EVERETT — Friday night’s contest between the Everett Silvertips and Portland Winterhawks was a statement game.
The statement made by the Tips? “We’re a horse in this race.”
Everett announced itself as a legitimate contender in the WHL’s U.S. Division on Friday, defeating Portland 3-2 in a spirited performance at Comcast Arena.
For three years Everett has watched from afar as the Winterhawks skated off into glory. While the Tips were busy fighting just to get into the playoffs, Portland was winning three straight Western Conference championships. Everett prevailed just four times in 30 meetings with the Winterhawks the past three seasons.
The Winterhawks are rolling right along again this season, but this time the Tips have been right beside. Friday’s game was the first meeting of the season between the two teams, and the nature of Everett’s victory suggested the Tips may just be in it for the long haul.
“Ever since the season started we’ve been looking at this game,” Everett captain Matt Pufahl said. “It’s use a good rivalry. The fans were great, they kept us in it all night, and we just wanted to prove we can play with the top teams in the league.”
Tyler Sandhu scored twice to lead Everett (15-3-4-0), which caught Portland for first place in the conference at 34 points. The Tips have played one fewer game.
Manraj Hayer also scored and Pufahl added two crucial assists for Everett. Austin Lotz, playing for the first time since suffering a twisted ankle on Oct. 26 in Kamloops, made 26 saves to earn the win in goal.
Oliver Bjorkstrand and Derrick Pouliot scored for Portland (16-5-1-1). Brendan Burke finished with 33 saves in net for the Winterhawks.
Friday’s game was Everett’s first chance to see how it stacked up against Portland. The Tips passed the test not only on the scoreboard, but in the way they played. Everett dominated the first two periods, outshooting Portland 32-13 and taking a 3-0 lead. It was the type of one-sided performance seen often in games between the two the past three seasons — except with the opposite team on top.
“We were just playing our game,” Pufahl said. “We were talking our way out of the D-zone. That was a huge point for us. We made them dump pucks in, we had good gap by our D, and we got good backchecking from our forwards. That helped keep the shots down.”
But Portland showed why it’s a champion, rallying within one early in the third period and pushing hard for the tying goal. However, the Tips managed to hold on.
“As soon as they got that second goal everyone went, ‘Wow, now they’re in it,’” Pufahl said. “But we knew we could do it and we stuck together as a group. Little things were huge, like that shot block by Hayer in the last three seconds of the game. Those things helped us win.”
Everett came out of the gate like a team on a mission, and the Tips flew to a 2-0 lead.
Hayer got things started for Everett at 4 minutes, 52 seconds as he made a mad dash around the Portland net, then got his wraparound just past the outstretched foot of Burke at the post, giving the Tips an early 1-0 lead.
The Tips then doubled their lead at 8:57. Pufahl delayed his wrister from the left point, and it deflected off Sandhu and under Burke to make it 2-0.
Portland nearly got on the board late in the period when Taylor Leier found himself free on goal, but Lotz was able to trap the puck under his pad. Everett ended up outshooting Portland 17-6 in the period.
Everett then made it 3-0 1:09 into the second period. The Tips were on the power play when Pufahl slipped Sandhu in behind the Portland defense for a breakaway. Sandhu made a move to his forehand and scored around Burke to give the Tips a three-goal advantage.
The Tips had several good chances for their fourth goal soon after, but couldn’t find the net again. Then Everett was forced to kill penalties throughout the second half of the second period, but managed to keep the puck out as it remained 3-0 going into the third.
In the third period Everett looked like a team that wasn’t sure how to handle prosperity against a team like Portland, and the Winterhawks quickly made it a game. Lotz spilled Preston Kopeck’s shot, allowing Bjorkstrand to drag the rebound around Lotz to get Portland on the board at 1:31. Then the Tips handed the Winterhawks a lengthy five-on-three power play, and Pouliot made Everett pay with a one-time bullet from the point at 4:21, and just like that it was a one-goal game.
Portland built momentum off the goals, and the Winterhawks kept the pressure on — at one point Portland was outshooting Everett 13-1 in the period. But the Tips settled down during the game’s final minutes and managed to hold on without allowing another quality scoring chance.
Silvertips 3, Winterhawks 2
First Period—1, Everett, Hayer 11 (Winquist), 4:52. 2, Everett, Sandhu 10 (Pufahl, Hayer), 8:57. Penalties—De Champlain, Portland (slashing), 8:57.
Second Period—3, Everett, Sandhu 11 (Pufahl, Khaira), 1:19 (pp). Penalties—Pouliot, Portland (high sticking), 0:18; Schoenborn, Portland (checking from behind), 9:24; Betker, Everett (interference), 12:52; Khaira, Everett (hooking), 16:59; Leedahl, Everett (tripping), 19:00.
Third Period—4, Portland, Bjorkstrand 18 (Kopeck, Petan), 1:31. 5, Portland, Pouliot 5 (Petan, Leipsic), 4:21 (pp). Penalties—Aasman, Everett (delay of game), 3:35; Pufahl, Everett (high sticking), 4:00; Bjorkstrand, Portland (interference), 11:07.
Shots on goal—Portland 6-7-15—28. Everett 17-15-4—36. Power-play opportunities—Portland 1 of 5. Everett 1 of 4.
Goalies—Portland, Burke 14-4-1-1 (36 shots, 33 saves). Everett, Lotz 10-2-1-0 (28 shots, 26 saves).
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.