By Nick Patterson Herald writer
EVERETT — Two goals.
That’s all the Everett Silvertips mustered in the first two games of their first-round playoff series against the Seattle Thunderbirds.
Everett now find itself in a 2-0 hole in the best-of-seven series as it heads back to Kent for tonight’s Game 3, and the Tips know that to get back in the series they need to put some pucks into the net.
“(Seattle goaltender Taran) Kozun has been playing pretty well,” Everett leading scorer Joshua Winquist said. “But we’re just not bearing down on chances. We’re having open nets and we’re missing the net or hitting the post or stuff like that. We’re just not bearing down in front.”
The Tips scored just one goal in each of the games, falling 2-1 in Kent on Saturday and 3-1 in Everett on Sunday. Saturday’s goal was a five-on-three tally by Patrick Bajkov, Sunday’s goal was scored by Carson Stadnyk following a Seattle turnover.
Otherwise, it’s been nada for the Tips. Everett hasn’t found a way to break through five-on-five, and the Tips are 0-for-10 in their five-on-four opportunities.
However, Everett coach Kevin Constantine isn’t too concerned about the Tips offensively. Everett had substantial advantages on the shot clock in both games, outshooting Seattle 39-22 in Game 1 and 27-16 in Game 2, and Game 2’s outcome could have been different if not for multiple Tips shots off the post.
“You have to examine the scoring chances and shots and so forth,” Constantine said. “We’re not dissatisfied with how much offense we’re creating. It would be nice if we found the net. But if you look at those pipes, if a couple of those go in we’re not even talking about that right now. If we weren’t getting shots or scoring chances, then we could have that conversation. But right now we’re getting those. We just have to hope the puck starts going in.”
A big reason why it hasn’t is Kozun. The T-birds acquired the 19-year-old veteran from Kamloops at the January 10 trade deadline specifically to give Seattle the kind of playoff goaltending performances it received in the first two games, as Kozun was named the game’s first star both nights.
“Their goalie has stolen the show,” Everett winger Brayden Low said. “We haven’t found a way to beat him yet.
“We have to get in front of him, get to the hard areas, keep going, keep shooting, stick to the plan,” Low added when asked how to get pucks past Kozun. “They’re going to go in, he’s not going to keep getting this lucky. We have to find a way to get in front of him and keep working the paint. Give him full marks, he’s playing out of his skin right now, and it’s going to take a couple bounces going our way to stop that.”
The T-birds have also done a good job of containing Everett’s top line of Joshua Winquist, Jujhar Khaira and Ivan Nikolishin. The trio combined for two points in the first two games, both of those being assists on Bajkov’s five-on-three goal in Game 1.
“They’re a good line, they score a lot of their goals,” Seattle coach Steve Konowalchuk said, noting that the defensive pairing of Shea Theodore and Jerret Smith has received the bulk of the playing time against the Everett trio. “If we can continue to do that it will help our chances. It’s not all of it, but it’s a big part of it.”
Winquist is used to the extra attention. The fifth-year Tip set a new franchise record for goals this season with 47 and tied the franchise record for points with 93, despite being by far Everett’s most dangerous offensive threat.
“It’s been the same all year,” Winquist said. “I’m pretty sure we’ve played against those same guys every single game all season. We have to find a way to get around that and score some goals.”
It’s imperative the Tips figure it out soon, as Everett’s chances are minuscule should the Tips fall into a 3-0 hole. Just twice in WHL history has a team rallied from a 3-0 deficit to win a best-of-seven playoff series. One of those, however, came last season when the Kelowna Rockets rallied from a 3-0 deficit in the first round against these same T-birds.
But even with Seattle’s recent history in front of them, the Tips know they can’t afford to lose tonight.
“(Coming back from a 2-0 deficit) has been done before lots of times, obviously,” Low said. “It’s definitely a challenge going into their building down 2-0. It’s a must-win game and we’re looking forward to the opportunity.”
It’s just a matter of whether the Tips can conjure up enough goals to do it.
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.