(Kent, WA) Despite the gap in the standings between the to longtime U.S. Division rivals, Seattle Thunderbird (23-28-3-3) and Portland Winterhawk (40-9-3-4) games continue to be tight scoring affairs.
That was the case again Saturday night as the teams met for the ninth time this season.
Despite how close most of the games have been, the Winterhawks had yet to not earn a point in the season series. They were 5-0-0-3 coming into this one.
It took the first WHL goal by Seattle forward Brendan Williamson to snap that streak and give Seattle the 3-2 win.
Williamson walked in and snapped a wrist shot by Portland goalie Dante Giannuzzi off a feed from Andrej Kukuca with 3:39 left to help Seattle edge Portland for the first time in regulation this season.
“Great pass by Andrej,” Williamson said. “He was going to go to (Payton) Mounter but he saw me with speed going up the left side. He gave it to me while I was in stride. I saw the top left open and I was able to bury it.”
“All the boys were hyping me up. I love the guys they were super excited for me. It was really good.”
“He’s been playing some good hockey for us,” Seattle head coach Matt O’Dette said of Williamson.
“He’s been a bit snake bitten. Goalies have been making good saves on him. That was the case tonight. He stuck with it and what more can you ask for from a first WHL goal – a game-winner against Portland on a Saturday night – that’s a big one”
Williamson added an assist for two points in the game – the game high and a career high.
After Seattle took the late lead, goalie Roddy Ross stood tall. He turned away many quality Portland chances and stopping 30-of-32.
“He was good, He slammed the door the second half of the game. He made a lot of nice saves to finish it off for us. Roddy’s been doing that all year long,” O’Dette said.
Jonas Brøndberg got the scoring started in the first period for Portland as he found the blocker side open on Roddy Ross. The marker was his ninth this season and third in his last five games.
Back-to-back power plays created some momentum and pressure for the Thunderbirds. On their second chance they broke through. After Giannuzzi turned away two chances from first unit, net front power-play forward Max Patterson.
“It took the momentum out of our team. Any time we take three penalties like that, two of them in the offensive zone, we can’t do that in the first period,” Portland head coach Mike Johnston said of the first period penalties.
The second unit player in that power-play role would not be denied. Once again the puck got in tight on Giannuzzi. Matthew Rempe found the bouncing puck and poked it past Giannuzzi.
The goal was the 6-foot-8 forward’s 11th of the season. Of those 11, three have come against Portland.
“We were having some trouble with our break outs. Once we get set, we can start doing some things. It’s all about simplicity,” O’Dette said of the power-play goal and the chance Seattle created net front on the man advantage.
“We got some bodies to the net and if we do that multiple times, I think our strength is to retrieve those pucks and we want to do that a little more – taking more shot attempts and that’s what we did on that goal.”
In the second, the Winterhawks owned the early possession, but Seattle had the better looks. After Williamson found Kai Uchacz in space and the 16-year-old roofed a shot by the Portland goalie for the 2-1 lead and his second goal of the season.
Williamson soon had a golden chance of his own as the puck trickled through. Giannuzzi made a dazzling glove stop though, preventing Seattle from going up by two.
Williamson would eventually avenge that.
After the next drop of the puck though, Seth Jarvis broke in on Ross and picked a corner on him for his 36th of the season and the tie game.
“I would have thought that would have been a key turning point in the game if we had won the game,” Johnston said of the tying goal.
Jarvis extended his point streak to eight games with the goal.
Tempers flared as Reece Newkirk dangled around a sliding Tyrel Bauer and sniped a shot by Ross after the buzzer ending the second period had sounded. That drew the ire of Bauer, Cade McNelly and others.
“I thought the shot took place right at the buzzer, maybe a half second late. I thought it was an overreaction,” Johnston said of the end of the second period theatrics.
The result was Portland’s first power play of the night as Seattle drew three roughing minors while the Winterhawks had only two. Portland however, lost the services of Dureau for the first 10 minutes of the period as he was given a 10 minute misconduct.
They would also be without Jarvis off their top power-play unit as he drew one of the minors.
The power play could not find the net behind Ross.
Seattle thought they had scored the go-ahead goal 6:26 into the third as Conner Bruggen-Cate pushed the puck in. The officials ruled, however that Giannuzzi had frozen the puck.
Then Williamson brought the 5,020 home fans to their feet with a memorable snipe.
Seattle went 1-for-4 on the power play and Portland was 0-for-1.
Seattle out shot Portland 33-32 in the game. Both teams play tomorrow as Portland heads home to host the Everett Silvertips and Seattle welcomes the Prince George Cougars.
“Every team is different, we have a game plan against each team. We have to stick to our game plan. We have a certain way we will play against Everett tomorrow,” Johnston said of the game on Sunday.
Everett ended Vancouver’s 11-game win streak Saturday night and are now five points back of the Winterhawks for the U.S. Division lead. They also have a game in hand.
Seattle is now 13 points up on the Cougars for the last playoff spot in the Western Conference though the latter has three games in hand. The Kelowna Rockets lost in a shootout Saturday and so Seattle cut the Memorial Cup host’s lead for the first wild card spot down to three points. The Rockets have a game in hand,