EVERETT — As the Everett Silvertips headed down the tunnel to their home dressing room following their 4-1 victory over the Portland Winterhawks on Sunday, the mood was not overly exuberant.
The Tips wouldn’t let the moment disrupt the laser focus that’s helped catapult them to the top of the Western Hockey League’s U.S. Division standings.
In a battle for first place with the Winterhawks on Sunday, Everett collected its fourth consecutive head-to-head win over Portland and its 10th straight victory overall.
“We haven’t been getting ahead of ourselves,” Silvertips forward Ty Kolle said. “We have a pretty special group here. I think the main thing is our guys aren’t cocky, we’re confident. That’s the biggest part of being a really good team is that you got to be confident, and if we start to be a cocky team and start going in and think we can win games, then it’s going to cost us. I don’t think that’s going to happen with this group.”
The Silvertips shaved off Portland’s a double-digit lead in the standings in a little over the month. The Winterhawks led by 11 points as recently as Jan. 26.
Everett has climbed to the top of the standings by winning 14 of its past 15 games, including all four meetings against Portland during that span — in which the Silvertips have outscored the Winterhawks 18-7.
The recent mastery of Portland is extra sweet for Kolle, who was drafted by Portland and played the better part of two seasons with the Winterhawks before being traded to Everett.
“I see a lot of my buddies out there, but when it comes to business, it feels great to beat them and be on a winning team and to surpass my former team like that,” Kolle said. “Anytime you get traded, it’s an unreal feeling to play against your former team and obviously beat them four times in a row.”
The Silvertips also grabbed the inside track to the Scotty Munro Trophy, the award given to the team with the best regular-season record in the WHL. Everett is tied with Edmonton in the standings with 92 points and has a game in hand on the Oil Kings.
In Sunday’s game, Everett assembled a three-goal lead after about 30 minutes on power-play goals from Cole Fonstad and Kasper Puutio, and an even-strength tally from Dawson Butt.
But momentum appeared to be shifting in Portland’s direction late in the middle stanza when Jake Gricius scored on the power play at 13:33 and Kolle went off for tripping at 17:10 to send Everett back out on the penalty kill.
That’s when Everett’s penalty-kill unit and Kolle combined for the crushing blow.
Everett prevented Portland from setting up its power play with any success throughout the course of the two minutes, and as the penalty expired, Silvertips rookie defenseman Olen Zellweger snapped a stretch pass up to Kolle, who bested Portland goaltender Joel Hofer with a forehand move to extend Everett’s lead back to three goals.
“I had a lot of confidence in our guys that we’d be able to kill it off, and when I got out of the box and saw we had possession of it and went for the stretch pass, I was a little worried I would fall like I did in Kelowna on my breakaway,” said Kolle, alluding to Everett’s overtime win at Kelowna on Friday. “But I made sure this time I stayed on my feet.
“Every time you’re in the box, you’re thinking in the back of your head, ‘What if I get a breakaway here?’ and you start thinking of a move. My first mindset was to get back and play defense, but when I got the puck, I knew exactly what I was doing.”
Portland pulled Hofer with about 3:45 remaining in the game, but Everett didn’t allow Portland to claw back into the game.
The Winterhawks weren’t playing at full strength, as New York Islanders prospect Reece Newkirk and Florida Panthers prospect Johnny Ludvig were both out with injuries. Newkirk boasts 29 goals this season up front and Ludvig is Portland’s top option at defense.
Special teams were key for Everett on Sunday. The Silvertips converted both of their power-play chances and killed off five of six penalties.
Silvertips goaltender Dustin Wolf saved 38 of 39 shots on his third consecutive night in net.
The win against Portland was a nice cherry on top of what has been an arduous stretch for Everett, with eight games over 12 days.
“They’re definitely dialed in,” Silvertips head coach Dennis Williams said of his players. “They’re playing confident and they’re playing as a team. From your 14th forward to your seventh defenseman and your two goalies, they’re all bought into the team wanting to win hockey games. A lot of guys have been able to park any egos or individual statistics. I’m really proud of the group. This wasn’t an easy month for us.”
The Silvertips host the Tri-City Americans on Friday at Angel of the Winds Arena for a 7:35 p.m. puck drop.
Josh Horton covers the Silvertips for The Herald. Follow him on Twitter, @JoshHortonEDH
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