Aaron Irving has played in his share of big hockey games. In fact, that’s one reason the Everett Silvertips acquired the overage defenseman from the Edmonton Oil Kings in January, paying a hefty price to do so.
It was for moments like the one Irving provided Wednesday night in Kelowna when his slap shot from the right circle provided the game-winning goal in a 4-1 victory over the Rockets at Prospera Place.
“I think (Wednesday’s game) kind of set a precedent for what it’s going to be like for the next while, how big those game are going to be,” Irving said Thursday by phone as the Tips were en route to Victoria where they will take on the Royals at 7:05 p.m. Friday.
“I think coming off that loss against Portland and kind of being in the same situation, being up 3-1 and being able to hold this one, hold Kelowna — a very offensive, powerful team — it does a lot for our confidence.”
Everett’s third-period performance stood out Wednesday as the Tips limited the potent Kelowna offense to just five shots on goal. They did so even while killing two penalties in the third. In contrast, Everett allowed 16 third-period shots at Portland on Sunday as a 3-1 lead disintegrated into a devastating 4-3 loss.
“All it took is for a couple of the leaders to make a couple comments about how we learned our lesson,” Irving said. “We had an opportunity to right a wrong from the previous game and I think everybody took it as a challenge and we were happy to pull the win out there.”
The Rockets are a physical, talented team that has given most Western Hockey League teams fits for years. Yet with Wednesday’s win the Tips finished the season 2-0-1-1 against Kelowna with the most decisive victory in the season series.
Everett scored the game’s first goal on the power play and, despite allowing the equalizer on the very next shift, answered before the end of the opening period and never trailed.
“I think they came out at home pretty hard and we weathered the storm more than controlled the game in the first period,” head coach Kevin Constantine said by phone. “But sometimes when you’re on the road you have to do that. Home teams generally have the crowd behind them. If you can withstand the first five minutes and not give up too many chances and hang in there that’s what you have to do.”
Part of “hanging in there” involved killing a penalty that spanned the end of the first and the beginning of the second periods. The Rockets boast the WHL’s third-best power play, but the Tips used key penalty-killing blocks from Matt Fonteyne and Jake Christiansen to survive the end of the first. Everett then had an opportunity to regroup and killed off the remaining minute-plus of Kelowna’s man advantage to open the second.
The Tips held Kelowna to an 0-for-11 showing on the man advantage in the final three matchups between the teams this season. That’s been a big key to Everett’s success all season long as it leads the WHL in penalty killing at 86 percent.
Everett has killed 23 straight penalties in seven games dating back to its 4-1 home loss to Spokane on March 1. That’s due in large part to their goalie tandem of Carter Hart and Mario Petit, Constantine said.
“The penalty kill is first and foremost a goaltending issue,” Constantine said. “That’s not to say the guys in front of Carter and Mario haven’t done a pretty solid job, too. But it always starts with goaltending and everything else you try to do on top of that.”
Wednesday’s game may have been important, but all three remaining Everett contests are just as crucial. If the Tips (42-16-8-3, 95 points) win out they will edge Seattle for the U.S. Division title. Everett’s final game in hand occurs Friday as the Thunderbirds are idle.
Friday’s game at Victoria is interesting because it’s not known which Royals players and coaches will participate. An outbreak of the mumps hit the WHL last month and both Victoria head coach Dave Lowry and defenseman Mitchell Prowse tested positive for the illness last week. Additionally, forwards Tyler Soy (upper body, day-to-day) and Ryan Peckford (upper body, 1-2 weeks), and defensemen Ralph Jarratt (upper body week-to-week) and Chaz Reddekopp (lower body, 2-3 weeks) are all listed on this week’s WHL injury report.
Everett is 2-0 against the Royals this season including a 3-1 win on Vancouver Island on Oct. 22 and a 2-1 overtime triumph a week later at Xfinity Arena.
The Tips return Saturday for their final home game of the regular season at 7:05 p.m. as they conclude their home-and-home series with the Royals. Everett finishes the regular season at 5:05 p.m. Sunday against the Tri-City Americans in Kennewick.
For the latest Silvertips news follow Jesse Geleynse on Twitter.