EVERETT — The Everett Silvertips and Portland Winterhawks resume their briefly dormant WHL playoff rivalry as the second round of the Western Conference playoffs begins at 7:35 p.m. Friday at Angel of the Winds Arena.
Everett, the U.S. Division champion, swept the Winterhawks in the first round of the 2016 WHL playoffs after Portland twice eliminated the Tips in the previous three postseasons.
This year the top-seeded Tips dispatched the eighth-seeded Seattle Thunderbirds, while Portland, the second seed from the U.S. Division and in the Western Conference, needed seven games to eliminate the Spokane Chiefs, who were the third seed from the U.S. Division.
The regular-season series was virtually even as Everett went 5-5 against Portland this year while the Winterhawks finished 5-4-0-1.
What follows is a breakdown of the two teams:
Goals scored: Everett 246 (11th in WHL), Portland 274 (sixth)
Power play: Everett 23.5 percent (ninth), Portland 25.7 percent (fourth)
It has been well-documented that the Everett Silvertips had a franchise-best offensive season. In addition to setting a franchise record with 246 goals, the Tips had four players score 30 or more goals and seven score 20 or more.
Even so, Everett’s 246 goals were just 11th in the WHL. Meanwhile Portland’s 274 goals were sixth league-wide and fourth in the Western Conference.
Everett boasts two NHL-signed forwards in Garrett Pilon (34 goals, 46 assists) and Patrick Bajkov (33 goals, 67 assists), and one NHL-signed defenseman in Ondrej Vala (seven goals, 21 assists). In contrast, Portland has four first-round NHL picks including forwards Cody Glass (37 goals, 65 assists) and Kieffer Bellows (41 goals, 33 assists), and defensemen Henri Jokiharju (12 goals, 59 assists) and Dennis Chowlowski (14 goals, 52 assists).
Bajkov led Everett with five goals and seven assists in the regular-season series. Glass led Portland with one goal and a dozen assists for 13 points.
While Everett also boasts offensive stalwarts like Connor Dewar (38 goals, 30 assists), Matt Fonteyne (35 goals, 53 assists), and draft-eligible Riley Sutter (25 goals, 28 assists), the Winterhawks counter with Skyler McKenzie (47 goals, 40 assists), Joachim Blichfeld (24 goals, 32 assists) and Ryan Hughes (17 goals, 24 assists).
The Winterhawks have long been one of the elite offensive organizations in the WHL. That is something current Tips general manager Garry Davidson sought to replicate when he assumed duties in Everett in 2012. Under first-year head coach Dennis Williams the Tips are on that path, and the midseason acquisitions of Pilon and Vala enhance Everett’s offensive potential. But the Tips still have a long way to go before they match the Winterhawks’ offensive firepower.
Goals allowed: Everett 167 (first in WHL), Portland 214 (third)
Penalty kill: Everett 84.5 percent (first), Portland 79.2, (fifth)
Everett separates itself somewhat in the defense department. The Tips allowed the fewest goals in the league, and, while Portland allowed the third-fewest, Everett surrendered 47 fewer goals than the Winterhawks. The gap would have been even greater had Carter Hart and/or Dustin Wolf been healthy to begin the year.
The Tips defense begins at the back with Hart. He was named the conference goalie of the year for the third straight year while also being named the conference player of the year. Hart had a truly historic season with a 31-6-1-3 record, a 1.60 goals-against average with seven shutouts, and a record-setting .947 save percentage.
Hart followed that up with a 4-0-1 mark, a .938 save percentage and a 1.97 GAA in Everett’s five-game series victory over Seattle. Those totals include his five-goal loss at home in Game 2.
The Tips also boast a nearly-point-per-game defenseman in Kevin Davis (10 goals, 55 assists) who pairs with Jake Christiansen. Vala and Snohomish County native Wyatte Wylie comprise another pair while Gianni Fairbrother and Ian Walker have also suited up in this postseason.
The Winterhawks boast their own formidable goaltender in overager Cole Kehler. The L.A. Kings signee went 30-16-1-4, with a .909 save percentage and a 2.77 GAA during the regular season
He followed that with a 4-1-2 record, .907 percentage and a 3.07 GAA in Portland’s seven-game series victory over Spokane.
Kehler shut out Everett in the Tips’ final two regular-season visits to the Rose Quarter.
The Winterhawks have a pair of first-round NHL picks on their blueline who each scored 65-plus points. But that says more about Portland’s up-tempo offensive strategy that emphasizes defensemen joining the rush and contributing on the power play.
The Tips have only one high-scoring defenseman in Davis, but have retained the defensive prowess for which they are known.
The Silvertips are rested physically, but perhaps more importantly, mentally. Everett needed just five games to send Seattle home, while Portland held a 3-1 lead before losing Game 5 in overtime and needed all seven to beat Spokane.
The Winterhawks have “been here before” as an organization, but are years removed from their glory days. The Tips have not advanced beyond this round in a decade and have something to prove after stalling the past three seasons in the second round of the playoffs.
Everett swept a moribund Portland squad in the first round two years ago and this particular group of Winterhawks has no psychological edge over the Tips.
Portland may have the better-known prospects, but the Tips have an experienced, cohesive group that did not lose more than two consecutive games after Oct. 22.
The Winterhawks have more talent on paper, but the Tips are a plucky, hard-working group with several legitimate prospects besides Hart.
Hart deservedly earned credit for Everett’s first-round 4-2 series win over Spokane as a rookie in 2015. But despite all the personal accolades, the one thing he has not done is lead the Tips on an extended postseason run.
His performance in the first half of the season convinced general manager Garry Davidson to go all-in, and it comes down to Hart. Perhaps that is unfair, but he has set the bar that high.
Elite regular-season goaltending has been a poor predictor of WHL postseason team success, but Hart and the Tips hope to reverse that trend. And the three-time Western Conference Goaltender of the Year will again be the difference in this series.
Prediction: Everett in seven
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