By Nick Patterson Herald Writer
EVERETT — Now is the time when the Everett Silvertips need to make their move.
Everett is in the midst of a seven-game homestand, its final home games of the season. And if the Tips want to snag one of the Western Conference’s final playoff berths, finding success during the homestand is crucial.
“It kind of reminds me of last year, when our first eight games were at home,” Everett’s leading scorer, Josh Birkholz said. “If you can get a couple wins early under your belt and sustain that momentum throughout the seven-game stretch, that’s a really important factor.”
Everett headed into the final three weeks of the season still on the outside looking in. Four teams are battling for the conference’s final two playoff berths.
Prior to Tuesday night’s games, the Tips found themselves in ninth place, chasing seventh-place Victoria and right on the heels of eighth-place Seattle. Prince George was behind Everett in 10th.
So this home stretch, which began with Sunday’s 2-1 overtime victory over Portland, will go a long way toward determining whether the Tips are still playing past March 17.
“We need to get some victories,” Everett coach Mark Ferner said. “Obviously being at home is good for our kids, but at the same time it’s no guarantee of anything. We just have to be real good at home. The game against Portland was a good start, we just need to follow it up.”
Sunday’s result was the perfect beginning to the homestand for the Tips as they shocked high-flying Portland, ending the Winterhawks’ nine-game winning streak. That victory helped alleviate some of the pain from their drab 3-0 loss at Seattle the previous night, a defeat that threatened to derail Everett’s playoff push.
“We can’t have any more games like we did against Seattle,” Birkholz said. “We can’t have any lackadaisical efforts. We have to come out and play every single game like it’s Game 7 of the playoffs, because if don’t, we’re going to be going home pretty soon.”
The remainder of Everett’s homestand features two distinctly different types of opponents.
Three of the games, including tonight’s contest against Kamloops, feature the top three teams in the conference. Those three teams entered Tuesday separated by a single point, meaning they’re scrapping for every possible point.
The other three games are head-to-head against other teams trying to earn a playoff spot. Two of those are against Victoria, and the third is against Seattle.
“We only have 10 games left, so we have to make some hay,” Ferner said. “It’s an old cliche, but we have to take it one game at a time. Our kids feel good about themselves today, but we have to make sure we come with the same kind of effort we had against Portland.”
The Tips have been a much-improved team at home. Since Jan. 13 Everett is 5-2-0-1 within the friendly confines of Comcast Arena. Before that the Tips were a meager 5-14-0-3 on home ice. Combine that with Sunday’s victory against a tough Portland squad, and the Tips are confident they can get points from all these home games, including those against top opponents.
“Coach Ferner said it and we all believe it: We can beat and play with every team in the league,” Birkholz said. “But having said that, it has to come playing our style of game. At times I feel we wait around and try to see what type of game it’s going to be and see what style the other team is going to play, instead of just playing our game as soon as the puck drops and continuing to play that way to the final buzzer. I think beating Portland gives us a lot of confidence, and guys have a lot of faith in the team and each other that we can do what it takes to beat those teams.”
One piece of good news for the Tips is that overage defenseman Brennan Yadlowski will be back in the lineup tonight. Yadlowski just completed his 10-game suspension for invading Portland’s locker room following Everett’s 7-3 loss to the Winterhawks on Feb. 3 in Portland.
“I’ve been counting down the days,” Yadlowski said. “It’s been terrible watching. I’m more nervous up in the stands than I am out on the ice, so it’s been really tough.”
Yadlowski is a key member of Everett’s defense, logging heavy minutes in all situations. Therefore, the Tips are thrilled by his return.
“Everybody’s really excited to have him back,” Birkholz said. “He’s such a good player for us and such a solid presence at the back end. We definitely missed him, and we’re excited for him to bring back a little energy and veteran leadership.”
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.