EVERETT — The Everett Silvertips may have spent the entire season in first place in the WHL’s U.S. Division, but there was one ghost still haunting them: the Portland Winterhawks.
However, Everett finally solved its nemesis Saturday night, and as a result the Tips are firmly in pole position to raise the division banner.
Jackson Berezowski scored twice and Koen MacInnes made a game-winning relief appearance in goal as the Tips knocked off the Winterhawks 7-3 before a robust crowd of 6,983 Saturday night at Angel of the Winds Arena.
“It felt nice,” said Everett winger Jacob Wright, who chipped in with a goal and two assists. “I think we had four losses in a row against them, so we really wanted this one bad.
“We were playing playoff-style hockey out there, so we just came ready for the battle and came out on top.”
Everett may have come into the game with a five-point lead over Portland, but the Tips hadn’t beaten the Winterhawks since November, losing the past four matchups. With three head-to-head games remaining between the two, Everett’s lead atop the division remained precarious.
But Saturday’s result means Everett (43-10-3-5) now leads Portland (41-16-3-2) by seven points with seven games remaining.
Michael Gut and Alex Swetlikoff each added a goal and two assists for the Tips, Niko Huuhtanen and Austin Roest also scored, and MacInnes stopped all 37 shots he faced after relieving Braden Holt in the first period.
“I thought we played pretty well today,” Berezowski said. “We kind of played that full 60 minutes, which is what we needed. There were a couple lapses, but we didn’t get too high or too low out there, we just played a full game and ultimately that’s what it came down to today. It was a playoff-type game, those were two big teams going at it, and it was good we came out on top today.”
Gabe Klassen, Clay Hanus and Tyson Kozak scored for Portland, while Taylor Gauthier made 31 saves in net for the Winterhawks.
A wild first period saw Everett repeatedly gift Portland a goal, only to immediately respond. Hanus’s casual backhander from a tight angle somehow eluded Holt to give the Winterhawks their first lead at 2-1, only for Berezowski to put home a rebound on the power play to tie it. Then Tips defenseman Ty Gibson accidentally kicked the puck into his own net following a faceoff win, sending Holt to the bench in favor of MacInnes. But Gut scored 43 seconds later following a big scrum in front, and after all the dust settled it was 3-3 after one.
“That’s when you stick with it,” Berezowski said about how the Tips were able to maintain their composure in the period. “Whether you’re up in a game or down in a game you have to play the same way, and I think we did. We got pucks behind them and took it to them in that blue paint. That’s where we were successful today.”
MacInnes solidified Everett’s netminding in the second, and the Tips surged into the lead. Berezowski broke the deadlock when he converted a nifty cross-crease pass from Swetlikoff on a quick-developing transition play. Then Ben Hemmerling picked Portland defenseman Luca Cagnoni’s pocket deep in the Winterhawks’ zone and fed Wright at the far post for the tap-in as Everett carried a 5-3 lead into the third.
Everett all but put it away early in the third when Swetlikoff banged in a rebound on a five-on-three power play to make it 6-3. Portland carried play the rest of the way as Everett went into a conservative shell, but MacInnes made a series of good saves as the Tips were able to finish it off in comfort.
“(MacInnes) has been big for us recently,” Berezowski said. “He was solid when we needed him and I think that was a big reason why we were able to get momentum. He was great for us today.”
Everett played without two regular defensemen. Ronan Seeley was already out week-to-week because of an upper-body injury, while Dylan Anderson suffered an undisclosed injury during Friday’s 7-2 victory over Spokane. The Tips avoided further defensive issues when Jonny Lambos wasn’t suspended by the league following his boarding major penalty from Friday’s game. Sixteen-year-old prospect Eric Jamieson, who’s been practicing with the Tips this week after his team’s season ended, filled out the defensive ranks. … Everett also welcomed center Matthew Ng back to the lineup. Ng sat out the previous two games because of a suspension handed down by the league for a checking-to-the-head major against Vancouver last Saturday.