EVERETT — The 2022-23 WHL season has been a wild roller-coaster ride for the Everett Silvertips. But that coaster car is on the verge of pulling back into the starting gate, coming to a stop and ordering the passengers off.
Everett’s season is now one game away from ending following Monday night’s 6-1 loss to the Portland Winterhawks in Game 3 of their first-round WHL playoff series at Angel of the Winds Arena.
The loss puts Everett, the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference, into a 3-0 hole against third-seeded Portland in their best-of-seven series. Hope isn’t completely lost, as twice in WHL history teams have rallied from 3-0 deficits to win playoff series. However, the battered and exhausted Tips show little sign of being a team capable of pulling off the rare feat, and Everett will need to make full use of the rest time between now and Friday’s Game 4 at Angel of the Winds just to survive one more game.
”There are a lot of emotional guys in the locker room,” Everett coach Dennis Williams said when asked about the 3-0 deficit. “But the first game and last game are always the hardest to win in any series. We get three days of rest here, and we’ll probably rest our big-minute guys two days, then let them go play. We don’t want to over-complicate it or overthink it at this point. It’s more about managing their energy, as well as their emotions being down 3-0 in a series.”
Credit the Tips for putting in the effort Monday night. Everett hustled to every loose puck and actually outshot the Winterhawks 39-24.
But the lack of healthy bodies was a major problem for the Tips coming into the series, and that problem hasn’t abated. Everett scratched seven players because of injury for the third straight game, with the forward ranks being particularly depleted. The Tips only dressed 11 forwards Monday, two were call-ups, and Everett’s leading forwards Jackson Berezowski and Austin Roest find themselves playing an unimaginable number of minutes as they’re on the ice every-other shift. Fatigue became evident Monday in the Tips’ lack of finish around the net and tired mistakes in their own zone.
When asked how many minutes he thought he played, Roest answered: “I don’t know, quite a few. It’s pretty tough, it’s kind of hard sometimes to catch your breath on the bench. But I’m playing for my team and trying to win games.”
The problem was then exacerbated within four minutes of Monday’s game. Cade Zaplitny, Everett’s leading physical presence up front, was assessed a major penalty for interference and game misconduct just 3 minutes, 22 seconds into the contest. Zaplitny’s ejection not only deprived the Tips of a rare experienced forward for almost the entire game, it also meant Everett played the game without a forward taller than 5-foot-11. Zaplitny faces a potential suspension for the major penalty, meaning the the depth problems may be even worse for Game 4.
Kyle Chyzowski and James Stefan each scored two goals and Jan Spunar made 38 saves to lead Portland in Monday’s victory.
Berezowski scored a late consolation goal for Everett, while goaltender Tyler Palmer stopped 18 shots.
It’s been a topsy-turvy season for the Tips. A promising start stalled out when the injuries first hit in November, and for the first time in the franchise’s 20-year history Everett was a major seller at the trade deadline, sending reigning WHL Defenseman of the Year Olen Zellweger and star center Ryan Hofer to Kamloops for a boatload of futures. By one measure it was a successful season just keeping the streak of making the postseason in every season in franchise history alive.
But Everett hasn’t been able to overcome the injuries against the Winterhawks. The Tips gave themselves a chance in Game 1 in Portland before falling 4-3. Since then Everett hasn’t been able to handle the Winterhawks’ extreme depth advantage, especially considering Monday’s game was the third time in four nights that the Tips’ top forwards were double-shifted.
”We are who we are right now,” Williams said. “Right now (the Winterhawks) have skill and depth, we came into this series down seven or eight guys, then we lose (Zaplitny) tonight. We’re overplaying Jackson Berezowski and Austin Roest and (Raphael) Pelletier and (Aidan) Sutter, and by the time you go onto a power play you’re exhausted, too. But right now it’s where we’re at, and I commend the players greatly for their effort in all three games all the way through the lineup. We knew after the trade deadline who we were, and then we got hit with a few more of these injury bugs, it just depletes you pretty quick. But there’s no quit for our group.”
Everett played well early and could count itself unfortunate to be trailing 2-0 in the second period. However, the fatigue finally caught up to the Tips during a 23-second span late in the second. First, a poor line change while on the penalty kill allowed Stefan to skate in free on goal and snipe a shot past Palmer. Then on the following shift the Tips lost track of Chyzowski cutting down the middle, and Chyzowski scored under Palmer to make it 4-0. There was no way back for Everett from there.
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