One step of three into their most daunting road challenge yet and the Seattle Thunderbirds remain alive in their unlikely quest for a Western Hockey League championship.
After a team-record 21 regular-season road wins and seven more in these playoffs, the Thunderbirds entered Saturday night knowing a scheduling conflict would require them to notch three additional victories away from home to capture the franchise’s second league title.
They moved a step closer to doing just that, shaking off an early deficit and taking the lead for good on a second-period power-play goal by Matthew Rempe in an eventual 3-2 victory over the Edmonton Oil Kings in Game 5 of their best-of-seven series in Edmonton, Alberta.
The T-birds still trail the series 3-2 with Game 6 at 6:30 p.m. Monday at Rogers Place arena.
“No panic from our group, we’ve been in this situation before,” Thunderbirds coach Matt O’Dette said after his team’s eighth playoff road win enabled it to improve to 6-0 when facing elimination this postseason. “We stayed calm and stayed on the task.”
The T-birds overcame a 3-1 series deficit to defeat Portland in the second round and a 3-2 disadvantage to beat Kamloops after that.
A raucous crowd of 11,865 showed up at Edmonton’s home arena — which it shares with the NHL Oilers — hoping to see the Oil Kings capture their third WHL title. It looked early on as if that would happen when Josh Williams — who’d scored twice in Game 4 — opened the scoring fewer than seven minutes in.
The Oil Kings had chances to extend their lead that period but T-birds goalie Thomas Milic came up huge, including his foiling of a short-handed breakaway chance midway through. That kept the T-birds in it, and they seemed to grow stronger in the period’s latter half.
Conner Roulette tied things up in close off a 2-on-1 rush early in the second before New York Rangers sixth-round pick Rempe, a towering 6-foot-8 center, put the T-birds ahead on a wrist shot from the high slot that beat standout Edmonton netminder Sebastian Cossa.
Edmonton native Lucas Ciona slammed home a rebound 2:21 into the third period to provide the Thunderbirds needed insurance. Carson Golder cut the margin to just one goal midway through the frame, but the T-birds held on behind a 28-save effort from Milic and exceptional penalty-killing in thwarting six Edmonton power-play chances.
The Thunderbirds won the series opener in Edmonton, but then dropped three straight including the prior two at the ShoWare Center in Kent. With their home arena booked solid with graduation ceremonies this coming week, the T-birds knew in advance they’d be forced to play Game 6 and 7 on the road even if they stayed alive by winning Game 5.
“It feels like we’ve faced adversity all season and the guys have delivered,” O’Dette said. “The message is still the same: We’re trying to earn one more game. That’s the message and that’s the mindset.”