EVERETT — The Everett Silvertips are heading into the Western Hockey League playoffs traveling at full steam.
What’s not known is which Everett players will be on board the playoff train when it pulls into Kent on Saturday.
The historic first-round series between the Silvertips and the Seattle Thunderbirds gets underway Saturday when Everett heads to ShoWare Center for Game 1 of their best-of-seven set. But the status of several key Everett players remains unknown.
This is the first playoff series between the I-5 rivals since Everett entered the league in 2003. The Tips and T-birds finished tied in the standings with 88 points, with Seattle earning home-ice advantage on the tiebreaker by having more total wins. The teams split the season series 5-5, the fourth straight year the season series ended in a dead heat.
The proximity of the teams — their arenas are just 45 miles down the freeway from one another — along with the teams’ historic competitiveness and an unusual schedule that sees the venues alternate each game, sets up for an enthralling and exciting series.
“It’s exciting for hockey in the area,” Everett coach Kevin Constantine said. “It’s been 11 years and the teams have never met in the playoffs. It’s a good rivalry, a competitive rivalry, I just think it’s really fun.
“I don’t think you purposely try to end up playing anybody in hockey, you just play the regular season and whoever you end up playing you end up playing. But, that being said, when you get your closest rival and biggest rival, I think it’s special and I’m excited to be part of it.”
What Constantine was not willing to discuss was the status of his players.
Everett had two key players who did not finish Sunday’s season finale, which the Tips lost 5-4 in a shootout at Portland. Goaltender Austin Lotz, making his fourth start in five nights, played the first period, but gave way to 15-year-old Carter Hart the rest of the way. Center Jujhar Khaira left the ice injured after falling awkwardly into the boards during the first period and did not return.
In addition, winger Tyler Sandhu and defenseman Noah Juulsen did not play. Juulsen was a late scratch. He participated in the warm-up, but ended up not dressing. Sandhu was scratched from the beginning after playing the previous two games, though he sat out 20 straight prior to his return Friday in Everett’s 5-3 victory at Victoria.
During the regular season teams are required to provide injury information to the WHL on a weekly basis, and that information is posted on the league’s website. However, those requirements come to an end once the postseason begins. Everett, like all WHL teams, is hushing up with regards to player statuses.
“We won’t discuss anything about the health of our players,” was the extent of Constantine’s response to questions regarding the players who missed time Sunday.
The one Silvertip certain to be out on Saturday is center Kohl Bauml, who suffered a fractured leg during the Tips’ 5-1 victory over Kelowna on March 4. The original prognosis said Bauml would need four-to-six weeks to recover, making it unlikely he play for Everett again this season unless the Tips are able to advance to the Western Conference finals.
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.