Here’s three observations from the Everett Silvertips’ 6-3 loss to the Spokane Chiefs in Game 1 of their second-round WHL playoff series Saturday night at Angel of the Winds Arena:
1) The Spokane Chiefs are not the Tri-City Americans.
Make no mistake, this is is going to be a far different series than Everett’s first-round series against Tri-City.
The Tips dominated the Americans, winning the best-of-seven series in five games. But Spokane is a very different team than Tri-City. The Chiefs are much faster to the puck and much faster moving the puck than the Americans. Against Tri-City, even when the scoreboard wasn’t necessarily in Everett’s favor, it felt like the Tips were in control of the game. That definitely wasn’t the case Saturday.
This was evident right from the start, as it was Spokane that had Everett running around in circles in the first period, much the same way the Tips had the Americans chasing the puck throughout the first round. Everett needed three first-period Chiefs penalties, which gave the Tips a chance to catch their breath, to stem the tide. After that Everett settled down and played better, and I actually had the Tips outchancing the Chiefs in the game.
But Everett wasn’t prepared for Spokane’s speed at the start of periods — the Chiefs scored with their first shot in each period — and the Tips weren’t able to overcome the fact they were constantly playing from behind.
2) Everett considers Jaret Anderson-Dolan the danger man.
In the first round the Tips identified Tri-City’s Nolan Yaremko as the main threat, and Everett coach Dennis Williams made sure in his home games that he had the matchup he wanted against Yaremko’s line whenever Yaremko went out for a faceoff. That meant the defensive pairing of Wyatte Wylie and Artyom Minulin, and usually the line of Max Patterson, Zack Andrusiak and Robbie Holmes.
I was curious how Williams was going to approach things against Spokane, which is far deeper up front than Tri-City. The Americans played pretty much two-and-a-half-lines, and it was clear that Yaremko’s line was the only one Williams was truly concerned about. The Chiefs, in comparison, have nine forwards who can score, and Spokane coach Dan Lambert actually spread those players among four lines, rolling those four all game long. Would Williams change how he matched up, given there wasn’t necessarily one line to focus on?
The answer was Williams set out to stop Anderson-Dolan. Anderson-Dolan is Spokane’s best forward, and while Williams didn’t necessarily match lines, he did make sure he had Wylie and Minulin on the ice whenever he could against Anderson-Dolan’s line.
This had consequences for the Tips. Lambert rarely put Anderson-Dolan’s line out for faceoffs, and I’d be surprised if his line played more than 15 minutes. With Williams saving Wylie and Minulin for Anderson-Dolan, it meant the Tips’ top defensive pair saw less ice time than normal, while the likes of Gianni Fairbrother and Ian Walker saw more. Anderson-Dolan had no points, yet the Chiefs still scored six goals.
We’ll see whether Williams sticks with that plan, or if he finds a way to get Wylie and Minulin on the ice more and risk the possibility of having other defensive pairings on the ice against Anderson-Dolan.
3) Lucas Cullen is fortunate to still be in one piece.
Everett’s winger had what was a somewhat low-key frightening moment in the second period.
Cullen was knocked down by Spokane defenseman Ty Smith as he tried a wraparound attempt at the Chiefs’ goal. In the process Cullen and Smith got tangled on the ice. Smith got up first and walked over the top of Cullen as he prepared to follow the play up the ice. However, as Smith got over Cullen he stumbled and his foot kicked up and back, catching Cullen around the head. Photos taken by Herald photographer Olivia Vanni showed that the blade grazed across Cullen’s throat, though it didn’t draw any blood.
Hockey can be a dangerous game, but this is about as dangerous as it gets. Skate blades are incredibly sharp, and a small, unintentional moment like that can cause serious damage — one need only think of the horrific images of NHL goaltender Clint Malarchuk having his carotid artery cut during a game in 1989 to understand that.
I think we’re all glad nothing more came of what was a frightening moment behind the play that most observers probably missed in the moment.