By Nick Patterson Herald writer
EVERETT — Travis Green is saying all the right things.
Green’s top-seeded Portland Winterhawks know they are heavy favorites to roll through the eighth-seeded Everett Silvertips in their best-of-seven first-round Western Conference playoff series, which begins Friday in Portland.
Yet, Portland’s acting head coach maintains that he’s expecting the Tips to present a legitimate threat.
“It’s going to be a tough matchup,” Green said. “In the playoffs, there are no easy teams; every team is there for a reason. It’s going to be a tough series, they always are.”
The racing form wouldn’t necessarily agree. Portland won the Scotty Munro Trophy for the league’s best record during the regular season and the Winterhawks’ 117 points were more than double the 57 Everett earned. Portland also dominated the regular-season series, winning nine of the 10 meetings.
“They’re a great team and they showed it in the regular season, but we’re here to battle,” Everett co-most valuable player Landon Oslanski said.
“It’s a huge challenge, but it’s a great opportunity,” Oslanski added. “We’re just going to do our best. We’re going to work our (tails) off and we’re going to do what we can.”
But the Winterhawks have a habit of preventing opponents from doing what they want. Portland is a team that has it all. The Winterhawks possess the league’s most prolific offense, having led the league in goals during the regular season. Portland also has an airtight defense, having allowed the fewest goals in the Western Conference.
Priority one for the Tips will be keeping Portland’s potent offense in check. That means limiting the Winterhawks’ scoring chances. It also means goaltender Austin Lotz will have to be at his acrobatic best to give the Tips a chance in the series.
“Goaltending will be important, special teams will be important and we have to really manage the puck well,” Everett general manager Garry Davidson said. “They’re going to get chances, they have too much speed and skill not to. But what we have to do is minimize the amount of chances we give up. And the way they play, they’re going to give up some chances to us. So when we do get an opportunity, we have to bear down and put the puck in the back of the net. But each and every night we have to keep their high-octane offense under some control.”
Is that possible? The Tips are hoping they can unearth the formula for containing Portland’s offense.
“We have to play very disciplined — we’ve taken a few penalties over the course of the season — and we have to play sound defensive hockey,” defenseman Ben Betker said. “They’re a very active team, they jump up in the rush all the time. They activate their D like no other team I’ve ever seen. They definitely know what they’re doing and they have a lot of experience, too. So, we have to match their (competition) level and we probably have to steal one or two on the road.”
Added Oslanski: “We need to play really good defensively. We have to play mean and finish our checks.”
On paper, Everett presents fewer dangers. The Tips scored the fewest goals in the league and allowed the third-most in the Western Conference. Nevertheless, Green said he is wary of the threat the Tips present.
“They’ve got some forwards who can put the puck in the net, they work hard and they’re playing a higher-speed game now,” Green said. “Now that they’re healthy, their defense has stabilized and their goalie has played well. Put those things together and that’s why they’re in the playoffs. For me, any team in the playoffs has to be respected, and you have to put your best foot forward to win.”
The one glimmer of hope that shines through for Everett is recent history. Although the Tips beat Portland just once during the regular season, that one victory is fresh in the memory. Everett topped Portland 4-2 at home on March 2 in what may have been the best game the Tips played all season long.
“It tells our guys that they are beatable,” Davidson said. “That should give us an edge from a mental perspective. It’s not like we went 0-10 against them and we’re saying to ourselves there’s no way we can beat them. We’ve beaten them and what we have to do is duplicate what we did in that game. I thought in that game we played 60 minutes, played with a lot of energy, and for the most part managed pucks well, too.”
The one health concern Portland had was that of No. 1 goaltender Mac Carruth. He did not play during the final weekend of the regular season because of an undisclosed injury suffered late in Portland game March 12 against Victoria. However, Green said he expected Carruth to be ready for the start of the series.
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.