By Nick Patterson Herald Writer
EVERETT — It’s taken 11 years, but the Everett Silvertips and Seattle Thunderbirds will finally meet in the playoffs.
The Tips continued their late-season roll, defeating the Victoria Royals 3-2 in dramatic fashion Saturday night for their ninth straight victory before a fired-up sold-out crowd at Comcast Arena.
And with Spokane falling 3-0 at Tri-City minutes later, that means for the first time since Everett entered the league in 2003 the bitter I-5 rivals will butt heads in the postseason.
“It’ll be a fun series,” said Everett winger Dawson Leedahl, who set up Saturday’s game-winning goal with less than two minutes remaining. “We’re good rivals and the crowds will be great, so it will be a fun series to be a part of.
“Everyone wants to have a series with their rival. It will be competitive.”
Which team has home-ice advantage is still to be determined. Seattle lost 7-0 at Portland on Saturday, meaning the Tips passed the T-birds into fourth place in the WHL’s Western Conference. Everett goes into the final day of the regular season with 87 points, one ahead of Seattle. Tonight Everett plays at Portland, which is the conference’s No. 2 seed, while Seattle plays at Tri-City, the conference’s No. 8 seed. If the teams finish tied, Seattle would earn fourth via the tiebreaker by virtue of having more total wins.
But regardless of how it finishes, Tips and T-birds will be making the 50-mile drive between Everett and Kent in the four-versus-five series, renewing a rivalry that couldn’t get any more competitive. The teams split their 10-game season series 5-5, the fourth straight time the season series finished in a dead heat.
Everett needed a late-season surge to get into this position. A month earlier the Tips were worried they may not be able to fulfill their guarantee to season ticket holders of finishing sixth or better in the conference. But Saturday’s victory was Everett’s ninth straight as they head toward the postseason riding high.
And Satuday’s game was just the latest notch in Everett’s belt as Carson Stadnyk’s late goal gave the Tips a sweep of the home-and-home against a Royals team that racked up 100 points this season.
“That was awesome,” Leedahl said about the game. “It was a great crowd, good energy in the building, and the guys really wanted that one.
“We played well,” Leedahl added. “We had a couple letdowns, but played well overall and got the win.”
Mirco Mueller and Ben Betker scored the other goals and Manraj Hayer dished out two assists for Everett (39-23-7-2). Austin Lotz, making his 12th consecutive start in goal for the Tips, earned the win with 22 saves.
Logan Nelson and Tyler Soy scored, while Coleman Vollrath made 21 saves in net for Victoria (48-20-1-3), which was already locked into the third seed in the Western Conference. The Royals face sixth-seeded Spokane in the first round.
Everett had the better of play through the first two periods and took a 2-1 lead onto the third. However, the Tips played cautiously, allowing Victoria to gain some initiative. Lotz had to make point-blank stops on Steven Hodges and Brandon Magee before the Royals finally tied it with 3:31 remaining. Magee wriggled free along the right boards and fired a shot that banked off the goal and out front, where Soy banged it in to knot it at 2-2.
It looked as though the Tips were going to have to work overtime if they wanted their two points, but then they to conjured up the winner with 1:28 remaining. Dawson Leedahl won a puck battle at the Everett blue line and steamed the other direction, creating a two-on-one. He sent a perfect saucer pass into the path of Stadnyk, who one-timed his shot back across the grain and past Vollrath, sending the crowd into a frenzy.
“The guy fumbled the puck at the blue line, and luckily it was a two-on-one with Stads,” Leedahl said. “I just fed it over (the defender’s) stick, and Stads made a nice shot and scored.
“That was a big relief,” Leedahl added. “We didn’t want to go to overtime because we were tied from the road trip today.”
There was plenty of action at both ends during the first period, but it was the Royals who struck late. Joe Hicketts’ home-run pass sprung Nelson free on a breakaway, and Nelson made a move past Lotz to give Victoria a 1-0 lead at 18:51.
The Tips came storming back during a second period that got chippy toward the end. Everett tied it up on the power play 7:12 as Mueller’s slap shot from the point found its way past Vollrath. Then the Tips took the lead at 14:52, Hayer racing down the ice and dropping a pass for Betker to fire past Vollrath.
Everett overage winger Joshua Winquist achieved another milestone Saturday as he reached the landmark 300-game mark in his WHL career. Winquist also became just the third player to appear in 300 games with the Tips, joining Shane Harper (335) and Zack Dailey (330). … Fifteen-year-old goaltender Carter Hart has rejoined the Tips as his midget team’s season is complete. Hart, Everett’s eighth-round pick in the 2013 bantam draft, was called up once earlier this season, making his WHL debut when he backstopped the Tips in their 5-3 loss at Spokane on Feb. 16. He will be here for two weeks and was a healthy scratch Saturday.
Silvertips 3, Royals 2
Victoria 1 0 1—2
Everett 0 2 1—3
First Period—1, Victoria, Nelson 23 (Hicketts), 18:51. Penalties—Soy, Victoria (fighting), 10:07; Juulsen, Everett (fighting), 10:07; Nelson, Victoria (high sticking), 10:18; Khaira, Everett (slashing), 19:52.
Second Period—2, Everett, Mueller 5 (Stadnyk, Hayer), 7:12 (pp). 3, Everett, Betker 7 (Hayer, Bajkov), 14:52. Penalties—Reddekopp, Victoria (tripping), 5:42; Fushimi, Victoria (fighting), 14:16; Leedahl, Everett (fighting), 14:16; Carroll, Victoria (roughing), 16:54; Kanzig, Victoria (roughing), 16:54; Winquist, Everett (roughing), 16:54; Hodges, Victoria (cross checking), 19:37; Juulsen, Everett (checking from behind), 19:37.
Third Period—4, Victoria, Soy 15 (Magee), 16:29. 5, Everett, Stadnyk 23 (Leedahl), 18:32. Penalties—none.
Shots on goal—Victoria 10-5-9—24. Everett 13-9-3—25. Power-play opportunities—Victoria 0 of 1. Everett 1 of 3.
Goalies—Victoria, Vollrath 20-8-1-1 (24 shots, 21 saves). Everett, Lotz 31-18-3-2 (24 shots, 22 saves).
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.