Three seconds later, the Chiefs' Mitch Wahl went to the box for tripping. Neither team capitalized on the four on four play, but just before the 3 and a half minute mark, Spokane found the net first. Justin McCrae found a tiny opening between the left post and Seattle goalie Calvin Pickard's skate and poked the puck through. The T-Birds answered a minute later. Jim O'Brien took a rebound from Jeremy Boyer and Jeremy Schappert and shot it past Dustin Tokarski for his first goal of the playoffs.

Three minutes later, at the 7 minute mark, Schappert found the net. Devon LeBlanc and David Richard assisted on Schappert's first playoff goal. Less than two minutes later, the Chiefs evened things up. Tyler Johnson got past Pickard, with help from Mitch Wahl and Levko Koper. The rest of the first period featured some good set-ups by the Chiefs and better saves by Pickard, some pushing and shoving between Devon LeBlanc and one of the Chiefs, but no fisticuffs. At around the 10 minute mark, Seattle's Prab Rai and Jonathan Parker found some great chemistry as they flew up the ice, passing the puck between them. But Rai's shot at goal found one big obstacle: Tokarski.

As the period wound down, Spokane was called for two more penalties (Ondrej Roman @ 13:47 for high sticking; Brady Calla @ 16:39 for holding). Just before the second penalty, the Chiefs made a run at Pickard, but Defenseman and Captain Thomas Hickey dropped to his stomach and knocked the puck out of the way. A few minutes later, Hickey fired a hard shot at Tokarski, but Tokarski caught it. The final minute of the period featured more aggressive play, some words between T-Bird rookie Colin Jacobs and Spokane's Jared Spurgeon, and an elbowing penalty to Jim O'Brien with a half second left on the clock. End of First period: Seattle 2, Spokane 2. Shots on goal: Seattle 12, Spokane 12.

The second period began with the T-Birds shorthanded, as O'Brien worked off his elbowing penalty. There were a few scrums along the board as players scrabbled and kicked for the puck. Luke Lockhart found himself surrounded by three Chiefs who seemed to make it their mission to keep shoving his head down and not letting him up for air. He managed to break free, following a few uncomfortable moments. Prab Rai made another great run at Spokane's net, and again, Dustin Tokarski turned his shot away.

Spokane recovered and drove back to Seattle's end. In fact, the Chiefs seemed to spend quite a lot of time in the T-Birds' end this period, keeping Calvin Pickard on his toes. He caught a zinger slapped straight at his head around the 7:23 mark. Seconds later, T-Bird Greg Scott and Spokane's Tyler Johnson collided and skated a few feet while still entangled with each other. They nearly ended up going into the net, but pulled themselves apart in time. A minute later, an overzealous Chief skated into the side of the net, knocking it off its mooring. At 9:41, Jim O'Brien was called for his second penalty of the game, this time for high sticking. 20 seconds later, Ondrej Roman scored a power play goal for Spokane. Trevor Glass and Drayson Bowman got the assists for Roman's first goal of the playoffs.

Seattle's Brad Haber went to the box for delay of game 26 seconds later, after he shot the puck right over the glass and into the crowd. The T-Birds were able to kill that penalty and keep Spokane from scoring for the rest of the period. The bad news: Spokane returned the favor, not allowing the T-Birds to get a puck past Tokarski. The second period wound down with the score favoring the Chiefs, 3-2. Shots on goal: Spokane 12, Seattle 7.

The third period got physical right from the puck drop. The beginning of the period featured hard hits, aggressive plays on the puck and frantic skating up and down the ice. T-Bird winger David Richard got knocked into the Spokane bench about two minutes in, where players greeting him not so warmly. Spokane did a good job keeping the puck down at Seattle's end and really putting Calvin Pickard on his heels. He knocked away shot after shot, or watched as the puck bounced off a post or missed just wide of the net. Again and again, T-Birds swooped in to try to clear the puck, but for some reason, they could not get it past their own blue line. There was always a Chief ready to bring that puck right back into Seattle's zone. Left Wing Prab Rai distinguished himself this period not only by his skating and puck handling skills; he also leveled huge hits on every Chief he happened to come across.

This period featured lots of whistles and lots of face offs; most of them coming in the T-Birds zone. At 12:49, Mitch Wahl slid past Pickard and into the T-Birds' net. Stefan Warg took offense to it and got in Wahl's face once he found his way out of the net. A referee stepped in before the argument could escalate into something more physical. I noticed several d-men taking shorts breaks and heading back onto the ice, including Captain Thomas Hickey. He and several other T-Birds, including Prab Rai, Greg Scott and Devon LeBlanc, fired shots at Spokane's net, but Dustin Tokarski was not in the mood to let any more goals in. The period wound down pretty quickly, in spite of the numerous whistles, and play was still too frantic for T-Birds Head Coach Rob Sumner to pull Pickard until there were less than 55 seconds on the clock. Seattle used that extra attacker and did their best to hammer at Tokarski, to no avail. There was a frightening moment with 27 seconds left to play, when Spokane cleared the puck toward an empty T-Birds net. Hickey reached the puck before a Chief, though, and tried one last push at tying the game. Tokarski was just too good on this night, though, and time ran out. Final score: Spokane 3, Seattle 2.

Shots on goal for this period: Spokane 13, Seattle 11. Dustin Tokarski made 28 saves. Calvin Pickard stopped 34.

The 3 Stars of the Game: 1. Trevor Glass, Spokane 2. Jeremy Schappert, Seattle 3. Dustin Tokarski, Spokane

The T-Birds head back to Spokane for Game 5 on Saturday, March 28 in Spokane. The puck drops at 7:00pm. For more information, click here.

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