EVERETT — The Kelowna Rockets spent the first two games of their first-round playoff series attempting to pound the Everett Silvertips into submission.
Now that the best-of-seven series is moving from Everett to Kelowna with the Silvertips holding a 2-0 lead, Everett is expecting the Rockets to come out swinging even harder.
The Western Conference series between the third-seeded Tips and sixth-seeded Rockets switches venues to Kelowna’s Prospera Place tonight for Game 3, with Wednesday’s Game 4 also in Kelowna. Now in a hole and with the home crowd in support, the Rockets are certain to step their physical play up yet another level.
“They’re going to come out and try to play harder and more physical in their own building,” Everett coach Craig Hartsburg said Monday before the team departed for Kelowna. “We have to be ready for it, we have to be physical and smart in our own way, and we have to have some poise, especially early in the game.”
During the first two games Everett demonstrated greater offensive depth up front. Not only did the Tips outscore the Rockets 10-6, 11 different Everett forwards registered at least one point while just five Kelowna forwards found the scoresheet.
That difference in offensive depth was one of the series’ main issues from the start, and Kelowna decided to use physical play as a possible equalizer. The Rockets finished all their checks during the first two games, with winger Mitchell Callahan and defenseman Collin Bowman at the forefront, and every time the Tips took a lead Kelowna turned it up another notch.
“They have some big guys on the team that finish checks, but we’ve been hit all year so we’re kind of used to that,” Everett captain Zack Dailey said. “We’re trying to match their physical play and I think you saw it in the first two games. It was a battle out there.”
Kelowna’s strategy worked in Game 1. Everett went ahead 2-0 in the second period and was in complete control of the game. The Rockets responded by hitting the Tips hard, and Kelowna got itself back into the game, forcing overtime before the Tips won it 5-4 on Dan Iwanski’s overtime winner.
The strategy wasn’t as effective in Game 2. Kelowna’s overzealousness led to penalties — Everett received six power plays to just two for the Rockets — and the Tips extended their lead en rout to a 5-2 victory.
“Playing physical, there’s a fine line there,” Kelowna captain Lucas Bloodoff told the Kelowna Daily Courier. “The biggest thing is getting pucks in deep, behind their defense and then getting on the body. We don’t want to be playing after the whistle, taking the punches, the sticks, the trips and stuff like that. We can’t have any of that. It’s all about getting the pucks in behind them and hitting their defense, which, ultimately, wears them out. That’s when we have our success.”
At its best, Kelowna’s physical play is difficult to play against. During the first 10 minutes of Game 2 the Rockets forechecked hard without crossing the line, and Kelowna kept the Tips pinned. However, Everett’s defensemen responded to the challenge and kept the Rockets to the perimeter, despite the pressure. Even with dominating the first 10 minutes Kelowna managed just six shots on goal in the first period.
“The good things for us the other night is they came out hard the first part of the game, but never really got a good scoring chance until five minutes left in the first period,” Hartsburg said. “We did a good job of not panicking. We would have liked to play a little bit different against it, but give our guys credit for not panicking under some pressure.”
Hartsburg did not announce a starting goaltender for tonight’s Game 3. Thomas Heemskerk and Kent Simpson split time during the regular season, then each started once in the first two games of the series, Heemskerk backstopping Everett in Game 1 and Simpson getting the call in Game 2. Hartsburg said he will continue to evaluate the goaltending decision on a game-by-game basis.
On the injury front, Everett defenseman Radko Gudas continues to be listed day-to-day because of an upper-body injury. Gudas, a second-team Western Conference all-star, left Saturday’s game late in the first period and did not return. He did not practice Monday, but Hartsburg said Gudas was feeling better.
Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog: http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog
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