A chip and a chair.
Poker players use the phrase to indicate that no matter how long the odds, there’s always a chance. As long as a player has one chip to work with and a seat at the table, any opponent’s numerical advantage can in theory be overcome.
That’s how the Everett Silvertips must be feeling heading into Sunday night’s Game 6 of the WHL championship series against the Swift Current Broncos. The deck may be stacked against them, but the Tips are still in the game, which means they still have a chance of pulling in the pot.
Everett trails Swift Current 3-2 in the best-of-seven series, which switches back to Credit Union iPlex in Swift Current for Game 6 and a potential Game 7 on Monday, and history is not on the Tips’ side. Everett trailed 3-1 after dropping Games 3 and 4 at home, and only one time in league history has a team overcome a 3-1 deficit to win the championship series, that being when the Medicine Hat Tigers rallied to defeat the Portland Winterhawks in 1987.
But Everett kept its season alive with an energetic 6-3 victory in Game 5 Friday night before an enthusiastic crowd at Angel of the Winds Arena, and the Tips are of the opinion they’re now playing with house money.
“Right now we’re going on the road, so there’s no pressure on us,” Everett coach Dennis Williams said following Friday’s game. “The pressure isn’t on Everett right now. We just have to focus, play our game and let the chips fall where they fall.”
How closely contested has this series been? Each of the first five games have essentially been one-goal games — the first four were all decided by a single goal, including two in overtime, while Game 5’s three-goal margin came as the result of two empty-net goals scored by Everett in the final two minutes.
Therefore, the idea of one team winning three straight, which is what Everett needs to do to claim the Ed Chynoweth Cup, seems a long-odds bet.
“I think we’re in a really good spot moving forward, going back home,” Broncos winger Tyler Steenbergen said. “Before we came here if you would have said we could take two games (in Everett) we would take it any day of the week.”
The task of winning two elimination games on another team’s ice on back-to-back nights is a daunting one. But if there’s a team that won’t fear those circumstances it’s Everett. The Tips are 8-1 in road games in the playoffs, and it would be 9-0 if they hadn’t squandered a 3-0 first-period lead before falling 4-3 in overtime in Game 2 against Swift Current.
“You try not to think about road games and home games differently,” Everett center Matt Fonteyne said. “You just kind of go in there with the mindset that you need to have your best shift every time. If you don’t have a great shift or a bounce doesn’t go your way, just get to the bench, reset the emotions and keep going from there. Swift Current is a really loud barn, so we just need to keep on top of our games and make sure the highs and lows don’t affect our game.”
It’s been a challenge for the Tips to decipher how to best counter Swift Current’s top-end players. The Broncos have relied heavily on their top six forwards and top four defensemen all season long, and Everett spent the first four games shortening its bench to match Swift Current. That had the effect of limiting the Tips’ depth, which had been a strength during the regular season and the first three rounds of the playoffs, and creating fatigue.
However, Williams made an adjustment in Game 5, juggling both his top three lines and his two power-play units in order to more evenly distribute skill and ice time. The result Friday was Everett was able to maintain its energy from start to finish better than it had previously in the series.
That’s one of the things the Tips learned from the three-game stretch at home.
“I think we learned that we have to respect our opponent and how good they are, how well coached they are, how they can get up the ice and score and be a threat quickly,” Williams said. “For our group we also found out from our end that we can play with them. We’ve done a great job I thought in all the games, they’ve been real tight games, going into tonight the goal differential was 9-7 in the series. The one thing we haven’t done as a coaching staff is lose confidence in the group. By no means should the players lose confidence in themselves, they should believe.
“It’s a tall task, but it’s an exciting time.”
If the Tips need a reminder of overcoming long odds, they need only look back two weeks earlier. In Game 6 of the Western Conference finals in Kennewick, Everett trailed the Tri-City Americans 5-2 midway through the third period, with the Americans already packing the team bus for one last trip to Everett. But bang, bang, bang, the Tips scored three goals in five minutes to tie the score and force overtime, then won in OT to claim the conference title.
Winning Game 5 was the championship-series equivalent of the first of those three bangs. Can Everett pull off another trifecta? The odds are against the Tips, but they have a chip and a chair, and that means they still have a chance.
Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.