Here’s four observations from the Everett Silvertips 4-3 victory over the Tri-City Americans in Game 2 of their first-round WHL playoff series Saturday night at Angel of the Winds Arena:
1) This is not news, but Everett’s defense is good.
The Tips have such a luxury with their top six on defense. No, there may not be a Ty Smith or Bowen Byram back there, someone who’s a first-round NHL draft pick and a point-a-game player. But I can’t imagine any other team in the WHL is as solid one-through-six as Everett, and that defense was a big reason the Tips won this one.
There was a five-minute stretch in the second period where I thought this was illustrated by moments that had nothing to do with stats. First, Gianni Fairbrother was chasing a puck that was dumped behind the Everett net. The Tri-City forechecker was lining Fairbrother up for a big hit, but Fairbrother took the hit to make the play to get the puck to his D-partner, and the danger passed. Shortly after it looked like a Tri-City attacker had the angle to get around Wyatte Wylie at the blue line, but Wylie did a tremendous job to poke the puck away at the last moment. Finally, a couple minutes later, Artyom Minulin made a great stretch pass to release Reece Vitelli for a partial breakaway chance. None of those things showed up on the scoresheet, but they all are the type of plays that help a team win.
And, of course, it was a defenseman who scored the goal that broke the 1-1 tie in the second period, with Jake Christiansen lasering a one-timer into the top corner off the rush.
As for the goals against, they weren’t the fault of the defense as one was a nice Tri-City passing move on a power play, one was an unlucky bounce off a skate, and one was essentially a five-on-three goal.
That defensive excellence was necessary because …
2) Everett overcomes injuries up front, but can the Tips sustain that?
Everett had the makings of a No. 1 line dressed in suits and joining us on press row tonight. Not only was top center Riley Sutter, a long-term casualty, out, but he was joined by team MVP Connor Dewar, who sat out the end of Game 1 with an undisclosed injury.
With Sutter and Dewar out, the Tips are razor thin up front with regards to reliable point producers. The good news for Everett is that the Tips are getting offensive contributions from players who weren’t primary scorers during the regular season, guys like Martin Fasko-Rudas, Max Patterson and Robbie Holmes. However, these guys are playing a lot. With Dewer and Sutter unavailable, and with Saturday’s penalty-filled game played primarily in special teams, Everett’s top forwards logged a ton of minutes. Bryce Kindopp, Zack Andrusiak, Patterson and Holmes saw a ton of ice time, and while those are all veteran players, can they continue to hold up under that heavy workload?
As for Dewar, Everett coach Dennis Williams said he thought Dewar would be available for Wednesday’s Game 3. That said, Williams said after Game 1 that he didn’t think Dewar would miss Game 2. It’s the playoffs, so injury status is always going to be a mystery.
3) Martin-Fasko Rudas is a playoff performer.
The winger from Slovakia is once again stepping up his play in the postseason.
Last year Fasko-Rudas had 15 points in 70 games during the regular season, which is 0.21 points per game. Then in the playoffs he had 13 points in 22 games, a jump to 0.59 points per game. So far this year Fasko-Rudas is following the same pattern. In the regular season he had 31 points in 60 games (0.52 points per game), but he has five points in Everett’s two playoff games (2.50 points per game).
Why does Fasko-Rudas’ production go up in the postseason? I’ll let Williams explain:
“I thought he skated really well again tonight. He plays with a lot of passion and a lot of heart. He’s come a long way from last year. He played a limited role this time of year, but I think it’s his speed and because he’s hard on pucks. He’s not afraid to go to the net front, and I think that’s half the battle when you play a big, physical team like Tri-City. You have to be able to get to the blue paint, and he’s OK going there. If you look at all his goals they’re probably five feet from the net, there’s not too many shots he’s scoring on, it’s tips and hacking down low.”
4) Tri-City tries to get physical.
In Game 1 Everett dominated from start to finish, and there was little sign of pushback from the Americans. Clearly the Tri-City players heard about this from coach Kelly Buchberger, because there was a lot more physical play from the Americans Saturday.
There was one moment in particular where this crossed the line. After Everett took a 4-1 lead late in the second period Tri-City defenseman Dom Schmiemann took liberties with a prone Andrusiak, setting off a line scrum that resulted in nine players between the two teams being in the penalty box to begin the third period.
Some jam-packed penalty boxes to@start the third: pic.twitter.com/lKluybmHPM
— Nick Patterson (@NickHPatterson) March 24, 2019
While it was a Tri-City player who set this off, leading to a four-minute Everett power play, it worked to the Americans’ advantage in the long run as Tri-City had third-liners unavailable for 10 minutes, while Everett lost Christiansen, Fasko-Rudas and Reece Vitelli, all players who log substantial minutes for the Tips.
What that indicated is the Americans are not going to lay down for the Tips. With the series switching to Kennewick for games 3 and 4 on Wednesday and Thursday, I expect Tri-City to come out with even more physical play, as it helped make Game 2 much more competitive that Friday’s 6-1 drubbing in Game 1.