Going into their first-round Western Conference series with the Tri-City Americans, Seattle coach Steve Konowalchuk and his players did not expect to escape with a four-game sweep.
But that’s exactly what happened Friday when the Thunderbirds got two goals from Alexander True in a 5-2 victory over the Americans to move onto the second round.
“No, not at all,” Konowalchuk of predicting a sweep. “You always play it like it will be seven games. I’m surprised it wasn’t a long series. I’m proud of the way our guys played — disciplined, winning battles. Different guys stepped up at different times.”
The Americans bowed out of the playoffs in the first round for the fourth time in five years. They did not make the playoffs last year.
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“Most of the year, we were a momentum team, but every time we started to get going, Seattle scored or got a power play and disrupted our play,” Tri-City coach Mike Williamson said. “We never got into any flow. Tonight was the game we had the highest intensity and emotion we’d had all series. If we’d had that from the start, we might have split the first two games.”
The Thunderbirds, who made their first playoff appearance in 1975, posted their fourth four-game sweep in franchise history — the first round in 2000 against Kamloops, the first round in 2016 against Prince George, the third round in 2016 against Kelowna, and this season.
“That was crazy,” Seattle’s Austin Strand said of the sweep. “Honestly, I thought it would be a close series.”
Seattle opened the scoring with a power-play goal by True at 3:01 of the first period, but the Americans came back to tie the score at 6:19 with a goal by Kyle Olson — his first of the playoffs.
The hard-hitting, tension-filled period remained tied until the last second when Nolan Volcan put the puck past diving Rylan Parenteau at 19:59.
All was not lost for Tri-City, which evened the score just 3:58 into the second as Nolan Yaremko poked the puck in behind Carl Stankowski for his first playoff point.
The Americans kept the Thunderbirds off the scoreboard in the second until the last 3:04, when sloppy play cost them dearly.
Tri-City turned the puck over on a lazy play in Seattle’s zone, and Donovan Neuls scored at the other end for a 3-2 lead.
With 45 seconds remaining in the period, Parenteau stopped a Keegan Kolesar breakaway, but the Americans failed to clear the puck from around the net and Sami Moilanen slid it into the net to the left of Parenteau to make it 4-2.
“Tonight, I though the guys played terrific,” Williamson said. “We pressed a little bit too much and made a couple of mental mistakes. We had three or four really good scoring chances, we were carrying the play and playing some of our best hockey. That was tough. They don’t give up a lot and it was tough getting anything going in the third.”
True would add an empty-net goal with 1:27 to play to seal the win.
Parenteau finished with 27 saves for Tri-City, while Stankowski had 28 for Seattle.
SAYING GOODBYE: Friday was the last game for captain Tyler Sandhu, Parenteau and defenseman Dalton York, who finished his WHL career serving out the final game of a two-game suspension for a hit on Seattle Ryan Gropp in Game 2.
“Everyone was trying to get through this game with a win so Dalton could get back in the lineup,” Williamson said. “They are heart and soul players. A couple of them were only here for a year, but they fit in unbelievably well. They are Tri-City Americans through and through. It will be sad to see them go.”
BY THE NUMBERS: The Americans were an anemic 1-for-19 on the power play for the series. ... 22 — the number of games Tri-City F Michael Rasmussen missed with a wrist injury. He missed the last 18 games of the regular season, and the four playoffs games against the Thunderbirds. ... 1 — points Americans F Morgan Geekie had in the playoffs. He led the team in scoring with 35 goals and 55 assists (90 points) during the regular season. Thunderbirds 5, Americans 2
First — 1, Sea, True 2 (Bear, Kolesar), 3:01 (pp). 2, TC, Olson 1 (Coghlan, Wotherspoon), 6:19. 3, Seaa, Volcan 2 (Bear, Eansor), 19:59. Penalties — Wotherspoon, TC (tripping), 1:33;Sandhu, TC (high-sticking), 6:24; True, Sea (hooking), 11:08; Bear, Sea (cross-checking), 16:18.
Second — 4, TC, Yaremko 1 (AuCoin, James), 3:58. 5, Sea Neuls 3 (Moilanen, Strand), 16:56. 6, Sea, Moilanen 1 (Strand), 19:20. Penalties — Volcan, Sea (roughing), 1:25; O’Reilly, TC (roughing), 1:25; Geekie, TC (slashing), 10:43; Bishop, Sea (roughing), 14:55; Olson, TC (roughing), 14:55.
Third — 7, Sea, True 3 (Kolesar), 18:33 (en). Penalties — Harsch, Sea (delay of game), 3:52.
Shots — Sea 10-12-9 — 31. TC 12-12-6 — 30. Power plays — Sea 1-3. TC 0-3. Goalies — Sea, Stankowksi 4-0-0 (30 shots-28 saves). TC, Parenteau 0-3-0 (31-27). Referees — Ryan Benbow and Kyle Kowalski. A — 3,020.