By Nick Patterson Herald Writer
EVERETT — This weekend is suddenly looking like a line-in-the-sand moment for the Everett Silvertips.
Everett is on the ropes, and this weekend’s two home games might determine whether the Tips are able to punch their way back into the race, or whether they go down for the count.
“This weekend is huge, especially because the past couple games haven’t gone our way and we’ve started to drop a bit,” said Tips captain Matt Pufahl, who returned Wednesday in Portland following a nine-game layoff because of a rib injury. “That’s why this weekend is really important, especially playing Seattle and Spokane, which we’re still chasing in the standings.”
Everett is staggering. The Tips have dropped five straight, which is the team’s longest losing streak of the season. The skid was punctuated by Wednesday’s humiliating 8-1 loss at Portland, the team’s worst defeat of the season.
Everything’s headed in the wrong direction for the Tips. At one point during the first half of the season, Everett found itself atop the entire WHL. But the Tips have been sinking since the beginning of December and now find themselves in fourth place in the U.S. Division. Even the team’s guarantee to season ticket holders of finishing at least sixth in the Western Conference, which seemed academic two months ago, is in serious jeopardy as Everett now finds itself tied for sixth with Vancouver.
Everett’s three losses in six days to U.S. Division-leading Portland essentially ended its chances at a division championship, and the Tips are also on the verge of losing contact with the other contenders in the division. Everett has fallen nine points behind second-place Seattle and eight behind third-place Spokane.
This weekend’s home games — tonight against Seattle and Saturday against Spokane — might be Everett’s last stand. Win those games and the Tips remain in the divisional conversation. Lose those games and instead of spending the run-in jockeying for home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs, the Tips likely will be fighting to avoid extending a substantial credit to their season ticket holders.
“I think we have to go in with the mentality of these being must-win games,” Everett winger Brayden Low said. “Every game from here on out is a must-win game to put us in position for the playoffs.”
This weekend presents the opportunity for a big bounceback for the Tips, who suffered a nightmare at Portland on Wednesday when the Winterhawks dominated from start to finish.
“There were just a few too many little mistakes from us, and they capitalized on them,” Pufahl said about Wednesday’s loss. “Every time we turned the puck over they countered the other way. They’re such a good transition team they’re going to score on the chances they get, and that’s what they did (Wednesday) night.
“Those games are the ones you want to put in the past and forget about,” Pufahl added. “Obviously, we still have to look at it a little bit and analyze our game a little bit. But we want to forget about it and focus on (tonight).”
The Tips aren’t just desperate for wins this weekend because of their position in the standings. Everett also is desperate to taste victory to help team morale — the Tips have won just twice in 12 outings since the turn of the New Year.
“We need it,” Low said. “The group, we’re keeping positive in there, but we need to get a couple wins under our belt to build even more confidence. It’s been proven that when we get rolling we’re pretty unstoppable. So I think we need to start (tonight) and get back on track.
“We have to get our heart back,” Low added. “We’ve been a little tired the last few games, but I’m not using that as an excuse. We have to get the heart and the energy back and things will start to fall into place after that.”
Everett is still trying to earn its first win against Spokane this season. The Chiefs won all six of the previous meetings, even though none of those games were decided by more than two goals, with two of the contests going to overtime. Everett outshot Spokane in four of the six games. … Everett defenseman Ben Betker, who missed the previous three games with a lower-body injury after blocking a shot last Friday in Portland, practiced Thursday and is hoping to return tonight. Forwards Manraj Hayer (lower body), Zane Jones (upper body), Logan Aasman (finger) and Tyler Sandhu (upper body) remain out. … Defenseman Carter Cochrane, who was called up for Wednesday’s game, has returned to his junior A team, the Chilliwack Chiefs of the British Columbia Hockey League.
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.