EVERETT — Regardless of the outcome, tonight marks the final time the Everett Silvertips will take the ice at Angel of the Winds Arena for the 2017-18 season.
An Everett victory in Game 5 of the WHL championship series means the Tips and Swift Current Broncos head back to Saskatchewan for Game 6 on Sunday. With an Everett loss, its historic 15th season will come to an end.
The Tips took a 1-0 series lead last Friday at Swift Current. Since then they have dropped three straight, each by a single goal, including Wednesday’s 1-0 loss that gave the Broncos a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
“We’ll come back and we’ll go out with an even stronger effort Friday,” Everett head coach Dennis Williams said after Wednesday’s game. “We gotta learn from it and continue to get better.”
The Tips split the first two games in all four of their postseason series in this season.
During the Western Conference playoffs they responded with two or more consecutive victories. In this series, however, they have dropped three straight.
All four games in the championship series have been decided by a one goal — including two overtime games.
“I think we still have a real resilient group in the dressing room,” Everett forward Garrett Pilon said. “I think we showed that when when we won Game 6 in Tri-City when we were down 5-2 with 10 minutes left. I think it’s the same kind of thing right now. We go into these next couple games trying to refocus. It’s do or die for us.”
The Tri-City team that Everett defeated for its second-ever Western Conference title took the Tips to six games. Now Everett looks to push Swift Current to Game 6 following back-to-back overtime defeats and a shutout loss in Game 4.
“I thought we played a good game (in Game 4)” Williams said. “It’s what happens this time of year. It wasn’t a lack of effort. It was a tough one. I was proud of our effort, I was proud of our tempo, I was proud of our compete (level), our response (to Game 3), and sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.”
While Tips goaltender Carter Hart, the 2017-18 WHL goaltender and player of the year has been solid, he has not been the difference-maker he was at times in the regular season. Hart’s .927 series save percentage is slightly better than his career postseason average of .922. Yet it is significantly lower than the record-setting .947 percentage he turned in during the regular season.
Instead it has been Swift Current goalie Stuart Skinner who has shined in net during the series. Skinner, an off-ice friend and on-ice foe of Hart’s dating back to their youth hockey days in suburban Edmonton, has a .950 save percentage and a shutout in the series.
Skinner had a poor first period in Game 2 when he surrendered three goals, but has otherwise been nearly untouchable. Skinner began the season with Lethbridge, where he had an .897 save percentage in 31 games before fashioning a .914 percentage in 25 games with the Broncos.
“Everyone is expecting more (high-scoring) games, but you’ve got two really good goaltenders in each end, two teams that work hard on the defensive side, and that makes it very difficult to score goals,” Williams said.
The Tips have not capitalized on their power-play chances. They scored on their first opportunity in Game 1 and are in an 0-for-13 rut since. Everett came up empty in five chances in Game 4 Wednesday, and allowed a game-tying short-handed goal in Game 3 Tuesday with less than five minutes to play. Swift Current went on to win Game 3 in overtime.
“We’d like to get some momentum off (our power play),” Williams said. “Probably a little bit of (it was) our guys being a little tired. They were playing a lot of minutes there, and we had a hard time executing. (Swift Current) did a good job giving us the outside. At the same time I thought our penalty kill did a really good job. … We gained some momentum out of that as well.”
Everett’s penalty kill is 7-for-8 in the series. The lone goal the Tips allowed on the penalty kill was the game-winner from Colby Sissons in Game 4 as Swift Current won 1-0.
Swift Current’s top two scoring lines have combined for seven goals and 12 assists. Everett’s top two lines have contributed six goals and six assists. The Broncos have received strong production from defenseman Sissons, who has two goals and two assists in the series.
Everett blue-liners Ondrej Vala, Kevin Davis and Jake Christiansen have combined for a half-dozen helpers, but no goals.
Game 6 would be Sunday with Game 7 to follow Monday if necessary. If Everett wins three straight, it will advance to the Memorial Cup for the first time in franchise history. That event begins May 18 in Regina, Saskatchewan.
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