EVERETT — The Everett Silvertips came oh so close to bringing a piece of WHL history to an end.
But even defeat couldn’t take the shine off what was a fantastic weekend for the Tips.
Everett came an inch away from the result of the season, but instead the Tips had to settle for a point in a 2-1 shootout loss to the rampaging Portland Winterhawks on Sunday at Comcast Arena.
Yet even in defeat, the Tips took satisfaction both from stretching the streaking Winterhawks to the absolute limit, and from earning five of a possible six points from a daunting three-in-three weekend.
“To play three-in-three, get in at 4:00, get up and compete against them, take the lead in the third — yeah, we’re disappointed we didn’t beat them,” Everett coach Kevin Constantine said. “But we got five out of six points on a very important weekend for the team, so it’s hard to be disappointed in how hard our guys worked in the course of the three games.”
Sunday’s game seemed mission impossible for the Tips. Everett was coming off back-to-back wins over Seattle and Tri-City the previous two nights, but the Tips were running on fumes after getting back into town from Kennewick at 4 a.m. because of snow in the pass.
What awaited the Tips? None other than a Portland team riding a winning streak even John Wooden would be impressed by. The defending league-champion Winterhawks had won 19 straight, the WHL’s longest winning streak since Everett entered the league in 2003. Four of those victories came against Everett by a combined score of 24-7. Since defenseman Mathew Dumba joined the team on Jan. 17, Portland hadn’t even played a competitive game, never winning by fewer than two goals and winning by three or more in 14 of the 17 contests.
But Everett gave Portland the kind of game the Winterhawks hadn’t experienced since early January. The Tips held Portland scoreless for 47 minutes, limiting the potent Winterhawks offense to a mere four shots on goal in the second period.
Just how close did it come at the end? On the final attempt in the shootout by Everett’s Manraj Hayer, which could have extended the game, Portland goaltender Corbin Boes couldn’t find the puck, stood up, and it was lying right on the goal line. Even a video review was required to confirm it didn’t cross the line, and than Portland had won its 20th straight.
“It would have been nice to snap the streak, but at the same time we’re just focusing on getting points and getting a good spot for the playoffs,” Everett goaltender Austin Lotz said.
“It’s huge for everybody’s confidence,” Lotz added. “I think we really came together as a team this weekend. I think it’s a sign of good things to come. I’m really proud of all the guys, they really worked hard. It sucks we didn’t get the win tonight, but five out of six points is pretty good.”
Oliver Bjorkstrand scored both the regulation goal and the only goal in the shootout to lead Portland (46-12-2-3), which moved within three points of Kelowna for the league lead. Boes earned the win with 23 saves, plus three more stops in the shootout.
Ivan Nikolishin scored for Everett (30-23-7-2), which crept within one point of Vancouver for sixth place in the Western Conference, with the Tips having two games in hand.
Everett also received a stellar effort from Lotz, who finished with 37 saves. Lotz did the bulk of his work in the third period and overtime, when Portland took the game over and outshot Everett 22-4.
For two periods Everett played Portland to a standstill. The first period saw the action speed back and forth, with both teams creating scoring chances and drawing iron, but neither finding the net. Then the play slowed down in the second period, with Everett holding Portland to just four shots. The four shots were the fewest Portland had in a period this season. The previous low was five, which happened three times, two of those coming against the Tips.
Then seven seconds into the third period a thunderbolt struck. Right off the opening faceoff the puck came to Nikolishin in the neutral zone. Nikolishin raced between the Portland defensemen, then tucked a backhander under Boes to give Everett a shock 1-0 lead.
But from there the period was all Portland. The Winterhawks, spurred by coach Mike Johnston’s decision to load up one line by putting Bjorkstrand with game breakers Nicolas Petan and Brendan Leipsic, buzzed around the Everett zone the remainder of the period, outshooting Everett 18-4.
“I just thought Oliver Bjorkstrand was having a great game and I just wanted to use him as much as I could,” Johnston explained. “I put him up on that line, I thought it looked good as soon as I did it, and if I could have put him on two lines I probably would have tonight. He was just having a great game.”
The move paid off at 7:13 as that trio tied it for Portland. Leipsic gained the offensive zone on the right and sent a cross-ice pass to Petan in space. Petan drove the net, hitched as if he was going to shoot, then fed the puck to the far post where Bjorkstrand put it away, knotting it at 1-1.
Portland continued to press for the goal that would extend its streak, while the Tips played nervously in an attempt to hold on.
“They came at us in the third, but that’s typical,” Constantine said. “You get a one-goal lead and change the way you play a little bit. They’re so good offensively that when you give them room they get it going pretty good.”
But Lotz made a number of big saves, both in the third and in overtime, to get the game to the shootout. Everett won in a shootout the previous night at Tri-City, but it wasn’t to be this time for the Tips.
Winterhawks 2, Silvertips 1 (SO)
Portland 0 0 1 0 — 2
Everett 0 0 1 0 — 1
Portland won shootout 1-0
First Period—no goals. Penalties—Mueller, Everett (holding), 1:26; Schoenborn, Portland (goaltender interference), 9:17; Dumba, Portland (high sticking), 15:47.
Second Period—no goals. Penalties—MacDonald, Everett (tripping), 13:12.
Third Period—1, Everett, Nikolishin 15, 0:07. 2, Portland, Bjorkstrand 43 (Petan, Leipsic), 7:13. Penalties—none.
Overtime—no goals. Penalties—none.
Shootout—Portland 1 (Pouliot NG, Bjorkstrand G, Turgeon NG); Everett 0 (Winquist NG, Bajkov NG, Hayer NG).
Shots on goal—Portland 12-4-18-4—38. Everett 12-8-4-0—24. Power-play opportunities—Portland 0 of 2. Everett 0 of 2.
Goalies—Portland, Boes 16-24-2-3 (24 shots, 23 saves). Everett, Lotz 22-18-3-2 (38 shots, 37 saves).