Everett enters the final weekend of the WHL's regular season still waiting to learn its playoff fate. Will the Tips earn their 10th straight playoff berth, or will Everett miss the playoffs for the first time in the franchise's 10-season history?
The Silvertips finish off the regular season with a three-in-three weekend beginning tonight at Victoria, and Everett still has everything to play for. The team finds itself in eighth place in the Western Conference, but can still finish as high as seventh, and it's possible it could drop out of the playoffs entirely.
"It's in the back of our minds that the team has made the playoffs every year of existence," said Everett center Manraj Hayer, who's in his third season with the team and has been a member of the organization since 2008. "We're going to do our best to make it the 10th-straight season this year. These three games mean everything for our season. We're in a playoff race right now, so we have to pick up some points this weekend, that's for sure."
The Tips have never known life without the playoffs, but Everett's playoff streak hasn't exactly been glorious of late. For the third straight season the Tips head into the final weekend of the season having yet to secure a playoff berth. The previous two years Everett snagged the Western Conference's eighth and final playoff spot, then proceeded to get swept in the first round. And the Tips haven't won a playoff series since 2007.
Nevertheless, extending the streak, in the franchise's 10-year anniversary season, provides extra incentive for the Tips.
"I don't think anyone wants to be a part of the first team that misses the playoffs," goaltender Austin Lotz said. "Everybody in the dressing room wants to win and make the playoffs, not only for the fans and the organization, but also for ourselves. It's really important to us, especially the three 20-year-olds. We want to win it for them."
Said Tips general manager Garry Davidson: "The streak is something for the organization to take a lot of pride in. For me, I'd certainly like to see us make the playoffs. I think it would be great experience for our young team. Once you get into the the playoffs it's a new season, everyone starts even. I certainly want to get there to keep the streak going, and also so our young players have something to build on for future years and future playoff runs."
Though the Tips haven't sewn up a playoff spot yet, they have their eyes focused on seventh place. Everett heads into the weekend three points behind seventh-place Seattle. The Tips have three games remaining, Seattle has two, meaning Everett needs a little help for a chance at passing the T-birds. But Seattle's final two games are against Portland, which just won the Scotty Munro Trophy for the league's best record, meaning it's likely the Tips will get that help.
And there's significance to finishing seventh rather than eighth. The team that finishes seventh has no easy task as it faces B.C. Division champion Kelowna in the first round. But the team that finishes eighth receives the unenviable task of trying to upset Portland.
"We want (seventh) really bad," Lotz said. "We feel like we're a better team than Seattle, that we've shown that in the second half, at least. We really want that seventh place -- not that it would be an easier go, but we think we have a better chance against Kelowna."
Meanwhile, the Tips are also glancing over their shoulders at Prince George in ninth. The Cougars were four points behind Everett going into Thursday night's game at Kelowna, and they also had three games remaining. Therefore, Prince George has a tough task to catch or overtake the Tips, but not an insurmountable one.
Should Everett and Prince George finish tied on points, the final playoff berth would be determined by a one-game playoff. The host team for that game would be determined by total wins. Going into Thursday Everett had 24 wins and Prince George had 21.
But the Tips don't want to rely on Prince George losing.
"I think the most important thing is we have to worry about ourselves and what we do," Davidson said. "We have to go in there and play the same kind of game as we did in (Saturday's 4-3 victory at Seattle). We played 60 minutes, we worked hard, we played physical, we scored four goals and I thought our special teams showed some real positive things, too."
Everett's final three games include a home-and-home against Victoria, followed by the season finale at home against Tri-City on Sunday. Those two opponents provide opportunity for the Tips.
Victoria is struggling mightily. The Royals have won just once in their past 15 games, and they're banged up as leading scorer Alex Gogolev and No. 1 goaltender Patrik Polivka have both been out injured. Victoria is already locked into the conference's No. 6 seed, so the Royals have nothing to play for.
Tri-City may still have incentive to earn points. The Americans know they face Spokane in the first round, but home-ice advantage still hangs in the balance. However, Tri-City has had issues of late as well, dropping four of its past seven. All four of those losses came to Seattle and Prince George, meaning the Americans have done Everett no favors.
"They're both good teams," Hayer said. "They both work hard and although they've clinched spots, they're not going to back down and let us run all over them. So we're ready for a battle this weekend."
Everett will have to make do this weekend without wingers Ryan Harrison and Logan Aasman. Both Harrison and Aasman suffered upper-body injuries last Friday at Spokane and are listed as day to day. Davidson said both are out for tonight's game, and he said it was doubtful either would recover in time to play this weekend.
Check out Nick Patterson's Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.
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