After the final horn sounded in Saturday night’s contest between the Everett Silvertips and Tri-City Americans in Game 2 of their Western Hockey League playoff series at Angel of the Winds Arena, the players on the ice came together in front of the Americans’ bench for one last brouhaha.
After the officials managed to get the teams separated, Everett winger Robbie Holmes was hot. Holmes, who had his helmet knocked off during the fracas, could be seen heatedly jawing and pointing at Tri-City’s players.
That moment was indicative of what we learned about the Tips from their first two playoff games. This Everett team is prepared to fight its way through the postseason, and that’s an encouraging sign for a team that aspires to a deep playoff run.
Everett, the top seed in the U.S. Division pod, took a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven first-round series against the fourth-seeded Americans, courtesy of a 6-1 victory in Friday’s Game 1 followed by a 4-3 win in Saturday’s Game 2. The Tips are in good position as the series switches to Kennewick for Games 3 and 4 on Wednesday and Thursday.
But in different ways, Everett had to fight its way through each of the first two games.
In Game 1, the Tips had to battle their way out of their own heads. Everett dominated play from start to finish. By my calculations the Tips out-chanced the Americans 39-8, including an incredible 28-3 in the first two periods. Yet Everett headed into the third period with just a slender 1-0 lead.
This is not a new phenomenon for the Tips. After the Jan. 10 trade deadline, Everett outshot its opponent in 23 of its 26 games, often by large margins. Yet those shot numbers didn’t always translate into the final scoreline as the Tips went a modest 16-10 in those 26 games. Questions had to be asked whether Everett had the collective finishing ability needed to be a championship contender.
But Friday night the Tips, instead of allowing their lack of finish to result in frustration, stuck with it, and a late flurry of goals made the final score representative of the game as a whole. Everett fought through that mental barrier to prove to itself it is capable of scoring goals.
“It’s good to see guys like (Max Patterson) and even Zack Andrusiak score,” Everett coach Dennis Williams said after Game 1. “I know Zack’s was an empty-netter, but he’s been snake bitten, and he thinks about that as a goal scorer and a shooter, you start to really second guess yourself. You could see 100 pounds of emotion come out of him on that, and that’s good. He earned that because I thought Zack played an unbelievable defensive game away from the puck. He was tracking hard, he was getting in lanes, he was finishing checks, and I think when you play that way, you get rewarded.”
Then in Game 2 the Tips had to fight through a physical test. Tri-City is a team with bigger players who are known for playing a physical, heavy game. In Game 1 that physical style was nowhere to be seen. However, it was clear Americans coach Kelly Buchberger had a talk with his team between games as Tri-City came out much more physical in Game 2, and that resulted in a more evenly played contest.
But Everett stood up to the physical challenge. Late in the second period, with the Tips leading 4-1, Tri-City defenseman Dom Schmiemann took some liberties with Andrusiak, who was lying prone on the ice after being knocked down for a penalty. This set off a line scrum, with sticks and gloves scattered across the ice and nine players crowded into the penalty box to begin the third period.
This was an example of the Tips’ willingness to stand up for each another. It’s common in the playoffs for underdog teams to resort to physical means to try to counter a gap in ability. Everett fought through that Saturday and let the Americans know they wouldn’t be bullied.
“That’s hockey, it’s an emotional game and we stick up for one another,” Williams said. “That’s how we play since I’ve been here for two years. Our motto is not to leave one guy in there, everyone has to do a job and it’s part of the game. If not, you’re going to be pushed around, and we’re not going to be a team that gets pushed around.”
Everett has more adversity to fight through in this series. Captain and team MVP Connor Dewar didn’t play in Game 2 because of an undisclosed injury suffered late in Game 1. Williams said he expected Dewar to play in Wednesday’s Game 3, but he also said following Game 1 that Dewar should be fine for Game 2.
If Dewar remains out, it means the Tips will once again be without their two best players in Dewar and No. 1 center Riley Sutter, who’s been out since December with a leg injury.
But if Everett finds itself short-handed again, we learned in the first two games that the Tips will do everything they can to fight through it.
Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.