EVERETT — It was the classic letdown scenario.
A huge emotional victory one night, a lightly regarded but dangerous opponent coming in the next. The situation screamed upset alert.
And that’s exactly how it played out as the Everett Silvertips dropped a 3-1 Western Hockey League decision to the Prince George Cougars on Saturday night at Comcast Arena.
Everett was coming off a stirring 3-2 victory over defending WHL champion Portland on Friday, a victory that vaulted the Tips into a tie with Portland for first place in the Western Conference.
While Everett didn’t play a complete clunker Saturday — the Tips still outshot Prince George 35-17 — the same sharpness that propelled Everett past Portland the previous night was missing.
“We had a good start, but we had just a real average second period, and we let another team hang around long enough to get into the game,” Everett coach Kevin Constantine said. “It just wasn’t good enough.”
Troy Bourke scored a highlight-reel goal for Prince George late in the third period to break a 1-1 tie. That goal stood up as the game winner.
Chase Witala scored the other two goals for Prince George (9-13-1-3), the second being an empty-netter in the game’s final minute. Brett Zarowny played a strong game in net for the Cougars, making 34 saves. He did the bulk of his work in the first period, when the Tips outshot the Cougars 15-3, but came away with nothing to show for it.
“We came together as a team tonight,” Bourke said. “After 40 minutes against Spokane (in a 5-2 loss Friday), we let that game slide. We came in tonight and were tied again after two, and this time we got it done. It was a good group effort from the boys, and (Zarowny) stood on his head in the net.”
Joshua Winquist scored the lone goal for Everett (15-4-4-0), extending his streak of consecutive games with a point to 12. It’s the longest active points streak in the league.
“I thought we outplayed them for most of the night,” said Winquist, who didn’t think the Tips let down much from the previous night. “We almost outshot them 2-1. Little mistakes cost us.”
Austin Lotz finished with 14 saves in net for the Tips, who hit the road this morning for their second trip through the Central Division. The four-games-in-five-nights road trip begins Tuesday at Kootenay.
Like Winquist, Constantine wasn’t totally convinced the Tips suffered a letdown Saturday from the victory over Portland. However, he still saw cause for concern.
“It could be, I don’t really know,” Constantine replied when asked about a possible letdown. “But even (Friday) night we showed times of being good, but we’re not real consistent. If you look at the Portland game we had such extremes in the way we played, with how we played in the first period and the way Portland dominated the third. So even within that game there wasn’t consistency, and tonight there wasn’t consistency. We’re still searching for some of that in how we play. We started the game well enough tonight, controlled the game territorially. But we didn’t do that the whole game. It’s a 60-minute game. It’s an old cliche, but it’s still true.”
The Tips didn’t show any hangover effects during the first period. Everett controlled the puck and had several good scoring chances, including two in the first 30 seconds of the game. However, Zarowny made several good saves and the period ended scoreless, despite the Tips outshooting the Cougars 15-3. Everett would rue its profligacy.
The Cougars, after a slow start, improved in the second period as the teams traded goals, and Prince George carried its jump over into the third. Then a moment of magic from Bourke provided the decisive moment. Bourke turned Everett’s defense inside out before cutting across the slot and scoring around Lotz, giving the Cougars a 2-1 lead with just 4:19 remaining.
“We were kind of in our end for a while,” Bourke said of the goal. “Alex (Forsberg) gave me the puck along the wall, and I just noticed the d-man pinching on me. I got around him and took it to the net. I kind of got lucky, but sometimes the bounces go your way when you’re playing well.”
Everett tried to turn up the pressure after Bourke’s goal, but with Lotz pulled for an extra attacker, Tips defenseman Mirco Mueller gifted the puck to Witala for the clinching empty netter with 49.6 seconds remaining.
Prince George lost winger David Soltes late in the second period. Soltes was hit hard into the boards, then limped off the ice in considerable pain. He did not return. ? Prince George continues to play without former Silvertip winger Jari Erricson. Erricson has played just three games this season because of an upper-body injury, and he did not make the trip with the team to the U.S. Division this weekend.
Cougars 3, Silvertips 1
Prince George 0 1 2 — 3
Everett 0 1 0 — 1
First Period—no goals. Penalties—Pochiro, Prince George (hooking), 9:14; Aasman, Everett (kneeing), 14:46; Grewal, Prince George (holding), 17:57.
Second Period—1, Prince George, Witala 13 (Forsberg), 7:09. 2, Everett, Winquist 17 (Hayer, Pufahl), 11:42 (pp). Penalties—Morrison, Prince George (tripping), 3:40; Pochiro, Prince George (roughing), 11:30; Pufahl, Everett (charging), 12:20.
Third Period—3, Prince George, Bourke 10 (Forsberg), 15:41. 4, Prince George, Witala 14, 19:10 (en). Penalties—DeRoose, Everett (hooking), 10:33.
Shots on goal—Prince George 3-9-5—17. Everett 15-10-10—35. Power-play opportunities—Prince George 0 of 3. Everett 1 of 4.
Goalies—Prince George, Zarowny 2-7-1-1 (35 shots, 34 saves). Everett, Lotz 10-3-1-0 (16 shots, 14 saves).
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.