EVERETT — Defensive crisis? What defensive crisis?
The Everett Silvertips seemed destined for a long night, given their shortage on the blue line. But a makeshift defense held firm as the Tips fended off the Lethbridge Hurricanes 3-2 Saturday night at Comcast Arena.
Everett already was missing overage defenseman Connor Cox because of a neck injury, then blueliners Austin Adam (head) and Ayrton Nikkel (foot) were injured in Friday’s 5-1 victory over Seattle.
With those three unavailable, Everett interim coach Garry Davidson was left piecing together a defense with duct tape and bailing wire. Saturday night, the Tips iced a six-man unit that included four rookies (Mirco Mueller, Ben Betker, Cole MacDonald, Micheal Zipp), a converted forward moved back to the blue line (Landon Oslanski), and an emergency 15-year-old call-up (Kevin Davis) who played a game with his midget team earlier in the day.
But what could have been a bloodbath instead turned into triumph. After a slow first period, the Tips limited Lethbridge’s offense the rest of the way, and a three-goal outburst at the beginning of the second proved just enough offense for Everett.
“I thought they did a terrific job out there,” Davidson said of his defense. “The defensive corps did a good job, and I thought our forwards did a real good job helping out defensively as well.
“I thought we played pretty well with a one-goal lead. We didn’t make a lot of mistakes.”
Mueller, who led the way for Everett’s defense, Mitch Skapski and Tyler Sandhu scored the goals for Everett (19-26-0-2), while Joshua Winquist added two assists. For Skapski, it was his first career WHL goal.
The few times Lethbridge was able to penetrate Everett’s defense, Austin Lotz was a rock in goal, making 30 saves to pick up the win. He was particularly solid in the final five minutes as the Hurricanes pressed for the tying score.
“The guys were playing great in front of me, blocking shots and getting the puck out of the zone,” said Lotz, who’s won eight of his past 12 starts after beginning the season 3-10-0-1. “They made my job pretty easy out there.”
Reid Duke and Adam Henry scored for Lethbridge (22-21-1-5), which had ended Portland’s 14-game winning streak the previous night. Goalkeeper Christopher Tai, making just his fifth start of the season for the Hurricanes, finished with 30 saves. Ty Rimmer, Lethbridge’s workhorse No. 1 goalie, was rested Saturday night.
Lethbridge controlled play in the first period, outshooting Everett 15-8, and the Tips were perhaps fortunate to be trailing just 1-0.
But Everett turned the game dramatically early in the second period, scoring three times in the first five minutes to take a 3-1 lead. Just 19 seconds had ticked off the clock when Winquist circled the Lethbridge net and fed a diagonal pass to Mueller wide open at the top of the left circle. Mueller gathered, then fired a wrister that Tai could only get a piece of as the Tips tied it.
Everett quickly built on the momentum. Skapski gave Everett the lead at 3:34, taking advantage of an odd bounce off the glass and putting a shot under Tai from a tight angle. Sandhu made it 3-1 at 4:55, wiring a shot into the far corner off a faceoff win.
“We had such an emotional high the night before, maybe we just didn’t get our emotions and intensity up in the first 20,” Davidson postulated about the second-period turnaround.
“We were back on our heels a little bit, but we came out and got a goal, which sparked the excitement. And we talked about it after the first period. We knew we could play better, so let’s get out there and do it, and that’s what the guys did. They went out there and picked it up.”
Everett was in control, but a checking-to-the-head penalty by Ryan Harrison midway through the second gave Lethbridge 1:52 of five-on-three. The Tips nearly killed off the entire penalty as Lotz stood on his head, making several incredible stops before Henry finally picked out the top corner following a scramble at 9:30. Lotz was given an ovation by the crowd after the goal was scored.
Everett’s defense then tightened up in the third period to secure the victory.
The Tips were fortunate to be able to call upon Davis to fill out the lineup. Davis, Everett’s first-round pick in the 2012 bantam draft, just happened to be in Langley, B.C., with his midget team, the Thompson Blazers. Davidson contacted Davis in the morning, Davis played a morning game with the Blazers, his mom raced down from Kamloops, B.C., with his passport so he could get across the border, and he arrived in Everett two hours before the Silvertips game started. Davis will be with the team again tonight when the Tips travel to Vancouver.
Silvertips 3, Hurricanes 2
Lethbridge 1 1 0 —2
Everett 0 3 0 —3
First Period—1, Lethbridge, Duke 7 (Yakubowski), 10:02. Penalties—Erkamps, Lethbridge (fighting), 2:58; Soumelidis, Everett (fighting), 2:58; Skapski, Everett (goaltender interference), 6:27; Winquist, Everett (slashing), 13:13; Simpson, Lethbridge (boarding), 18:12.
Second Period—2, Everett, Mueller 3 (Winquist, Sandhu), 0:19. 3, Everett, Skapski 1 (Aasman), 3:34. 4, Everett, Sandhu 11 (Winquist), 4:55. 5, Lethbridge, Henry 2 (Topping), 9:30 (pp). Penalties—Sofillas, Lethbridge (holding), 0:41; Betker, Everett (tripping), 7:27; Harrison, Everett (checking to the head), 7:35; Harrison, Everett (interference), 10:44; Ramsay, Lethbridge (unsportsmanlike conduct), 14:56; Betker, Everett (checking from behind), 14:56; Henry, Lethbridge (holding), 18:08; Simpson, Lethbridge (roughing), 19:53.
Third Period—no goals. Penalties—Wong, Lethbridge (roughing), 5:29; Mueller, Everett (roughing), 5:29; Wong, Lethbridge (elbowing), 7:52; Skapski, Everett (roughing), 13:35.
Shots on goal—Lethbridge 15-8-9—32. Everett 8-15-10—33. Power-play opportunities—Lethbridge 1 of 6. Everett 0 of 5.
Goalies—Lethbridge, Tai 3-2-0-0 (33 shots, 30 saves). Everett, Lotz 11-14-0-1 (32 shots, 30 saves).
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.