EVERETT – It doesn’t matter what the Everett Silvertips do.
It doesn’t matter who they put on the ice.
Whatever the circumstances, it seems the Everett Silvertips always have a solution against the one team they know they have to eventually beat in their quest for the Memorial Cup.
With the majority of its offense sitting in the stands, Everett leaned on the reliable hands of Leland Irving, and the Silvertips concluded the regular season by defeating the Memorial Cup host Vancouver Giants 2-0 Saturday night.
Before a sellout crowd of 8,513 at the Everett Events Center, Irving put on a sensational display, making Jonathan Harty’s early goal hold up as Everett (54-15-1-2) finished the season 6-0 against the Giants.
“I really don’t know what it is,” Irving said about Everett’s mastery over Vancouver.
“Some nights you just get the bounces and I thought tonight that was definitely the case.”
Irving finished with 29 saves for his 11th shutout of the season, and Lukas Vartovnik added an empty-net goal for the Tips, who open the playoffs against Spokane at home Friday.
Tyson Sexsmith only had to make nine saves in goal for Vancouver (44-17-3-7), which has been snakebitten against Everett. Although they lost all six meetings, based on how they played, the Giants could lay claim to at least five of those.
“We did a lot of good things out there today,” Vancouver left wing Milan Lucic said. “Maybe we’ve got to take it to the next level to beat these guys if we meet them in the playoffs.”
Everett center Zach Hamill all but secured the league scoring title, though not without having to sweat it out.
Hamill, who was given the night off to rest up for the playoffs, went into the night five points ahead of Kootenay’s Steve DaSilva. DaSilva scored three points in Kootenay’s 4-2 victory over Medicine Hat. Then Lethbridge’s Zach Boychuk, who seemed out of it 10 points back, had eight in the Hurricanes 11-1 victory over Red Deer. Both finished two points behind Hamill’s 93.
Six teams still have games remaining today, but no players on those teams have a realistic chance of catching Hamill.
“It’s pretty cool,” Hamill said about winning the scoring title. “You look at the guys who won it the last couple years and you think, ‘Wow, to be in the same category with those guys is something special.’ It’s definitely one of my highlights, something I worked for. But winning a Memorial Cup would be a lot better.”
Everett and Vancouver have taken very different approaches to closing out the season. Everett, which clinched the best record in the WHL last week, chose to rest its top players – Saturday’s scratch list included luminaries Hamill, Peter Mueller and Moises Gutierrez – in an effort to gain full health.
In contrast the Giants, who sewed up the B.C. Division long ago, have continued to field their best lineup in an effort to keep the players sharp.
Everett’s second stringers versus the defending WHL champions at full strength would appear to be a mismatch. Much of the game felt that way as the Giants controlled play, and almost the entire third period was played in Everett’s zone. But Irving was spectacular in net, time after time he splayed his body across the ice to deny the Giants in close. Irving appears to have ironed the wrinkles out of his game at just the right time, and he’s the primary reason the Tips go into the playoffs off a win instead of a four-game losing streak.
“I’ve never been so exhausted for a game,” Irving said. “But the fans here, they’re just cheering the whole way, they get your adrenaline up and push you all the way through.
“It’s huge (getting a win going into the playoffs),” Irving added. “It just gets the guys up. I think we would have approached Spokane the same way whether we won or lost, but it feels nice to come off a win going into the playoffs.”
Everett grabbed the lead on the power play 4 minutes, 1 second into the game. Zack Dailey latched onto a loose puck in the slot, then backhanded a pass to the far post, where Harty was there to sweep it into an open net, making it 1-0.
Vancouver turned up the pressure the rest of the way, outshooting the Tips 23-4 in the final two periods and putting several more shots just wide. But Irving held firm, and Vartovnik hassled Vancouver defenseman A.J. Thelen into putting the puck into his own empty net with 50.3 seconds remaining, sealing the victory.
Slap shots: Everett defenseman Mike Alexander appears to have escaped major injury from the hit that sent him to the hospital Friday against Tri-City. Alexander had full feeling in his limbs and attended Saturday’s game wearing a heavy neck brace. … The Tips raised a 2006-07 U.S. Division banner after the game and were also presented with the Scotty Munro Trophy for the league’s best record in the regular season. … Hamill provided the color commentary on the radio broadcast during the second period, partially to take his mind off the scoring race. … Everett finished with a season attendance of 232,543, good for 6,460 per game.
At Everett Events Center
First Period-1, Everett, Harty 5 (Dailey, Vartovnik), 4:01 (pp). Penalties-McArdle, Vancouver (hooking), 0:33; Repik, Vancouver (delay of game), 2:06; Campos, Everett (hooking), 5:55; Wuchterl, Everett (high sticking), 11:29; Harper, Everett (holding), 18:20; McArdle, Vancouver (unsportsmanlike conduct), 19:51.
Second Period-No scoring. Penalties-Franson, Vancouver (checking from behind), 4:19; Eskesen, Everett (holding), 10:14; Franson, Vancouver (checking from behind), 13:09; Campos, Everett (hooking), 13:36.
Third Period-2, Everett, Vartovnik 11, 19:09 (en). Penalties-Strong, Everett (tripping-holding), 8:31; Watt, Vancouver (interference-10-minute misconduct), 19:26.
Shots on goal-Vancouver 6-14-9-29. Everett 7-3-1-11. Power-play opportunities-Vancouver 0 of 6. Everett 1 of 7. Goalies-Vancouver, Sexsmith 31-12-2-6 (10 shots, 9 saves). Everett, Irving 34-9-1-2 (29 shots, 29 saves).