By Nick Patterson Herald Writer
Here’s a breakdown of the best-of-seven first-round Western Conference playoff series between the fourth-seeded Seattle Thunderbirds and fifth-seeded Everett Silvertips.
Goals scored: Seattle 232, Everett 215
Power play: Seattle 20.5 percent, Everett 21.1 percent
Seattle can come at opponents in waves. The T-birds don’t have a dominant offensive player, but they have two balanced lines filled with players who averaged between 0.69 and 1.00 points per game. They also have a third line that hasn’t scored a lot for Seattle, but put up big numbers in the past for Lethbridge.
In contrast, Everett does have that dominant offensive weapon in winger Joshua Winquist, who broke the franchise record for goals in a season (47) and tied the franchise record for points in a season (93). The question for the Tips is whether they have enough other threats to keep the T-birds from concentrating all their defensive efforts on shutting Winquist down.
The difference maker may be Seattle defenseman Shea Theodore. The first-round NHL draft pick is a major offensive threat from the blue line, leading the league in scoring among defensemen with 79 points (22 goals, 57 assists).
Goals against: Seattle 245, Everett 203
Penalty kill: Seattle 79.0 percent, Everett 79.2 percent
With Kevin Constantine back behind the bench this season, Everett has become a picture of defensive discipline. The defensemen, led by first-round NHL draft pick Mirco Mueller, work in perfect concert with the backchecking forwards to keep the puck away from the Tips’ net, and as a result Everett allowed the second-fewest shots on goal per game in the league at 26.67. The defense has been particularly tight of late as the Tips allowed just 24 goals in their final 13 games of the regular season.
Seattle finished in the middle of the pack defensively, both in goals allowed and shots allowed (34.40). The T-birds allowed just one goal in their final game of the regular season, but they surrendered 34 in their previous six.
Both teams are secure in goal. Everett’s Austin Lotz righted the ship in the last month of the regular season, finishing fourth in the league in goals against average at 2.53. Seattle acquired Taran Kozun from Kamloops at the trade deadline and he immediately shored up the T-birds’ goaltending issues, compiling a 2.40 goals against average in 24 games with Seattle.
By far the biggest intangible is the way the teams were playing as the regular season ended.
Everett finished the season on a roll, winning 11 of its final 13 games — and both losses were in shootouts against U.S. Division champion Portland. Three of those victories came against the T-birds. Seattle, in contrast, struggled to the finish line. The T-birds needed a 6-1 victory at Tri-City on the final day of the regular season to hold off the hard-charging Tips and maintain home-ice advantage in the first round.
As for that home-ice advantage, there’s scant evidence it will play much of a factor in the series. Both teams won more often in their opponents’ building during the regular season (three times each) than in their own (twice each). With the short distance between the two locations, it seems unlikely the unusual schedule that sees the teams alternate home games throughout the series will have much of an affect on the outcome.
Discipline could be a factor. Everett was assessed the fewest penalty minutes in the league (816) while Seattle was assessed the second-most (1315), so the Tips could be in line for an advantage in power plays. However, it may also work against Everett as referees tend to swallow their whistles during the postseason, and the Tips may not receive the same kind of power-play benefit from their discipline as their used to receiving.
Neither team has any experience with playoff success to draw upon. Each team has one player who’s ever been on a team that won a playoff series: Everett winger Zane Jones won two series with Calgary last season, while Seattle’s Kozun was a part of three Kamloops winning series the previous two seasons, though he never saw the ice as he was the Blazers’ back-up goaltender.
All the above analysis can probably be thrown out the window, as when it comes down to Everett versus Seattle it seems no matter the circumstances it’s always going to be a nail-biter. The teams finished even with 88 points during the regular season, they split the season series 5-5 for the fourth straight season, and six of the games were decided by one goal.
Everett and Seattle have never met before in the playoffs, but they did play what amounted to a Game 7 on the final weekend of 2012, when the teams met in a winner-takes-all game for the Western Conference’s final playoff berth. Everett went to Kent knowing it needed to win on the road, and the Tips pulled out a 6-4 come-from-behind victory. Could history, in a sense, repeat itself?
Everett in seven games.