By Nick Patterson Herald Writer
EVERETT — From the moment the puck went into the net in overtime of Tuesday’s Game 3, the Everett Silvertips have been repeating a single mantra:
Everett knows it faces a gargantuan task in trying to overcome a 3-0 deficit to the Seattle Thunderbirds in their first-round Western Hockey League playoff series. However, the Tips are maintaining the belief they can mount an improbable comeback.
“Absolutely we believe,” Everett captain Matt Pufahl said. “That’s what we’ve been saying from day one. We just have to keep believing in each other and ourselves. We’ll pull through as a team, that’s what we need.”
“Believe” has become an omnipresent term in the Silvertips’ camp. The hashtag #Believe has even become a regular feature of the team’s Twitter account.
The Tips are going to need all the belief they can muster because overturning a 3-0 deficit is an Everest-sized task. Just twice in WHL history has a team come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a best-of-seven series. In 1996, the Spokane Chiefs rallied from a 3-0 deficit to beat the Portland Winter Hawks and last year the Kelowna Rockets overturned a 3-0 deficit against Seattle. Both those came in the first round.
“I think the belief is there,” said Tips center Manraj Hayer, who set up all three of Everett’s goals in Tuesday’s 4-3 defeat. “I think the first three games we played well. I thought we had our chances, (Seattle goaltender Taran) Kozun played well for them. I think we just have to keep playing our game. We believe, we know it can be done.”
Everett is hoping to use Kelowna as inspiration. It was just 12 months ago that the Rockets fell behind these same T-birds 3-0. Just like Everett did Tuesday, Kelowna lost Game 3 in overtime at ShoWare Center in Kent. The Rockets won Game 4 4-0, then won the final three by a single goal, with the last two coming in overtime.
That the feat was accomplished so recently — and that it happened against the same Seattle team Everett currently trails — gives the Tips a little extra hope in their comeback efforts.
“It’s definitely going through our heads, and hopefully that’s going through Seattle’s heads, too,” Pufahl said. “But all the credit to Seattle, they’ve been playing some great hockey the past three games. They’ve been taking runs at us and putting our D down and playing well. We have to do the same to them.”
However, Everett also is in a substantially different position than the previous two teams that forged unlikely comebacks.
Both Spokane in 1996 and Kelowna last year had huge advantages over their opponents during the regular season. In 1996, the Chiefs finished first in the West Division with 104 points, which was 41 points better than the sixth-place Winter Hawks. Last year, Kelowna, the second seed in the Western Conference, finished a whopping 50 points ahead of the seventh-seeded T-birds in the standings.
In contrast, Everett and Seattle finished in a dead heat during the regular season. Both teams finished with 88 points, and the teams split the season series 5-5. Seattle earned the higher seed only because of the tiebreaker of having had more total wins.
Therefore, if Everett is to stage a comeback, the Tips will have to accomplish something essentially unprecedented in league history.
“It’s a tough thing to come back from that,” Hayer said. “But it’s happened as recently last year, to the team we’re playing right now. Hopefully if we can get one win that will be a little bit of doubt in their minds. But we’re just focused on (tonight) and taking it one period at a time. It’s kind of cliche, but that’s what we’re doing.”
What’s made Everett’s situation all the more frustrating is that every game has been close. Seattle won Game 1 2-1, won Game 2 3-1 courtesy of two third-period goals, then needed overtime to win Game 3. The Tips outshot the T-birds in all three games, including outshooting Seattle by double digits in each of the first two games. Therefore, they feel somewhat unfortunate to find themselves in a 3-0 hole.
“Maybe we’ve been a little bit unfortunate, but we can’t (feel) sorry for ourselves,” Hayer said. “… we know we have to be ready for tonight, and we have the belief.”
Because of the way the games have gone, the Tips don’t think they need to change what they’re doing for tonight’s Game 4. They just need to do what they’ve been doing a little bit better.
“We just have to keep doing what we’re good at, that’s what makes us successful,” Hayer said.
“What we’ve been saying all year is that we have to work hard and play our game,” Hayer added. “I don’t’ think our forecheck has been nearly as good as it was during the year. We aren’t getting pressure on them and on Kozun when he plays the puck. That’s a big factor we need to work on. We just need to put lots of pucks to the net, we have to get traffic in front of him and hopefully ones bounce in.”
The first step for Everett is winning tonight’s Game 4 to avoid being swept. The Tips lost in the first round of the playoffs each of the previous six years. On three of those occasions Everett was swept.
“Obviously it’s not how we pictured it,” Pufahl said. “But the way we look at it, you’ve got to take it game by game. You have to win four games, not three. We just have to get the first one out of the way.”
Seattle winger Jaimen Yakubowski was suspended one game by the league for his checking-from-behind double-minor penalty from Tuesday’s game. Yakubowski hit Everett defenseman Noah Juulsen from behind into the boards during the first period. Juulsen had to leave the game and did not return. The suspension means Yakubowski will not play in tonight’s Game 4. Juulsen did not practice Thursday, meaning it is unlikely he will play in tonight’s game, too.
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.