LETHBRIDGE, Alberta — The Everett Silvertips have passed the one-third mark of the Western Hockey League season, and they now find themselves looking down on everybody else.
Everett took over first place in the WHL after coming from behind to defeat the Lethbridge Hurricanes 3-2 Wednesday night.
The victory gives Everett 38 points through 25 games of the 72-game schedule. The two points moved the Tips out of a tie for first with the Portland Winterhawks (36 points), who were idle.
Not bad for a team that finished eighth place in the 10-team Western Conference each of the past three seasons.
“It’s a pretty cool thing to be able to say that right now, but it doesn’t really mean anything,” Tips winger Joshua Winquist said about being in first place. “It’s all about how we’re playing down the stretch and into the playoffs.”
Winquist had the primary assist on all three of Everett’s goals. His scoring streak now stands at 14 games, which is just one short of Zach Hamill’s franchise record, set in 2006. Winquist has 34 points during those 14 games.
“I’ve rarely thought about that,” Winquist said of the streak. “I’m just playing the game and trying to create offense, that’s my job.”
Jujhar Khaira, Ivan Nikolishin and Tyler Sandhu scored the goals for Everett (17-4-4-0). Nikolishin and Sandhu scored in the first six minutes of the third period to turn around a 2-1 deficit. Austin Lotz made 16 saves to earn the win in goal.
Jamal Watson and Josh Derko scored for Lethbridge (3-18-2-2). Corbin Boes made 29 saves in goal for the Hurricanes.
On paper the game seemed like a mismatch. Everett just cracked the Canadian Hockey League’s rankings Wednesday morning, being ranked 10th among the teams in the WHL, Ontario Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Meanwhile, Lethbridge had the worst record in the WHL.
But Everett had difficulty creating scoring chances, despite having a significant edge in shots, and the Tips found themselves down 2-1 going into the third period.
However, the Tips quickly got back on level terms. An Everett power play had just expired when Nikolishin tipped Winquist’s shot past Boes a mere 56 seconds into the third period to tie the score 2-2.
The Tips took their first lead of the game at 5:45 when Winquist set up Sandhu for the tap-in on the rush. Everett tightened the screws defensively after that to close out the game.
“At the intermission we talked about how we have to play our game, not their level,” Winquist said about the comeback. “In the third period, we played our style and it worked out.”
The game started in the worst possible way for Everett. The Tips took penalty on the game’s opening shift and the Hurricanes capitalized 1:21 in. Lotz made an initial save, but Tyler Wong found the rebound and fed it out front for Watson to put in, giving Lethbridge an early 1-0 lead.
Soon after, things got worse. Micheal Zipp was given a major penalty and a game misconduct at 3:32 when he tripped Lethbridge winger Taylor Cooper as they raced toward the Everett goal. Cooper ended up going hard head-first into the boards and after a long delay he had to be taken off the ice on a gurney.
Everett managed to kill off the five-minute penalty, then tied it up with 15 seconds remaining in the period. The Tips rushed into the Lethbridge zone, and although the initial play broke down, Winquist was able to center a pass for Khaira to put away, knotting it at 1-1.
The Tips had opportunities in the second, but couldn’t score. Everett received a 56-second five-on-three advantage early in the period, but it didn’t generate any chances. Then Logan Aasman had a breakaway late that was saved by Boes.
Lethbridge regained the lead with 1:36 remaining in the period. Derko, at the side of the net, was able to bank the puck off traffic and past Lotz to give the Hurricanes a 2-1 advantage going into the third.
Silvertips 3, Hurricanes 2
Everett 1 2 — 3
Lethbridge 1 1 0 — 2
First Period—1, Lethbridge, Watson 8 (Wong, Cooper), 1:21 (pp). 2, Everett, Khaira 4 (Winquist, Stadnyk), 19:45. Penalties—Betker, Everett (tripping), 0:38; Zipp, Everett (major-cross checking-game misconduct), 3:32; Erkamps, Lethbridge (delay of game), 10:26; Khaira, Everett (instigator-fighting-10-minute misconduct), 19:56; Derko, Lethbridge (charging-fighting), 19:56.
Second Period—3, Lethbridge, Derko 6 (Bell, Maxwell), 18:24. Folk, Lethbridge (goaltender interference), 3:34; Erkamps, Lethbridge (delay of game), 4:39; Bell, Lethbridge (slashing), 18:46.
Third Period—4, Everett, Nikolishin 6 (Winquist, Aasman), 0:56. 5, Everett, Sandhu 11 (Winquist), 5:45. Penalties—Olynek, Lethbridge (goaltender interference), 12:42.
Shots on goal—Everett 11-9-12—32. Lethbridge 6-5-7—18. Power-play opportunities—Everett 0 of 5. Lethbridge 1 of 2.
Goalies—Everett, Lotz 12-3-1-0 (18 shots, 16 saves). Lethbridge, Boes 2-15-2-2 (32 shots, 29 saves).