Silvertips close in on first place

KENT — The Everett Silvertips suddenly have found themselves in the hunt for a banner.

Meanwhile, the misery continues for the Seattle Thunderbirds.

Everett rallied from a two-goal deficit Saturday night, defeating Seattle 4-2 at ShoWare Center to pull within three points of the U.S. Division lead.

And the long losing streak for the T-birds was extended as Seattle fell to its 17th straight defeat.

As little as 11 days ago, it seemed inconceivable that Everett could catch Tri-City for first place in the division. The Americans had a comfortable nine-point cushion on Everett. At the time Tri-City was perhaps the top contender for the Scotty Munro Trophy as the WHL’s best team during the regular season.

But a fantastic weekend for Everett changed the division’s dynamics. The Tips won 3-2 at Tri-City on Friday to claw within five, and Saturday’s victory over Seattle, combined with Tri-City’s 2-1 home loss to Spokane, has once again made it a race for first.

“It’s always there, you always hope, it’s always your goal,” Everett center Byron Froese, who scored the tiebreaking goal in the third period, said about the Tips’ improbable chance at first.

“Everyone has that as the No. 1 goal now. We’re just going to keep working and keep our game the way we want it.”

Everett isn’t the only new contender, either. Spokane is just two points behind Everett and Portland, which came from behind to beat Kelowna 3-2 Saturday, is just one more back. So with three weeks remaining in the regular season, just six points separate first and fourth.

“I think this is an exciting race this year, both in the U.S. Division and in the Western Conference,” Everett associate head coach Jay Varady said. “Every game is important, and everybody is playing well, too.”

Tyler Maxwell, Dan Iwanski and Shane Harper scored the other goals for Everett (39-19-3-1). Harper’s goal was an empty-net power-play goal with 40.4 seconds remaining to seal what was essentially a one-goal contest. Harper now has 37 goals, just one off the franchise record for goals in a season set by John Lammers in 2005-06.

Kent Simpson earned the win in net with 30 saves, including some big stops on mad scrambles during the game’s final five minutes with the Tips clinging to a 3-2 lead.

Chance Lund and Prab Rai scored for Seattle (14-35-7-4), which can’t catch a break. The T-birds haven’t been getting hammered during their losing streak as eight of the 17 losses came by one goal and five came in overtime. Each of Seattle’s previous two defeats came in OT, and the T-birds came out like a team hungry to snap the streak.

“We knew we had to play with desperation to match theirs,” Varady said. “That’s a good team over there, they’re in every game. They play hard every night.”

Calvin Pickard stopped 31 shots in goal for the T-birds.

Despite its record, Seattle has had its share of success against Everett this season. The T-birds had won three of their eight games against the Tips going into Saturday, and early on it looked as though Everett would be Seattle’s first victim since the T-birds topped Prince George 4-1 on Jan. 9. Lund opened the scoring for Seattle 10 minutes, 36 seconds into the first period when he finished off a two-on-one created by Brenden Silvester. Then Rai doubled the lead on the power play 3:06 into the second period when he tucked the puck under Simpson from close range.

But the second period has been Seattle’s downfall during the skid. The Tips continued that trend by scoring twice in a three-minute span in the second period Saturday to tie it up. Maxwell scored on a rebound on the power play at 11:09 to get Everett on the board, then Iwanski put in the second rebound off the rush at 13:24 to tie the score.

“We played hard and we were on the board, but we didn’t feel safe with a 2-0 lead. We didn’t take it for granted,” said Seattle coach Rob Sumner, who’s seen his team lose several leads during the streak, particularly during the second period.

“It didn’t come off the rails (in the second period) tonight. They made a real high-end skill play on their first goal, and they beat us to the net on the second goal.”

The Tips then took the lead with another power-play goal 6:31 into the third period. Maxwell shot from the left circle and Froese, screening in front, managed to tip the puck over Pickard’s blocker to make it 3-2.

Both teams had chances after that, with Simpson twice closing the door on scrambles, and Pickard denying Maxwell on a breakway. But with Pickard pulled Seattle’s Luke Lockhart was whistled for an interference penalty with 1:12 remaining, and Harper scored the rare power-play empty-netter to end it.

Silvertips 4, Thunderbirds 2



First Period — 1, Seattle, Lund 5 (Silvester), 10:36. Penalties — Dillon, Seattle (cross checking), 13:49.

Second Period — 2, Seattle, Rai 35 (Lockhart, Wells), 3:06 (pp). 3, Everett, Maxwell 31 (Froese, Tochkin), 11:09 (pp). 4, Everett, Iwanski 6 (Cumiskey, MacDonald), 13:24. Penalties — Gudas, Everett (interference), 1:49; Sohor, Everett (boarding), 7:27; Aasman, Seattle (hooking), 10:38; McCrea, Everett (goaltender interference), 14:46.

Third Period — 5, Everett, Froese 25 (Maxwell, Gudas), 6:31 (pp). 6, Everett, Harper 37, 19:19 (pp-en). Penalties — Elliot, Seattle (slashing), 4:57; Rissanen, Everett (holding), 15:20; Lockhart, Seattle (interference), 18:48.

Shots on goal — Everett 10-10-15 — 35. Seattle 10-12-10 — 32. Power-play opportunities — Everett 3 of 4. Seattle 1 of 4.

Goalies — Everett, Simpson 19-9-1-0 (32 shots, 30 saves). Seattle, Pickard 12-29-7-4 (34 shots, 31 saves).

A — 5,174.

Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog:

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