The final weekend of the WHL season has arrived. Can you believe it? Wasn’t training camp just the other week?
And Everett enters the final weekend with plenty still to play for. Here’s the current standings in the race for the Western Conference’s final two playoff spots.
7) Seattle, 57 points, two games remaining
8) Everett, 54 points, three games remaining
9) Prince George, 50 points, three games remaining
Seattle — @Por, Por.
Everett — @Vic, Vic, TC.
Prince George — @Kel, @Kam, Kam.
Seattle has already clinched a playoff spot, but Everett can still pass the T-birds for seventh. There’s significance to that. The top two seeds have already been determined, meaning whoever finishes seventh faces No. 2 Kelowna in the first round, and whoever finishes eighth gets Scotty Munro Trophy winner Portland. Everett hasn’t fared well against either of those teams this season, going 1-9 against Portland with several blowouts, and 0-4 against Kelowna with a couple blowouts. That said, I suspect teams see Portland as a bigger challenge than Kelowna.
In addition to eyeballing seventh, the Tips also have to keep tabs on Prince George in ninth as they seek to continue their streak of making the playoffs in every single season of existence to 10. Everett’s magic number against the Cougars is three, meaning any combination of three points earned by Everett and three points dropped by Prince George will clinch a playoff spot for the Tips. If the teams finish tied, a one-game playoff will be required to determine the final playoff team, a fate the Tips narrowly avoided last season. As things stand, Everett would likely host that one-game playoff if required.
The Cougars get the weekend proceedings started a tad early as they face Kelowna tonight. If the Cougars lose that one in regulation, the Tips go into the weekend knowing they will play at least a 73rd game.
Everett’s opponents this weekend are Victoria (twice) and Tri-City. Those are teams the Tips can earn points against.
Everett split its first two games against the Royals, and Victoria has struggled mightily of late, winning just once in its past 15 contests. The Royals are banged up as they’ve been playing without leading scorer Alex Gogolev (day to day, lower body) and No. 1 goalie Patrik Polivka (lower body, 1-2 weeks). They’re also already locked into the sixth playoff seed, so they have nothing to play for.
Tri-City, on the other hand, may still have incentive come Sunday’s season finale. The Americans know they’re playing Spokane in the first round, but home-ice advantage still hangs in the balance. Tri-City hasn’t been playing great lately, either, dropping four of its past seven. All four of those losses came to Seattle and Prince George, so the Americans haven’t been doing the Tips any favors.
Everett will likely have to reach the finish line minus wingers Ryan Harrison and Logan Aasman. Both Harrison and Aasman suffered upper-body injuries at Spokane last Friday. Both are definitely out for Friday’s game at Victoria, and Tips general manager Garry Davidson said it was doubtful either would be back this weekend.
Harrison and Aasman join winger Lucas Grayson and defenseman Ayrton Nikkel on the injury list. Grayson (lower body) and Nikkel (finger) are both skating in practice again. However, Nikkel is definitely out for the weekend and is unlikely to make it back this season barring some playoff upsets. Grayson, who’s been dogged by his ailment throughout the second half, is still testing whether he’s capable of returning.