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Thunderbirds notebook, February 23-28, 2016

With the regular season starting to wind down and playoff positions yet to be solidified, the Seattle Thunderbirds are starting to hit their stride.

Edited by Tiffany Villigan

Four games over six days. Four regulation wins. Eight big points gained. This was the Seattle Thunderbirds' week. Here's how it went:

Tuesday, February 23, vs Vancouver Giants

Donovan Neuls helped lead the Thunderbirds to a 5-3 win over the last-place Giants. Cavin Leth earned 2nd star of the game with a goal and an assist. After Vancouver's Tyler Benson knotted the game at 3-3 at the 7:50 mark of the 3rd period, defenseman Turner Ottenbreit potted the eventual game winner at the 8:52 mark, followed up by Jerret Smith's insurance goal a little over four minutes later. Goalie Logan Flodell stopped 23 of 26 shots on the night for Seattle.

Friday, February 26, at Tri-City Americans

Seattle jumped the Ams early and often in this one, holding a commanding 3-0 a mere 11:08 into the game. Tri-City made a game of it in the 2nd period, picking up a pair of goals to pull back to within one. But Mathew Barzal put the final nail in the scoring coffin at the 4:45 mark of the 3rd period, giving the Birds the 4-2 win. Making his first start in a couple weeks, over-age goalie Landon Bow stopped 27 of the 29 shots the Americans fired his way.

Saturday, February 27, vs Everett Silvertips

The Thunderbirds failed to post more than 9 shots in any given period in this game. Once again, they failed to score on Everett in the 2nd period. But unlike all but one other game played this season between these two clubs, the Thunderbirds actually managed to defeat the team that's befuddled them more than any other this season by the final score of 2-0. Mathew Barzal scored both goals for Seattle - the first with a pretty move on Tips star goaltender Carter Hart at the 15:56 mark of the 1st period, then the empty-netter to seal the deal at the 19:11 mark of the 3rd period. Landon Bow was in fine form between the pipes for the T-Birds, stopping all 24 shots the Silvertips offered him on Saturday night.

Sunday, February 28, at Kamloops Blazers

It really wouldn't have been all that surprising if the Thunderbirds dropped this third game in three nights in Kamloops, considering their emotional win over Everett the night before and approximately 16 hours stifled inside their team bus over the last three days. However, they were still able to muster up just enough energy to take home their fourth win of the week from Kamloops, a 4-3 decision. Defenseman Bryan Allbee led the Thunderbirds' scoring parade with two goals, while Barzal picked up one goal and one assist, and both Donovan Neuls and Nick Holowko collected two assists. Logan Flodell won his second game of the week, stopping 32 of 35 shots in this one.

Thunderbirds Three Stars of the Week

1. Donovan Neuls. I'm giving it to the young Seattle forward this week because he had, arguably, the best week of his WHL career so far. He didn't score any goals, but helped the offensive attack with six assists in the four games last week (including an unselfish pass to Mathew Barzal for the empty-netter against Everett on Saturday). With Seattle looking for some consistent scoring from a second line heading down the stretch and into the playoffs, a red-hot Neuls & Co. might be what Dr. Hockey prescribed.

2. Mathew Barzal. He's pretty much a fixture in this feature. The New York Islanders' first-round draft pick had yet another stellar week, posting four goals on the scoreboard along with three assists. As of this writing, Barzal has a 10-game scoring streak going for him.

3. Landon Bow. Coming back from his injury, the over-age Seattle netminder stopped 51 of the 53 shots fired on net last weekend. The Thunderbirds acquired him for a deep playoff run and if he keeps performing at this level, Seattle will almost certainly see their investment pay off and then some.

Key Players Banged-Up

Landon Bow certainly came back at the right time. However, the Thunderbirds have lost two more of their star skaters over the last few days. Keegan Kolesar didn't play in any of the three weekend games for the T-Birds after suffering an "upper body injury." Meanwhile, Edmonton Oilers prospect and power play star extraordinaire Ethan Bear was injured during the game in Kennewick on Friday night. No word on how long these two will be out, but their goal-scoring prowess will be missed for the time being.

What's Coming Up

The Thunderbirds schedule this week somewhat mirrors last week: four games in six nights with Tuesday and Saturday at home in the ShoWare Center, while Friday and Sunday are on the road.

Tuesday, March 1

It's an always popular Two-For-Tuesday at the ShoWare Center. This week their opponents are the Tri-City Americans. The Thunderbirds will start this one three points behind first-place Everett, while the Ams begin their week sitting in ninth place in the Western Conference wildcard race, four points behind the eighth place Kamloops Blazers.

Friday, March 4

Will the Thunderbirds be able to keep up their winning ways against the dreaded Silvertips at the Xfinity Arena in Everett? With Everett idle until this Friday night showdown, it's possible (if the Thunderbirds win Tuesday night) that this game could have first place on the line. At this point, Seattle has the momentum going their way, posting an 8-2-0-0 record over their last 10 games while Everett has been treading water at 4-4-2-0.

Saturday, March 5

The Portland Winterhawks have been playing really good hockey lately, too. Going 6-2-2-0 over their last 10 games as of this writing, the PDX boys are still within striking distance of the US Division title. The Thunderbirds will host their arch enemies at the ShoWare Saturday night with plenty still on the line at that point.

Sunday, March 6

I know in my Northwest hockey life it can sometimes seem like I'm making the trip over the mountains to Kennewick for hockey games at an unusually high rate. Well, that's also how it is for the Thunderbirds as they make their way over to Tri for the second time in as many weeks to play the Americans. This will be the third time in 10 days the two squads have played each other.