The Everett Silvertips dispatched a slumping Tri-City team in five games in the first round of the 2019 Western Hockey League playoffs.
But in the Western Conference semifinals, one of the WHL’s hottest teams awaits.
Here’s a closer look at the Silvertips’ second-round opponent, the Spokane Chiefs.
Meet the Chiefs
Spokane ended the regular season on a sweltering stretch. The Chiefs won 10 of their last 12 regular-season games, though Everett was one of the two teams to beat Spokane in that stretch. The Chiefs had home-ice advantage in their first-round series against the Portland Winterhawks, which they won in five games.
“To knock off a team like Portland, four games to one, is a feather in their cap as far as confidence and building off the way they’ve played,” Silvertips head coach Dennis Williams said.
Many expected the Chiefs to claim the U.S. Division this season. They have a host of skaters taken in the NHL draft — including Jaret Anderson-Dolan (second round, by Los Angeles in 2017) and Ty Smith (first round, by New Jersey in 2018) — and talented overagers in Riley Woods and Nolan Reid. But injuries and inconsistent play derailed the Chiefs at the start of the season.
Nonetheless, Spokane appears to be peaking at the right time. Will it be enough to knock of the division champions?
Forward to watch – Jaret Anderson-Dolan
The Kings prospect missed a good portion of the season because of a wrist injury and a stint with Canada’s World Junior squad. But he was terrific when available, finishing with 43 points (20 goals, 23 assists) in 32 games, and capping the regular season with a 10-game point streak and 11 goals over that stretch. An immensely skilled two-way center, he’ll be a handful for the Silvertips.
Defenseman to watch — Ty Smith
The Western Conference defenseman of the year is a dynamic offensive force, totaling 69 points (seven goals, 62 assists) this season, fourth among WHL blueliners. He finished with a goal and two assists against the Winterhawks. Smith quarterbacks Spokane’s power play unit, which has built a case for being the best in the WHL. The Chiefs scored at a 54.5 percent clip in the first-round series with the Winterhawks after leading the league with a 29.1 success rate with the man advantage over the regular season. Staying out of the penalty box will be key for the Silvertips.
Who’s in net?
The Chiefs leaned on Bailey Brkin for all five games in their playoff series against Portland. The 1999-born netminder was solid, positing a 4-1 record, .922 save percentage and 2.70 goals against average. Backing him up is 1999-born Reece Klassen, acquired by the Chiefs from Lethbridge near the trade deadline in exchange for a seventh-round pick. He posted a .907 save percentage and a 2.71 goals against average in 13 games for the Chiefs.
Draft prospect to watch — Adam Beckman
The 17-year-old forward developed into a regular contributor this season. He led the Chiefs in goals with 32 and was second among WHL rookies this season with 62 points (32 goals, 30 assists).
Rookie to watch — Jack Finley
Finley, a 6-foot-5, 203 pound center, has made a decent impact as a 16-year-old, finishing with nine goals and 10 assists. Thankfully for the Silvertips, their head coach has the inside scoop on Finley; Dennis Williams was his head coach for Team Canada Black during the U17 World Hockey Challenge back in November.
Goals scored per game (playoffs, regular season): Everett 4.80, 3.28 (first, 13th); Spokane 4.20, 3.98 (second, third)
Power play (playoffs, regular season): Everett 25.0 percent, 21.7 (sixth,11th); Spokane 54.5 percent, 29.1 (first, first)
The Chiefs are a dynamic offensive team and can strike in waves. Six players have scored 20 or more goals this season and 10 have totaled 40 or more points. As a result, the Chiefs can fill out three potent lines and a vigorous power play to boot.
On the flip side, Everett featured a more balanced lineup against Tri-City, with 10 different players potting goals. There was offensive improvement from the Silvertips, with their postseason goals-per-game average darting up from 3.28 during the regular season to 4.80 during the playoffs. Although a six-goal outing in Game 1 and a nine-goal performance in Game 5 padded those numbers, it was an encouraging sign.
Nonetheless, it’s difficult to ignore Spokane’s offensive prowess.
Goals allowed per game (playoffs, regular season): Everett 1.60, 1.91 (first, first); Spokane 3.0, 3.26 (tied for sixth, 10th)
Penalty Kill: Everett 68.8 percent, 84.7 (15th, third); Spokane 84.6 percent, 76.6 (tied for third, 14th)
Everett continued to be stifling on the defensive end against Tri-City, allowing just eight goals over five games, only two of which came at even strength. Everett’s penalty kill wasn’t as strong as it typically is, but that can likely be chalked up to some cheap goals late and a small sample size.
“I think special teams in any series is a focal point,” Williams said. “We weren’t very good at it last series, but the good part is that last series is done and we’re all at zero percent.”
Spokane’s defense was sturdier down the stretch, allowing just 2.5 goals per game over the last 12 regular-season games and 3.0 goals-per-game average during five playoff games with Portland. But Everett will have the upper-hand against the Chiefs, along with almost everyone else, in this category.
The Chiefs are playing their best hockey of the season and second-year head coach Dan Lambert has his team clicking on all cylinders. But it’s hard to ignore a couple regular-season statistics surrounding the Chiefs-Silvertips matchup: the head-to-head and road records.
Everett was 6-0-1-1 against Spokane this season, although seven of the eight games were decided by two goals or less.
The Chiefs also struggled away from their own building this year, going 16-14-2-2 on the road. Conversely, the Silvertips were 23-9-0-2 away from Angel of the Winds. Like in any playoff series, winning in the other team’s building likely will be the difference.
The Chiefs appear to be cresting at the correct time and will give the Silvertips all they can handle, but Everett is set up for success if it executes.
Prediction: Everett in six games.
WHL Playoff predictions
Prince Albert over Saskatoon in seven
Calgary over Edmonton in seven
Vancouver over Victoria in five