Three takeaways: Tips’ defense caps historic regular season

Wolf gets night off; Cullen’s role entering playoffs still up in the air

The Everett Silvertips are ready for the Tri-City Americans in the WHL playoffs that begin Friday, March 22 at Angel of the Winds Arena. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

The Everett Silvertips are ready for the Tri-City Americans in the WHL playoffs that begin Friday, March 22 at Angel of the Winds Arena. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

EVERETT—The Silvertips hammered Victoria, 5-1 on Saturday, to put the regular season in the rear-view.

With neither team able to impact their playoff positioning — the Silvertips are the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference and locked into playing Tri-City in the first round, while Victoria is the No. 2 seed in the B.C. division and will play either Kamloops or Kelowna, Saturday’s three takeaways are less to do with the outcome of the game, but rather a look at the regular season as a hole:

Defense caps together historic season

The Silvertips finished the 2018-2019 season with just 130 goals allowed, which is the lowest total in the Central Hockey League this season. It’s also the lowest in franchise history, breaking a 142-mark set in 2006-2007. Even with the WHL dropping down from a 72-game to 68-game schedule this season, the 1.88 goals allowed per game this season is still the lowest in franchise history.

A lot of credit goes to Everett’s goaltending and blueliners for a stingy season. Dustin Wolf has established himself as a top-flight netminder in the WHL and an already stellar backend was bolstered by Swift Current defensemen, Artyom Minulin and Sahvan Khaira.

Silvertips head coach Dennis Williams will be the first to credit Everett’s forward group for playing good team defense.

Everett will win in the playoffs because of its defense. The real question is: Will the Silvertips’ offense score enough to make a deep run, as there’s been moments of offensive prosperity as well as stagnation this year for Everett.

But a ultra stingy defense is a nice luxury to fall back on.

Wolf gets well-earned night off

Wolf has played in 61 of 68 games for the Silvertips this season and has logged the majority of minutes in Everett’s last 12 games entering Saturday. With the season-finale inconsequential to playoff seeding, Max Palaga earned the start, providing Wolf a rare night off.

An extra night of rest could do Wolf wonders for the playoffs, where he’ll likely play almost every minute between the pipes for the Silvertips.

Wolf’s 61 games played is tied with Tri-City’s Beck Warm for the most in the WHL. Coincidentally, the two netminders will be on opposite sides of the ice for the first-round playoff series between the Silvertips and the Americans.

While the night off was big for Wolf, it was equally crucial to have Palaga get some experience between the pipes heading into the playoffs.

Williams mentioned the anecdote of Wolf entering the second period of a second-round, Game 5 playoff win over Portland last year as an example of the importance of having two goaltenders.

“Right now, it was big to get Max into that game,” Williams said. “If it would have been a must win, we probably would have had Wolfie in there.”

Cullen’s role

With two games under his belt, Lucas Cullen’s expectations are about the same as they were when he arrived in Everett.

The Silvertips are staying patient with him.

“I guess time will tell,” Silvertips head coach Dennis Williams said of his role. “I’d like to see him do a better job of seeing of doing a better job of protecting the puck and driving wide more, but then again, he’s played just two games.

“There’s been no teaching. I didn’t even sit down with systems with him. I just wanted him to go out and play.”

What Cullen was able to demonstrate is some swift skating, which could

“I thought he was much better tonight than he was last night,” Williams said. “Obviously he brings speed, energy and grit. I thought he had a couple of really good tracks tonight. It’s a lot of new for him. I’m not sure how he played in West Kelowna, so it’s a different system, different expectations and a different of level of hockey.

“But he’s a smart player, he’s an intelligent player, so I don’t think the transition will take too long. But you see what he brings with that speed. He’s good on the forecheck. With this day-and-age, speed kills and if he’s gritty enough and wants to play on the walls, he’ll play for us in the playoffs.”

For a shorthanded Silvertips team that’s lacked forward depth for most of the season, more options is better than not enough. Cullen, no matter his impact, is making a positive impression with his presence.

Slap shots

—Alex Bolshakov suited up as affiliate player for Victoria last night, recording two shots on net. Bolshakov plays for the Everett Jr. Silvertips 16U program. He was drafted in the fourth round of the 2018 WHL bantam draft by the Royals.

Quotables

“I thought our guys that were out there played a strong, 60-minute hockey game and responded the way we’ve always responded after a loss,” — Dennis Williams’ overall thoughts on Saturday

After what happened last night, which was emotional and guys wanted to win a conference, you just have to think, ‘at the end of the day, that’s not what we’re here for. Would it have been nice? Yeah, but there’s a bigger picture there for our group.” — Williams on not claiming No. 1 seed.

Horton’s three stars

1. Martin Fasko-Rudas: The obvious choice, ashis first career hat trick made the difference on Saturday.

2. Reece Vitelli: Chipped in an assist, made a phenomenal pass to set up Fasko-Rudas’ second goal and played well up the middle.

3. Jake Christiansen: Added an assist and made eye-catching plays all throughout the night.

Josh Horton covers the Everett Silvertips and AquaSox for The Herald. Follow him on Twitter (@joshhortonEDH) or reach out to him over email (jhorton@heraldnet.com).

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