By Nick Patterson Herald Writer
The Everett Silvertips once again find themselves in a fight for their playoff lives.
One month remains in the WHL’s regular season, and the Tips are again in a position where they’ll have to slug it out just to reach the postseason.
“Ever since I got here it’s been like this, so it’s nothing new,” Tips overage winger Ryan Harrison said. “It’s going to be a good race to the end, just like it has been here in Everett for a couple years.”
Everett heads into the upcoming three-games-in-three-days, which begins tonight in Kelowna and continues with home games against Spokane and Seattle, in seventh place in the Western Conference. The Tips have 47 points, which is three ahead of eighth-place Seattle and five ahead of ninth-place Prince George. Everett and Seattle both have 15 games remaining, Prince George has 16 remaining. Eight teams make the playoffs.
The Tips are also in desperate need of a victory. Everett has dropped its past seven, which helped Seattle and Prince George inch closer.
“We sure can use a win,” Everett general manager Garry Davidson said. “We need a big two points here. It will be very important to get two and try to get things turned around a little bit. it will be good for our psyche, but also good for trying to position ourselves to win the seventh or eighth playoff position.”
The Tips had a chance to make their lives a lot easier down the stretch. Three weeks ago Everett had an opportunity to land a knockout blow when the Tips traveled to Prince George for a pair of games. Had Everett swept the Tips would have moved 13 points clear of the Cougars, creating a nearly insurmountable advantage. Instead, the teams split the games and the gap remained a bridgeable nine points.
Since then the race has tightened. The Cougars have picked up the pace, while Everett hasn’t tasted victory since winning the first game in Prince George.
“It hasn’t been easy lately,” Harrison said. “When you lose seven in a row people are going to catch you. Obviously Seattle and PG are coming right behind us. But coming off the last game against Kelowna (a 3-2 home loss Sunday) we played pretty much a full 60 minutes.”
This position a familiar one for the Tips. Everett had to go down to the final weekend of the regular season each of the past two years to determine its playoff fate. Both times the Tips squeaked into the eighth-and-final spot. Seattle and Prince George were involved with Everett in the previous two playoff battles, too.
“It’s tightened up a little bit, but still there’s some room there,” Davidson said. “What we have to do is take care of our own business and win some games.
“I think we need to find the back of the net a little bit more,” added Davidson, whose team has scored just six goals during the losing streak. “The other night we played a pretty good hockey game, but we still only scored two goals. We have to figure out how to get that third or fourth one.”
The good news for Everett is that help is on the way.
The Tips have been severely short-handed during the losing streak, with as many as seven players sidelined because of injuries or illnesses. Everett had one game where it played two skaters short, and Davidson was left scrambling looking for players to call up to fill out the lineup.
But slowly the Tips are getting healthy again. Winger Tyler Sandhu, who missed the past four games because of a concussion, has been cleared to return tonight. No. 1 goaltender Austin Lotz, who sat out the past six contests with an ankle sprain, will also be back in uniform, though he won’t play during the three-in-three unless absolutely necessary.
Leading scorer Joshua Winquist remains day to day because of an upper-body injury, and defenseman Austin Adam (mononucleosis) isn’t expected back until next week. However, both participated in practice Wednesday on a limited basis.
“It’s huge getting some healthy bodies back,” Harrison said. “With all the young guys in our lineup, just getting some vets back will be huge to make our team that much better.”
Winger Lucas Grayson (lower body) and defenseman Ayrton Nikkel (finger) remain out.
With players on the mend, the Tips returned winger Kyle Raymond and goaltender Adam Todd, who were called up over the weekend to fill out the lineup, to their teams.
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.