EVERETT — In last year’s WHL Western Conference playoffs, the standings points differential was just 20 points between top-seeded Everett and eighth-seeded Victoria.
It was the smallest difference between the Nos. 1 and 8 seeds in Everett’s then-14 WHL seasons. But this year’s differential is shaping up to be just as minuscule — if not smaller.
The U.S. Division-leading Tips (39-17-2-3, 83 points) clinched a playoff spot with Tuesday’s 4-1 win at Spokane. Currently Seattle (28-22-7-2, 65 points) occupies the final wild card slot and trails Everett by 18 points — but has two games in hand.
“On any given night there’s no guaranteed wins out there and two points are very hard to come by,” Everett head coach Dennis Williams said. “I think you see coaches doing a much better job as we get further and further here in the prepping part of games, the skill development of players are much better, and I think when you mix that in with a competitive edge for a lot of teams it makes it very tough to battle.
“Most teams know what each other are doing and it’s about trying to get your guys to execute your own game plan out there and the team that does that wins more hockey games.”
The parity in both the division and conference was on full display at the trade deadline as multiple teams made big trades to announce themselves as contenders.
And little has been sorted out since.
Even ninth-place Kamloops (27-29-1-4, 59 points) conceivably has a shot to reach the postseason though the Blazers face an uphill battle as they trail Seattle and Tri-City — both of which hold two games in hand.
Everett has points in nine straight games and is 7-1-1-1 in its last 10 contests to create some space between itself and second-place Portland (35-20-1-3, 74 points). Aside from a 4-9-1 start to the season, the Tips have avoided prolonged losing streaks throughout the season.
The team has lost two consecutive games just twice since Oct. 27 while fashioning a pair of nine-game winning streaks and a record of 35-8-1-2 in that span.
“It’s a long season but you never want to go on long losing streaks,” Everett co-captain Matt Fonteyne said. “You want to get on top of it, but like I said, it’s going back to the simple details —after a win still looking at what you can do better and after a loss looking at what they did better than we did.”
Just 11 games remain for Everett as the team begins another three-games-in-three nights with a 7:30 p.m. contest Friday against the Vancouver Giants at Langley Events Centre.
The Tips set a franchise record for goals in a single game during an 11-0 drubbing of the Giants in Langley on Dec. 27.
“We have a great test (Friday),” Everett defenseman Kevin Davis said. “I’m sure they probably remember our last game there. So we have to keep doing a good job on that.”
Everett boasts a 3-1-0-0 record against a Vancouver team that is experiencing a resurgence after missing the postseason for three of the previous four years. The Giants (31-20-5-3, 70 points) are third in the B.C. Division and a comfortable 11 points in front of Kamloops despite losing two straight contests.
Ty Ronning (53 goals, 20 assists) leads the Western Conference and is second in the league in goals. Tyler Benson (20 goals, 35 assists) and James Malm (17 goals, 36 assists) are also key point producers.
The Giants have a strong goaltender in David Tendeck (22-12-2-2, .916 save percentage, 2.98 goals-against average).
Everett plays at Seattle on Saturday at 6:05 p.m. before playing host to Spokane at 5:05 p.m. Sunday at Angel of the Winds Arena.
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