WHL playoff recap: Barzal finds scoring touch as Seattle takes 3-2 series lead

(photo courtesy Brian Liesse/Seattle Thunderbirds)

Seattle 7 Regina 4 (Seattle leads series 3-2)

Game story:

-Seattle’s star center Mathew Barzal is not known for scoring goals. Electric set-ups that end up in goals for guys like Keegan Kolesar and Ryan Gropp, sure. But goals…not so much. His stat line of 15 goals and 93 assists between the regular season and postseason really say it all. So in what was very likely his last game at ShoWare Center after four seasons wearing number 13, Barzal decided to start shooting early and often. He had yet to score in the series, but he quickly remedied that in his team’s 7-4 game 5 win. Barzal scored a power play goal that helped his squad tie the game at two after falling behind 2-0 early. He than added another snipe to give his squad their first lead of the game at 4-3. Barzal also had an assist for three points. Keegan Kolesar also had three points, while Regina was led by Austin Wagner, Josh Mahura and Connor Hobbs who each had three points.

Seattle is benefitting from an adjustment that coach Steve Konowalchuk made midway through game three. He moved Ryan Gropp out of his natural home on the top line with Barzal and Kolesar and down to the third line to play with Alexander True and Tyler Adams. That move has given all three lines some scoring punch and has been a great adjustment and possible turning point in the WHL Championship series.

Seattle now takes a 3-2 series lead to Regina, where they will play both games 6 and 7.

For the fourth straight game in the series, the Regina Pats opened the scoring in the first period. Just 1:05 in, the Pats got the third goal of the series from d-man Josh Mahura. With two Pats in front, creating a screen, Mahura’s shot beat Carl Stankowski and gave the Eastern Conference champion a 1-0 lead. Just 2:12 later, Jeff de Wit shook off Austin Strand with an incredible spin move and beat Stankowski for his fifth goal of the playoffs. Before the Pats could improve upon their two-goal lead, Sergey Zoborovskiy was called for high-sticking and the top man advantage unit in the WHL’s postseason went to work. Scott Eansor’s shot on the rush was stopped by Tyler Brown, but the rebound came right out in front. Donovan Neuls was first to it and he quickly backhanded the rebound home. With Robbie Holmes handing the Thunderbirds another power play after closing his hand on the puck, Seattle again went to work. Mathew Barzal took a feed from Keegan Kolesar and used an inadvertent screen by Connor Hobbs to beat him low on the glove side, tying the game.

Donovan Neuls provided another goal from a tough area in front (Brian Liesse)

Hobbs made up for his gaffe with a slick backhand pass to Dawson Leedahl, while screening the puck from Neuls. His pass found Leedahl and the overage sniper toe-dragged around a Seattle checker before firing a shot up high and past Stankowski. The 3-2 lead appeared to be a strong starting point for a Regina response to Seattle’s 6-1 game 4 win. Instead Barzal found Kolesar on the rush and the Columbus Blue Jacket prospect beat Brown glove side for his second goal in as many games. Then late in the period, Seattle used another power play to take their first lead of a game they seemed to be chasing up until this point. Ethan Bear used the threat of his big shot to draw in the defense, before flicking a pass on the left wing to Barzal. The N.Y. Islanders’ draft pick hammered a one-timer past Brown for the 4-3 lead.

With all of the adjustments between the Barzal and True lines, the line of Sami Moilanen-Scott Eansor-Nolan Volcan has gone a little overlooked. They shouldn’t have with a couple big goals in game 4, but they made certain of it with another in game 5. Moilanen got positioning around the net and his wraparound attempt ended up right on the stick of Volcan. The Edmonton native tapped home his fifth goal of the playoffs and the T-birds had a strong 5-3 lead. Feeding off the energy of their raucous crowd, Seattle added yet another to make it 6-3. Austin Strand just missed an opportunity to score on Brown’s glove side, but his miss went around the boards and right to Ryan Gropp. The overage sniper found a vacant net, with Brown trying to stop the strand attempt and he netted his second goal in as many games. Regina finally woke from Seattle’s blow and they started ramping up the pressure. After several strong looks were turned away by Stankowski, the Pats got their fourth goal of the game off the stick of Austin Wagner. The L.A. Kings prospect hammered a one-timer off a broken pass and it found the top corner on the rookie goalie. Regina pulled Brown for an extra attacker with 3:05 left, but Seattle and their goalie were up to the task. Turner Ottenbreit scored his second of the series on an empty net shot from deep in his own zone to give the T’Birds the 7-4 win.

Carl Stankowski is starting to become a bit of a hero in Kent and his save on an Austin Wagner breakaway early in the third period will live in legend at the ShoWare Center. He stopped a total of 33 of 37 shots. Meanwhile Tyler Brown gave up six goals for the second straight night and Regina coach John Paddock faced a question about whether backup Jordan Hollett would start game 6. Then answer was a firm “no.” Brown made a total of 32 saves on 38 shots.


-Adam Brooks has reportedly been skating, but it is unknown if he will be able to play in game 6 or 7. Dawson Davidson and Jake Leschyshyn have been long term scratches as well. Rylan Toth has not played in a couple months and it seems unlikely he will play again in the playoffs, even if healthy as Carl Stankowski has been dynamite for them.

Game 1: Seattle 2 @Regina 1(OT)

Game 2: Regina 4 Seattle 3(OT)

Game 3: Regina 3 @Seattle 2

Game 4: Seattle 6 Regina 1

Game 5: Seattle 7 Regina 4

Game 6: Sunday @Regina

Game 7(if necessary): Monday @Regina

Regina: Sam Steel (10-19-29 points), Dawson Leedahl (12-12-24 points), Connor Hobbs (6-17-23 points).

Seattle: Keegan Kolesar (11-18-29 points), Mathew Barzal (7-18-25 points), Ethan Bear (6-18-24 points).




Brandon Rivers

Longtime Portland Winterhawks' blogger on hodgesheroes.blogspot.com. I also write for SB Nation on the for the Seattle Sin Bin at http://www.sonicsrising.com/seattle-sin-bin. Further, I have a Seattle-sports podcast over at 206sportsjocks.com Originally from the Portland area, now living in Seattle. Proud husband and Father.