By Nick Patterson Herald Writer
EVERETT — The Spokane Arena curse has been vanquished.
Now it’s a sprint to the finish line for the Everett Silvertips.
On Thursday, the Tips were still basking in the glow of ending their 18-game road losing streak against the Spokane Chiefs, courtesy of their 4-2 victory at Spokane Arena on Wednesday.
“That was a pretty cool feeling, finally winning in that building,” said overage center Manraj Hayer, who had never won a game at Spokane Arena in his four seasons with the Tips. “Usually I’m just used to getting right off the bench and being angry headed to the dressing room. It was nice to celebrate on that ice, finally.”
That result turned the last weekend of the regular season into an intriguing one for Everett. The Tips go into their final three games in position to finish anywhere from fourth to sixth in the WHL’s Western Conference. Everett could play any of Victoria, Seattle or Spokane in the first round of the playoffs, and it’s still possible for the Tips to have home-ice advantage.
But none of that would have been possible without Wednesday’s curse-breaking victory at Spokane. Everett hadn’t won at Spokane in more than four years. The last time the Tips won at Spokane Arena was on Feb. 24, 2010. Only one player on Everett’s current roster, overage winger Joshua Winquist, had ever tasted victory in Spokane as a member of the Silvertips.
Winquist scored twice during the second period Wednesday, turning a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead. Then Carson Stadnyk scored his second goal of the game in the third period to give Everett the insurance it needed to end four years of Spokane Arena agony.
“The last time we won there I was a 16-year-old,” Winquist said. “It’s been a while and it felt good to beat those guys there.
“Everyone felt pretty good, all the older guys especially because we haven’t won there in a long time,” Winquist added. “It felt good and everyone was happy.”
Wednesday’s result set up a dramatic final weekend to the regular season. Had Everett lost, the Tips would have needed a miracle to finish anywhere other than sixth in the conference. But now Everett has a shot at finishing fourth, fifth or sixth. Seattle currently sits in fourth place with 86 points, Spokane is in fifth with 84 and Everett is in sixth with 83. Seattle and Everett each have three games remaining, Spokane has two. The team that finishes fourth earns home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs and will face the team that finishes fifth. The team that finishes sixth will start the playoffs on the road against third-seeded Victoria.
“This is why you play hockey, for these type of games that mean everything,” Hayer said. “This is where players really show up and show who they are. This is what you want to play for: Not for barely squeezing into the playoffs, you want to try playing for home ice.”
While Everett still has a chance to earn home ice in the first round, to do so the Tips will need to get help, as well as successfully navigate a brutal final weekend. Everett starts the weekend with a home-and-home set against Victoria, then travels Sunday to face second-seeded Portland. Both Victoria and Portland already have surpassed the 100-point mark.
“It’s going to be tough,” Winquist admitted. “If we want to make a run in the playoffs we’re going to have to knock some of these teams out. So this will be a good way to test ourselves. Who knows, this could be a preview of a playoff series.
“The whole year we’ve been trying to get home-ice advantage in the playoffs,” Winquist added. “We still have a shot at fourth place, so that’s what we’re going to try and do this weekend.”
The teams that will determine the final fates of Everett, Seattle and Spokane are Victoria, Portland and Tri-City. Seattle’s final games include a home-and-home set against Portland, followed by a road game against Tri-City. Spokane finishes the season with a home-and-home set with Tri-City.
Complicating matters is that Portland, Victoria and Tri-City are all already locked into their playoff positions. Portland will be the second seed, Victoria the third seed and Tri-City the eighth seed. Therefore, none of those teams have anything left to play for.
If Everett finishes sixth, it will open the playoffs with games at Victoria on Saturday, March 22 and Sunday, March 23. The Tips’ first home game of the first round would be Wednesday, March 26. … Winquist still has individual honors at stake this weekend. Winquist already broke the franchise record for goals in a season, a total that currently sits at 45. His 89 points are four short of the franchise single-season record of 93, set by Zach Hamill in 2006-07. Winquist is also two games away from joining Shane Harper and Zack Dailey as the only players to appear in 300 career games with the Tips.
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.