Ryan Gropp scored two goals to lead the Seattle Thunderbirds to a 4-2 Western Hockey League win over the Spokane Chiefs at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena on Wednesday night.
Seattle improves to 45-19-4-2 and tops the U.S. Division and Western Conference standings with 96 points. The T-Birds are one point ahead of the second-place Everett Silvertips, who beat the Kelowna Rockets 4-1 Wednesday night. The Prince George Cougars lead the B.C. Division with a 44-21-3-2 record and 93 points.
The T-Birds have tied the number of wins, 45, they had in the 2015-16 season when they won the division and conference championship. They were 45-23-4-0 last season.
The T-Birds finish out the season with back-to-back home games on Saturday and Sunday. They play the Winterhawks at 7:05 p.m. Saturday and the Vancouver Giants on Sunday at 5:05 p.m. Everett (42-16-8-3) has three games remaining in the regular season.
The T-Birds have clinched home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Games 1 and 2 of the first round against a to-be-determined opponent at the ShoWare Center are Friday, March 24, at 7:35 p.m. and Saturday, March 25, at 7:05 p.m.
Against Spokane, Seattle goalie Carl Stankowski stopped 15 of 17 shots to get his second win of the season.
Spokane (26-33-7-3) took a 1-0 lead at the 11-minute mark of the first period on a goal from Taylor Ross. Ondrej Najman and Ty Smith had the assists.
Seattle tied the game 1-1 at 17:27 of the first on a power-play goal from Ryan Gropp. Keegan Kolesar had the puck at the bottom of the right circle. Kolesar passed the puck to Donovan Neuls on the right-wing wall. Neuls crossed the puck to Gropp in the left circle. Gropp put a wrist shot on goal that beat Spokane goalie Donovan Buskey high as the goalie lunged to make the save.
Seattle outshot Spokane 18-9 in the first period.
The T-Birds had a 25-13 advantage in shots after outshooting the Chiefs 7-4 in the second period.
The T-Birds took a 3-1 lead with two goals in 1:07 early in the third period. Matthew Wedman took a shot from the right circle that Buskey stopped. Zack Andrusiak was on top of the crease to bang the rebound in at 2:08 of the period.
Then Gropp made it a two-goal lead at 3:15 of the third when he tipped a point shot from Turner Ottenbreit past Buskey. Kolesar moved the puck from a battle along the left boards to Ottenbreit at the left point.
Spokane cut the T-Birds lead to one goal at 5:29 of the third on a goal from Jaret Anderson-Dolan. Kailer Yamamoto had the only assist.
Austin Strand got the T-Birds the two-goal lead back at 9:02 of the third. The Chiefs sent the puck up the center of the ice from the right corner of their zone. Strand intercepted the pass in the high slot, skated forward and beat Buskey with a wrist shot over the goalie’s glove.
The Chiefs pulled Buskey for an extra attacker with 2:24 left in the third period. Their best chance came with just under 10 seconds left in the game on a scramble in front of Stankowski. The T-Birds goalie was able to cover the puck and keep the Chiefs from getting a third goal.
Seattle outshot Spokane 11-4 in the third period and 36-17 in the game.
Buskey had 32 saves on 36 shots.
Single-game tickets for the last two regular-season games and those for Games 1 and 2 of the playoffs are on sale at the ShoWare Center box office and online on the T-Birds website.
Fans who purchase 10 tickets to either Game 1 or Game 2 for $220 will receive 2 additional free tickets to the playoff game they choose. Fans can purchase this playoff group ticket special for Game 1 and Game 2 online or by calling the T-Birds at 253-239-7825.
First period – 1, Spokane, Ross 7 (Najman, Smith), 11:00. 2, Seattle, Gropp 33 (Neuls, Kolesar), 17:27 (pp). Penalties – Andrusiak, Sea (hooking), 12:09. Kousal, Spo (cross checking), 15:55.
Second period – No scoring. Penalties – Gallagher, Spo (hooking), 12:42. Lee, Sea (interference), 17:33.
Third period – 3, Seattle, Andrusiak 6 (Wedman), 2:08. 4, Seattle, Gropp 34 (Ottenbreit, Kolesar), 3:15. 5, Spokane, Anderson-Dolan 37 (Ka. Yamamoto), 5:29. 6, Seattle, Strand 9, 9:02. Penalties – No penalties.
Shots on goal – Seattle 18-7-11 36, Spokane 9-4-17 17. Goalies – Seattle, Stankowski 17 shots-15 saves (2-0-0-1); Spokane, Buskey 36-32 (0-2-0-0). Power plays – Seattle 1-2; Spokane 0-2. A – 4,102. Referees – Troy Paterson, Nick Swaine. Linesmen – Jeremi Del Campo, Anthony Guzzo.