EVERETT — The Everett Silvertips fought 68 games during the regular season to earn the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed and home-ice advantage through the first three rounds of the WHL playoffs.
Fabian Lysell and Adam Hall needed just one game to snatch that home-ice advantage away.
Hall completed his hat trick with the overtime winner, Lysell dished out five assists, and the Vancouver Giants punched Everett in the nose with a 5-4 victory in Game 1 of their first-round series Friday night at Angel of the Winds Arena.
In overtime Hall and Lysell broke two-on-two. Lysell dropped the puck for Hall as the two crossed paths, and Hall picked out the top corner to send the Vancouver bench into a raucous celebration.
”There were moments of the game where I thought we played well,” Everett coach Dennis Williams said. “Definitely in the first and second I thought we played pretty well, and at times in the third when we had a two-goal lead. We had our chances, we have to bury a few more and do a better job on the penalty kill.”
On paper the series looks like a mismatch. Everett finished 47 points ahead of the eighth-seeded Giants in the standings, and Vancouver won just one of its final 12 games.
However, Everett also limped into the postseason on a three-game losing streak. And although the Tips got co-MVP Olen Zellweger back after he missed the final two games of the regular season because of an injury that required being stretchered off the ice, Everett played without its other co-MVP, leading goal scorer Jackson Berezowski, because of an undisclosed injury.
Nevertheless, Everett had leads of 2-0, 3-1 and 4-2 and were unable to hold them. Lysell, a first-round NHL draft pick by the Boston Bruins, was a constant menace with his shiftiness and passing vision, and the Giants made the most of their man advantages, scoring twice on the power play and once when goaltender Jesper Vikman — back after missing nearly two months because of a lower-body injury — was pulled for an extra attacker.
”There’s a reason why Lysell is a first-round NHL pick,” Williams said. “He was the best player on the ice, no one was even close to him tonight from either team. He’s a sneaky player, he’s creative, he’s elusive, he’s skilled, he’s headsy, he makes plays, he finds soft areas and we didn’t really have anything to counter that.”
The game’s key moment came 2 minutes, 47 seconds into the second period. Everett held a 2-0 lead and appeared to be in control when Vancouver’s Colton Langkow leveled Zellweger with a big hit. Zellweger’s teammates came to his defense as two fights broke out. However, the result was that the Tips wound up on the penalty kill and key center Michal Gut was lost to a game misconduct for participating in the second fight — Vancouver lost depth forward Kyle Bocheck. Gut’s loss was felt all the more sharply because of Berezowski’s absence.
Vancouver then scored on the resulting power play as Lysell made a nice cross-ice pass to a trailing Hall, who picked out the top corner to get the Giants on the board and signal to the Tips that they had a game on their hands.
”You’re missing a 40-goal guy and a point-and-a-half guy, both who play on the power play,” Williams said about Berezowski and Gut. “I was happy to see Michal do what he had to do there in the game of hockey, but it probably wasn’t a great trade-off losing Gutsy.”
Ryan Hofer and Alex Swetlikoff had scored first-period goals to stake Everett to a 2-0 lead, and Jacob Wright and Niko Huuhtanen each scored to restore Everett’s two-goal advantage. Huuhtanen’s goal 2:24 into the third period, when he beat Vikman high to the blocker side from the high slot, made it 4-2 and seemed to put the Tips in the driver’s seat.
But a penalty shortly after Huuhtanen’s goal gave Vancouver another power play, and the Giants converted when Alex Cotton’s shot from the point hit off bodies in front, allowing Hall to pick the puck out and score an easy goal to make it 4-3. Then in the final two minutes, with Vikman pulled, Cotton waited out two sliding defenders as he drifted across the high slot before firing past Everett netminder Koen MacInnes to force overtime.