Tips make final stand at home
Everett plays back-to-back games against Winterhawks in its final two home games of regular season.
They're hoping the send off provides the boost needed to secure a playoff spot.
Everett plays its final two home games of the regular this season when the Tips entertain the Portland Winterhawks for back-to-back games tonight and Saturday at Comcast Arena.
It's an unusually early point to conclude the home portion of the regular season -- this is the first time in its eight-season history Everett doesn't play a home game during the season's final weekend. The arrival of Cirque du Soliel at Comcast Arena next weekend consigned the Tips to close with four straight contests on the road.
"It does feel a little bit weird ending so early at home," Tips defenseman Ryan Murray said,
"But I'm very excited," Murray added. "There's supposed to be sellout crowds and we're really excited to finish off the season with some strong games at home."
It's also been a while since the Tips last played before a friendly crowd. Everett's last home game was nearly two weeks earlier, when the Tips played host to Prince George on Feb. 26. Therefore, the Tips are going to savor the home atmosphere.
"I'm really excited," said Tips captain Landon Ferraro, who just returned from hernia surgery a week ago. "It's two big games and should be two good games. I'm really excited because this is my first time back on home ice since January, so it's been a while for me. I'm excited to get back in front of the home fans, it's always fun."
The backdrop to this weekend's final home games is the playoff race. Everett is locked in a five-way battle for the Western Conference's final three playoff berths. The Tips currently find themselves in seventh place, two points behind Chillwack, three points ahead of Prince George and Kamloops, and six points ahead of Seattle.
And with this weekend's games being Everett's final home games, the Tips are acutely aware of the importance of getting something out of these ones.
"There's only two home games left and they're two huge games," Ferraro said. "We need at least two points out of it, and if we can pull out four from this weekend it's going to really help us make sure we get into a good spot for the playoffs. So it's something where we need to be prepared and make sure we're ready to go."
While there will be a celebratory mood at this weekend's games, including the team's annual awards ceremony following Saturday's contest, Everett couldn't have booked a tougher opponent for the occasion. Portland is perched atop the conference standings, and the Winterhawks are highly motivated as they need every point they can muster in their attempt to hold off Spokane for the top spot.
"The bigger focus is the battle for a playoff spot," Everett coach Craig Hartsburg said. "It's not so much that it's the last home games, we're in the fight of our lives for the playoffs. We have to play our best hockey. Obviously our schedule has been against us the last two or three weeks, but there's not much we can do about that. We have to play better. Against these teams -- Portland, Tri-City, Spokane -- you don't have a chance unless you play your best hockey."
Indeed, these are just games No. 2 and 3 of five straight against the triumvirate of Portland, Spokane and Tri-City, the top three teams in the conference.
Everett has won just one of its seven previous encounters with the Winterhawks. However, all of those games were close, and the Tips won 2-0 when the teams last played on Feb. 25 in Everett.
"We've played pretty good against this team in the past," Ferraro said. "They've won most of them, but we've gone to shootouts and overtime, and we beat them the last game at home here. It's something where we're pretty confident we can take points out of these guys."
Added Murray: "We just have to shut down their top guys. They have a lot of skill and we just have to keep our game simple. We have to contain them in our end and not make any mistakes out there."
And perhaps playing in front of the home crowd for the last time this season can give the Tips that extra little push they need.
Everett's No. 1 goaltender, Kent Simpson, is unlikely to play this weekend. Simpson suffered a sprained ankle during Everett's 3-2 overtime loss at Tri-City last Friday and hasn't played since. Simpson is being evaluated on a game-by-game basis, but he did not practice Thursday. Luke Siemens will continue to carry the load in goal in Simpson's absence.
On the plus side, winger Campbell Elynuik has been cleared to return. Elynuik has been out since Feb. 16 because of his latest shoulder ailment. However, Hartsburg said Elynuik is questionable for tonight as he's had just one full-contact practice since being cleared.
Check out Nick Patterson's Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.
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