Here’s a breakdown of the best-of-seven, first-round Western Conference playoff series between the top-seeded Portland Winterhawks and the eighth-seeded Everett Silvertips.
This is as big a mismatch as the Western Hockey League can offer. Portland scored 333 goals during the regular season, the most in the league. Everett scored 171 goals, the fewest in the league.
Portland’s offense, built around its small, speedy and skilled forwards, is driven by its top line of Nicolas Petan, Ty Rattie and Brendan Leipsic. Petan and Leipsic tied for the league’s scoring title with 120 points. Rattie finished third with 110 despite missing 10 games because of the World Junior Hockey Championships. Those three also combined for 52 points against Everett this season.
The Winterhawks’ forwards are capably supported at the blue line by three of the best offensive defensemen in the league in Derric Pouliot, Seth Jones and Troy Rutkowski. Portland also finished second in the league on the power play at 23.4 percent.
Everett, in contrast, struggled to score goals all season. Joshua Winquist led the team in scoring with 51 points (24 goals, 27 assists). That would have placed him ninth on the Winterhawks. Landon Oslanski’s big shot on the point is a valuable offensive weapon, particularly on the power play. And yet the Tips finished 19th in the league on the power play at 16.2 percent.
While not as big a mismatch as the offense, the numbers still make rough reading for Silvertips fans. Portland allowed just 167 goals, the second-fewest in the league. Everett allowed 264, which was the sixth-most in the league.
Portland’s defense is as deep as any in the WHL. Jones is a candidate to go first overall in this year’s NHL draft, Pouliot was selected in the first round last season, Tyler Wotherspoon was selected in the second round in 2011, and Rutkowski just signed a contract with the NHL’s Ottawa Senators.
Everett’s defense has talent, but is young. Led by 17-year-old rookie Mirco Mueller, the Tips could have as many as five rookies taking regular shifts, depending on whether Everett deploys overager Oslanski on defense or on the wing.
The numbers again skew heavily toward the Winterhawks, as Portland’s goaltenders have far better numbers than Everett’s. But much of that is a product of the team in front of them. Everett’s Austin Lotz played well during the second half of the season, and he plays an acrobatic style that makes him capable of spectacular saves. Lotz is Everett’s best chance for stealing games.
Portland has a potential issue in goal as No. 1 Mac Carruth sat out the final weekend of the regular season because of injury. However, Portland’s acting coach, Travis Green, said he expected Carruth to be ready for the start of the series, and even if Carruth isn’t available, back-up Brendan Burke went 7-0 against Everett this season.
Everett has one thing going for it. Although the Tips beat the Winterhawks just once in the regular season, that memory is fresh in their minds as it happened just three weeks ago. That victory let Everett know it can beat Portland.
However, all other intangibles point Portland’s way. The Winterhawks have the confidence that comes with winning the Scotty Munro Trophy for the league’s best record during the regular season. They have the knowhow, given the experience that came from fighting their way to the league championship series each of the past two years. And they’ve shown they know how to beat the Tips.
Portland had the league’s best record, and the Winterhawks earned more than twice as many points as Everett (117-57). Everett had its breakthrough against Portland when the Tips beat the Winterhawks 4-2 at home on March 2. But that was Everett’s lone victory against Portland in 10 attempts. The talent gap is just too much for the Tips to overcome, and Everett is in grave danger of being swept out of the first round of the playoffs for the third straight year.
Prediction: Portland in four games.