The Kent-based Seattle Thunderbirds knocked off the Kamloops Blazers 6-3 to clinch the top seed in the Western Conference heading into the Western Hockey League playoffs next week.
Seattle also set a franchise record for most wins in a single season as it improved to 53-9-1-2 with three regular season games left. That broke the mark of 52 wins set in 1989-90.
Dylan Guenther scored twice to lead the T-Birds to the victory Tuesday night, March 21 in front of a crowd of 4,335 at the accesso ShoWare Center in Kent.
Guenther’s first goal, at 15:31 of the second period, finished off a six-minute stretch in which Seattle scored three times, turning a 2-1 deficit into a 4-2 lead. He would add a second goal midway through the third period to put the T-Birds up, 5-2.
“Not our best start,” said Guenther, the prospect of the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes. “But I thought we continued to get better as the game went on. As we continued to get scoring, we continued to play better. It’s a good game for us and we just need to take that momentum into the rematch tomorrow.”
Seattle coach Matt O’Dette agreed with Guenther.
“I thought we got stronger as the game went on,” he said. “Which is kind of a trend for us. We’d like to be better earlier in the game, but a good hockey game. Two good teams going at it.”
Seattle actually grabbed an early lead, scoring on its first shot of the game, 34-seconds in. Nolan Allan potted his 10th of the season on assists from Nico Myatovic and Jared Davidson. Kamloops tied it four minutes later with an Ashton Ferster goal and took their only lead when Olen Zellweger scored on the power play at 12:15.
Seattle used a power play goal of its own from Brad Lambert at 9:27 of the second period to tie it at 2-2. Kyle Crnkovic and Jeremy Hanzel earned the assists. Davidson was credited with the T-Birds third goal. Guenther followed with his two goals, giving the T-Birds the lead for good.
The lead held up thanks to the play in goal of T-Birds netminder Thomas Milic, who turned aside 34 shots, including a pair of breakaways.
“These are the games I love to play in,” said the Seattle goalie. “Especially against Kamloops, since there’s a chance we could see them later in the playoffs.”
O’Dette remarked Milic was a difference maker in the game.
“He was lights out,” O’Dette said. “Obviously, we’d like to prevent those big, high-quality chances. We can’t be giving those up.”
In the game’s final two minutes, while on the power play, the Blazers pulled their goalie and scored a 6-on-4 goal to pull within 5-3 but shortly after Reid Schaefer scored into the empty net to put the game away.
The T-Birds plan at Kamloops Wednesday in a rematch. They play Friday at Portland and return home Saturday against Portland to finish the regular season.
• The T-birds pulled withing two points of idle Winnipeg for the WHL’s best record. Both teams have three games remaining.
• After a six-game absence, Colton Dach returned to the T-Birds lineup. Seattle is still without Tij Iginla, Jordan Gustafson and Gracyn Sawchyn. All are still sidelined with injuries.
• Playoffs: With the other results in the WHL Tuesday night, Seattle now knows its first-round playoff opponent, For the second straight season the T-Birds will play the Kelowna Rockets in the opening round. The best-of-seven series will start at home. Seattle will host Game 1 on Friday, March 31. Game 2 is Saturday, April 1.
Thom Beuning, of the Seattle Thunderbirds, contributed to this article.