Welcome to round two of the WHL playoffs.
The Everett Silvertips take on the Spokane Chiefs, with the series getting underway Saturday night at Angel of the Winds Arena. Both teams advanced by winning their opening-round best-of-seven series in five games. Everett, the U.S. Division champion, dispatched Tri-City, while Spokane, the division’s No. 2 seed, took out Portland.
This is an intriguing match-up for which we have limited useful data with which to compare the two teams.
Spokane was the divisional favorite coming into the season, but the Chiefs weren’t quite able to live up to that preseason billing during the regular season, as Everett finished 12 points ahead of Spokane in the standings. The Tips also dominated the season series, winning six of the eight matchups, with the losses coming in overtime and a shootout. Everett outscored Spokane 28-16 in the eight games.
But were those regular season games truly representative of the two teams? Spokane was without its best forward, Jaret Anderson-Dolan, the entire first half of the season because of injury and playing for Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championships. The season series was front-loaded, with just one meeting coming after the turn of the new year. As a result, Anderson-Dolan played in just one of the eight matchups.
The Chiefs also played their best hockey down the stretch, winning 10 of their final 12 games to squeak past Portland for home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. One of those two defeats, however, was a 3-1 home loss to Everett on March 5.
In theory, Spokane’s five-game first-round playoff victory was more impressive than Everett’s, as the Chiefs beat a better opponent. However, Portland played the first four games of the series without its best player, Cody Glass, who was out injured. The games between Spokane and Portland also tended to be closer than those between Everett and Tri-City, as the goal differential was 21-16 between the Chiefs and Winterhawks compared to 24-8 between the Tips and Americans.
Breaking down the rosters, Spokane would seem to have the series’ two best players in Anderson-Dolan, who got into five games with the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings at the start of the season, and Ty Smith, who’s the Western Conference nominee for Defenseman of the Year. Spokane is also deep up front, capable of putting together three full lines that can score, which is something the Tips didn’t have to worry about in the first round.
Everett is the deeper team on defense. While Smith is the best D-man in the series, he’ll be asked to play 30 minutes a game. Meanwhile, Everett goes six deep on defense and will be able to spread its minutes more evenly.
The Tips should have the advantage in goal in the form of Dustin Wolf, the conference’s nominee for Goaltender of the Year. However, Spokane’s Bailey Brkin, acquired from Kootenay as a desperation option early in the season, has been better than anyone could have expected, and in the first round against Portland he comfortably outplayed the more highly regarded Joel Hofer.
It’s a lot to think about. So how do you see the series unfolding? Make your prediction here: