The game was the biggest of the season for both teams. The Seattle Thunderbirds treated it that way and skated to a convincing win against the Prince George Cougars.
The Thunderbirds scored two goals in the first five minutes -- and three in the first period -- and eventually beat the Cougars 6-1 Tuesday night in Kent, Wash. The clubs are fighting for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Hockey League's Western Conference and, with the victory, the eighth-place T-birds pulled six points clear of the ninth-place Cats.
The game started in the worst possible way for the Cougars, who gave up a goal to Luke Lockhart just 28 seconds after the opening faceoff. Lockhart found some open ice directly in front of the Prince George net, took a pass from Justin Hickman, and snapped the puck past Cougars' goaltender Mac Engel. The shot was the first of the night for the T-birds.
Moments later, at the 4:30 mark, defenceman Shea Theodore sent a low backhander at the Prince George net and the puck got through Engel and trickled across the line. Before the period was done, Theodore added another goal, this one off a rising shot from the blueline.
The T-birds outshot the Cougars 17-8 in the opening 20 minutes and were in full control.
The second period was scoreless but the Cougars did show some urgency as they outshot their hosts 12-4.
At 2:12 of the third, Connor Honey -- Seattle's leading point-producer -- added to the Thunderbirds' lead with his 13th goal of the season.
The Cougars finally got on the board a few minutes later when Chase Witala scored on a wraparound after Brett Roulston had been robbed point-blank by Seattle goalie Brandon Glover. The goal was Witala's ninth of the season.
Any hopes of a comeback, however, were snuffed out when Seattle blueliner Griffin Foulk netted his first of the season after a faceoff win in the P.G. zone. Hickman put an exclamation point on the victory when he fired home a shot at 18:51.
Engel and Glover were ejected with 40 seconds to play after trying to engage each other in a fight.
The Cougars were outshot 37-30 and went 0-for-5 on the power play. Seattle was 1-for-2 with the man-advantage.
The T-birds improved to 19-28-3-1 and the Cats dropped to 15-29-2-4. Under new head coach Mark Holick, they are now 1-2.
The Cougars and Thunderbirds have one more head-to-head meeting this season and it will happen March 8 in Seattle. The game could be critical in the playoff aspirations of the Cats, who will play just six more regular-season contests after that.
The Cats will be in Kennewick, Wash., tonight to take on the Tri-City Americans (28-19-1-2).