Seattle, 31-21-3-4, has won eight of its last 11 to get within eight points of the division-leading Silvertips.
KENT — Suddenly, the U.S. Division is a race again in the Western Hockey League.
The Seattle Thunderbirds drubbed the Everett Silvertips 7-0 and are turning it into a sprint for the title heading into the final 13 games of the regular season.
Seattle (31-21-3-4) has won eight of its last 11 to get within eight points of the division-leading Silvertips.
Everett has lost six of its last 11, although three of the losses were in shootouts. The Silvertips (35-17-3-4) are three points ahead of the Portland Winterhawks in a tightening division.
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Everett and Seattle have each won four times against each other this season and play twice more before the playoffs begin.
Mathew Barzal had three assists for Seattle and has a goal and nine assists in his last four games.
Heading into his draft year, Barzal has 39 points in 31 games in a season shortened by a kneecap injury in December that cost him two months.
Barzal is playing a more physical game, winning battles in the corners and finishing his checks.
“I think it’s a mindset more than anything,” Barzal said. “The last few games, that’s how I’ve been trying to get into it. It gets me into the game more quickly. Not all the assists have been that pretty, but it’s a team thing. Everyone is doing all the right things.”
Seattle coach Steve Konowalchuk has noticed that the added grit in Barzal’s game makes him more dangerous offensively.
“He’s a good player, and this is the highest level he’s been offensively since he’s been here,” Konowalchuk said. “He’s competing hard and playing a 200-foot game. The more checks you finish, the more offensive chances you get.”
Barzal said Seattle hasn’t given up on winning the division and is gaining momentum heading toward the playoffs.
“This game was huge for us,” Barzal said. “They’re at the top of the division right now. We don’t think they’re out of sight. We’re catching those guys. That’s our expectation.”
Taran Kozun need to make only 15 saves to get his fourth shutout of the season and 28th win.
“It was the most consistent game we’ve played in a long time, no doubt about it,” Konowalchuk said.
Seattle grabbed the lead at 8:23 of the first period on the 18th goal of the season by Kevin Kolesear.
The Thunderbirds killed off a penalty to start the second period and then put the game away with three goals in the period’s first five minutes.
The key was a perfect breakout pass by Barzal that allowed Scott Eansor to get behind the Everett defense. Eansor didn’t miss the shootout-like goal, his 11th of the season, 49 seconds into the second period.