Returning to home ice in the playoffs and playing in front of a raucous crowd at the accesso ShoWare Center seemed to give the Seattle Thunderbirds and extra jump or two in their step on Tuesday night.
If you were to watch the first 10 minutes or so of the hockey game, you would be forgiven for believing that it was the Thunderbirds and not the visiting Silvertips who had the best regular season record in the Western Conference and were the favorites in their first round series.
Seattle had the game’s first seven shots, 10 of the first 12 and outshot the Silvertips 19-6 when the game hit the mid-period break.
The Thunderbirds had a significant advantage in possession as well, but they could not find many cracks in Everett’s armor that was their goalie Carter Hart. They even got under his skin a bit, drawing a 10-minute misconduct from the Philadelphia Flyers netminder.
However, Hart just turned away almost every single shot they sent his way and looked calm and collected after his minor outburst that was his shoving of Seattle defenseman Austin Strand. Hart would go on to stop 35 of 36 and help Everett win 3-1 and take the series lead at two games to one.
Matt Fonteyne also chipped in two goals for Everett, his first of the series.
Hart knew they were in for a tough start to the game. “They definitely came out hard and we had to weather the storm there. I think just taking it one period at a time really helped me focus. After the first period, we had to regroup and came out better in the second and third,” Hart said.
Seattle did get the first goal of the game though and it came on the power play. After some slick passing on the man advantage, Donovan Neuls’ shot created a nice rebound in front for Nolan Volcan and the end result was Volcan shoveling the puck past Hart and sending the 5,600 at the accesso ShoWare Center into hysterics.
Everett very nearly got a greasy goal on just their second shot of the game when Martin Fasko-Rudas had a chance kick around and go right through the crease in behind Liam Hughes.
Fasko-Rudas’ linemate Reece Vitelli did get Everett on the board later in the first though. He redirected a shot by Gianni Fairbrother past Hughes’ blocker to tie the game up before the first period hit its midpoint. Vitelli has been an unexpected producer so far this postseason as he now has a goal and two assists in the first three games of the series. Vitelli also had three points against Seattle in the regular season, despite limited playing time.
Hart appreciated how well Vitelli and his line have played in the playoffs. They’ve played really hard all series. Vitelli is a point-a-game guy right now. He’s playing good hockey, creating good chances and really buzzing the net. He’s playing hard all around the ice and it’s paying off for him.”
The first also saw some fireworks as Matthew Wedman checked Sean Richards to the ice multiple times in the Seattle zone. The visibly frustrated Richards then jumped Austin Strand at the other end of the ice. Carter Hart also was assessed a 10-minute misconduct for a push he put in on Strand after the d-man’s stick appeared to catch him in the midsection.
Hart pulled no punches after the game in his description of the events. “He (Strand) slashed me.” Hart relayed. Richards stepping up for his goalie was something Hart noticed and remembered fondly. “I really appreciated that. It goes to show what a good teammate Sean Richards is. It showed how he’s not only a good teammate, but also a good friend.”
Sami Moilanen also caught a check from Fonteyne that saw him fall awkwardly to the ice late in the period.
Seattle Head Coach Matt O’Dette was impressed with his team’s play in the first. “We had a great first period, we just could not sustain it.” In the second though, his team started to unravel a bit. “We got into some penalty trouble and did not to the things that led to our success in the first. Some of our key guys went to the box for minors and obviously losing Sami was not ideal. But we regroup and get ready for the next game,” O’Dette said.
O’Dette did not give an update on Moilanen’s status for Game 3 and beyond.
Everett seemed like a new team in the second and were helped by some penalties taken by two of Seattle’s overage d-men. With Austin Strand in the box and Turner Ottenbreit just returning to the ice with Connor Dewar and thus out of position, a shot from Jake Christiansen trickled through the body of Hughes and laid on the goal line. Fonteyne was first to the loose puck in the crease and poked in his first of the playoffs.
Ottenbreit and Strand combined for six minor penalties with two of those penalties leading to Everett power plays.
Seattle’s best look in the second came on a short-handed breakaway by Neuls that Hart turned away with his right pad.
After being severely outplayed over the first half of the first period, the Silvertips had found a way to take a 2-1 lead after 40 minutes.
They continued pressing hard in the third, but Seattle goalie Liam Hughes stood tall. His best saves were two spectacular diving ones he made on an Everett power play, but there were plenty of other quality ones mixed in.
O’Dette liked Hughes’ play at the end when Everett looked to be buzzing for some insurance. “He was good. He kept us within one goal. He kept us in the game there. I think they had multiple 5-on-3, 4-on-3 chances. We can’t be giving them those types of opportunities. They got basically a 4-on-3 goal tonight and a 5-on-3 goal last game. Too much time in those types of situations.”
In a strange turn of events, Hughes was forced to play some time after losing his glove in behind the Seattle net. O’Dette was informed that the play should have been blown dead, but the referees made a mistake in allowing the play to run.
“They said they made the wrong call. We had that situation a couple weeks back against Hart in a 6-on-5 situation and they blew it dead right away. They made a mistake.”
Seattle pulled Hughes and took a timeout with 1:45 left, but could not beat Hart. Fonteyne iced the win for Everett with an empty-net-goal, his second marker in the contest.
Seattle was 1-for-4 on the man advantage, while Everett was 1-for-5. The Thunderbirds are now 3-for-9 on the power play and Everett is 2-for-14 in the series.
Game 4 goes Friday back at the ShoWare Center. Riley Sutter will return to the lineup for Everett after serving his one-game suspension for a hit he put on Jake Lee in Game 2.