EVERETT — There was almost a wistful tone to Riley Sutter’s words as he reflected on the Everett Silvertips’ final three-games-in-three-nights weekend of the season.
“Three-in-threes are not the most fun thing to do, but it’s kind of disappointing to see it’s our last three-in-three because it means we’re coming to the end of the season,” the third-year Everett forward mused. “But at the same time the playoffs are right around the corner so that’s always exciting.”
The U.S. Division-leading Silvertips (41-18-2-3, 87 points) have played a grueling second-half schedule. This weekend will be Everett’s fourth-straight three-in-three and its seventh in 10 weekends since 2018 began.
“Our schedule has been a little bit hectic lately,” goaltender Carter Hart said. “We’re playing a lot of three-in-threes and this weekend will be our last three-in-three, which will be nice to get out of the way. I think after that it’s more of a normal schedule.”
Despite last Sunday’s 5-2 home loss to Spokane, the Tips have been one of the hottest teams in the league. It was Everett’s only regulation loss as the Tips went 9-1-1-1 in the month of February. Nevertheless, the team took two full days off from the rink before returning Wednesday in preparation for this weekend.
Everett’s eight remaining games are daunting. All feature opponents currently in playoff positions and five of the Tips’ final six regular-season games are on the road. Everett has a seven-point lead over second-place Portland (38-20-1-3, 80 points), but the Winterhawks have two games in hand. Everett, Portland and third-place Spokane (36-21-3-2, 77 points) have all clinched playoff spots.
The Tips face their B.C. Division-leading counterpart Friday as Kelowna visits Angel of the Winds Arena at 7:35 p.m. The Rockets (38-20-4-2, 82 points) are the only B.C. Division team to have clinched a playoff spot so far and hold a seven-point lead over second-place Victoria in the division standings.
The Tips then play host to Seattle Saturday for “Navy Night” before traveling to Langley, British Columbia, on Sunday for a 2 p.m. matinee against the Vancouver Giants.
The Rockets are 5-3-1-1 in their past 10 games despite dropping back-to-back games at last-place Prince George earlier in the week. Kelowna is a perennial contender in the Western Conference and has reached the conference finals four straight years.
“They got some high-skilled players up front that are leading the team really well right now,” Everett head coach Dennis Williams said. “It’s going to be another good challenge. It’s a big two points for our group. We have to get back in the win column after Sunday’s loss.”
Kole Lind (35 goals, 50 assists), who Thursday signed an NHL entry-level deal with the Vancouver Canucks is Kelowna’s top point-producer. Dillon Dube (32 goals, 38 assists), Carsen Twarynski (38 goals, 26 assists) and defenseman Cal Foote (17 goals, 45 assists) are all averaging better than a point per game.
There’s also the little matter of the last time Kelowna visited Angel of the Winds Arena back on Feb. 3. Virtually everything went right for the Tips that day in an 8-2 dismantling of the Rockets. Everett outshot Kelowna 42-25 for the game as Patrick Bajkov had a hat trick.
It does not figure to be as lopsided Friday.
“They’re right behind us in the standings so we know they’ll be coming at us hard,” Sutter said. “It’s definitely going to be a good test for us.”
Prior to Saturday’s game against Seattle the Silvertips will host an Army-Navy hockey game at 2 p.m. at Angel of the Winds Arena. Doors open at 1 p.m. and the event is free.
For the latest Silvertips news follow Jesse Geleynse on Twitter.