EVERETT — Everett Silvertips coach Dennis Williams was happy with the way his team bounced back in Game 2 of its first-round WHL playoff series against the Vancouver Giants.
But with the series switching to Langley, B.C., for Game 3 on Wednesday and Game 4 on Friday, the Tips are looking at the possibility of playing without their top two scorers from the regular season.
Everett, which has already been without leading goal scorer Jackson Berezowski because of injury, will now be missing leading point getter Alex Swetlikoff for Games 3 and 4 because of suspension.
Everett, the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, is a heavy favorite in its best-of-seven series against eighth-seeded Vancouver, as the Tips finished 47 points ahead of the Giants in the standings. The biggest upset in WHL playoff history in terms of regular season point differential is 37 — a dubious distinction held by Everett when the top-seeded Tips were knocked off in six games by seventh-seeded Prince George in the second round in 2007.
However, the Giants pulled off a surprise in Game 1 last Friday in Everett, overturning a two-goal third-period deficit before winning 5-4 in overtime.
Everett rebounded in Saturday’s Game 2, scoring just 1 minute, 26 seconds into the game, adding three tallies in less than four minutes late in the first period, and going on to prevail 7-3 to even the series at 1-1. Niko Huuhtanen was the star with two goals and two assists, including a highlight-reel goal in which he scored with his stick pushed between his legs.
“are you ever gonna stop tweeting about that between-the-legs goal by Niko Huuhtanen”
nope. literally never.#BearWitness x @TBLightning pic.twitter.com/3FZnyfbE4T
— Y – Everett Silvertips (@WHLsilvertips) April 26, 2022
“For two games Niko has been one of our hardest workers,” Williams said. “Away from the puck he’s been tracking and competing, and he’s done well in his one-on-one battles. His offensive side has been very strong and noticeable, but from a coaching standpoint it’s the other things he’s doing that’s been a difference maker for us.
“Overall I really liked the way we bounced back in Game 2,” Williams added. “I didn’t think we played a bad Game 1, but we did a much better job defensively of playing without the puck.”
However, in the fallout from Saturday’s game Everett lost Swetlikoff for the next two contests. With seconds remaining in the first period Swetlikoff was given a double-minor for checking from behind following a hit on Vancouver’s Payton Mount in which Mount’s head was slammed against the glass. Mount had to be attended to on the ice and did not return to the game. On Monday night the league handed Swetlikoff a two-game suspension for the hit.
Everett was already without Berezowski, who scored a team-leading 46 goals during the regular season, in Games 1 and 2. Berezowski is dealing with an undisclosed injury, and Williams had no comment regarding Berezowski’s status for Game 3.
Now the Tips will be without Swetlikoff, who posted a team-high 84 points during the regular season. In addition to his offensive contributions, Swetlikoff, who has one goal through two playoff games, will be missed because he’s a center, he has size and is a key penalty killer.
Meanwhile, Everett still is auditioning for a No. 1 goaltender. The Tips split goaltending duties in the first two games, with Koen MacInnes between the pipes in Game 1 and Braden Holt getting the call in Game 2. MacInnes stopped 35 of 40 shots in his start, while Holt saved 29 of 32 in his.
”I thought Koen had a good game Friday,” Williams said. “We did a much better job of limiting opportunities Saturday, and I think Holt made some really big saves. That was good for him, he had a bit of a rough patch to finish off the season, so to get that win in the playoffs I’m sure gives him a sense of confidence.
“We’re still evaluating everything, we still want there to be competition,” Williams added, noting he hadn’t decided on a Game 3 starter yet. “We’ll take these days to see what transpires in practice, and we have an open line of communication with both goalies.”
Vancouver has its own questions in net ahead of Game 3. No. 1 goaltender Jesper Vikman played for the first time in nearly two months in Game 1 after recovering from a lower-body injury, saving 34 of 38 to earn the win. However, Vikman didn’t dress for Game 2, and in his place Will Gurski allowed seven goals on 45 shots. Steve Ewen of the Vancouver Province reported that Vikman participated in practice Monday.
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