On Sunday evening, the top two teams in the U.S. Division met for the sixth time this season.
With the Portland Winterhawks (40-10-3-4) holding a five point lead over the Everett Silvertips (40-12-3-1), Sunday was a key game in determining which organization will have the honor of raising a U.S. Division banner and have home ice advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs.
Everett won the two most recent meetings, both at the Angel of the Winds Arena, doubling up Portland in a combined 8-4 score.
The season series shifted south to the Rose City and Veterans Memorial Coliseum, but the result was the same.
Everett left Portland with a 6-2 win behind three power-play goals as well as a shorthanded marker. The Silvertips are now only three points behind the Winterhawks in the standings — with a game in hand.
Riding a five game winning streak, the Silvertips came out with their foot on the pedal and pushed to the floor.
Before 30 seconds ran off the clock, Gage Goncalves found the back of the net with help from Jake Christiansen and Bryce Kindopp.
Dennis Williams, Everett’s head coach, said postgame, “It is funny with our group, when we do that sometimes we play real well or we don’t. I thought we were able to keep going off of it. Anytime you can come into this rink and kind of quiet their crowd there, it is important and a tough building to get two points in. From my three years in the league, it is not very easy coming down here.”
Entering the night, the Silvertips boasted the league’s top power play, operating at 27.9 percent.
On Saturday night in Seattle, the Winterhawks struggled with first period penalties. The trends continued into Sunday evening as two more Portland penalties led to power plays.
Winterhawks captain Johnny Ludvig said, “We were getting frustrated and taking penalties. They have a good power play, so we have to stay out of the box and keep them off the ice.”
Everett’s power play showed exactly why they are so successful.
Cole Fonstad was given credit for the first power-play goal after a scramble in front of Joel Hofer. Coach Williams and his group only needed 15 seconds to find the back of the net.
A high sticking penalty in the neutral zone sent the Silvertips back to the man advantage. Captain Bryce Kindopp was perfectly positioned to the left of Hofer to clean up a rebound.
Everett only needed a combined 1:17 to net the two power play goals.
“I thought we got it back to simplicity, bodies to the net. There were a couple of goals there that were kind of scrambles around the net,” Williams mentioned. “We struggled on it the last couple of days, struggled in the sense of not finishing it off. We had some good looks and so forth.”
Often times when teams play one another so many times in a season, tendencies are known in both directions. Williams knows that and was able to get his message across. “In order to score against a team like Portland, they do a good job on their kill, they are number two in the league, they block a lot of shots. If you are going to want to score, you have to get to the blue paint areas.”
At the buzzer, Hofer made a strong push from his right to the left to keep the score 3-0 heading to the intermission.
Special teams were once again a factor as the game moved to the middle frame.
Cole Fonstad was caught on two separate occasions for a minor penalty. However, not only was Portland unable to cut into the Everett lead, the Silvertips extended the lead.
Clay Hanus was trying to walk the blue line but instead lost an edge and went down. Goncalves had a clean breakaway from his own blue line in on Hofer. The signed St. Louis Blues prospect stopped the initial shot, but Ethan Regnier poked home the rebound for his 12th of the year.
“That was huge,” Williams said about the shorthanded goal. “Gage gets that breakaway, he stays with it, and then Ethan Regnier’s stick getting in there and batting that home made it 4-0 for us. It gave our bench a boost for sure.”
The shorthanded goal was the fourth given up by the Winterhawks this season.
In his best attempt to get the crowd, and his team, back into the game. Kishaun Gervais dropped the gloves with Justyn Gurney before the second period ended.
Through 40 minutes, Dustin Wolf stopped all 22 shots sent his direction by the Winterhawks.
Gervais, playing with his usual energy, finally solved Wolf for the Winterhawks. Tyson Kozak led a two-on-one rush and outwaited a sliding Silvertips defender before passing to the 18-year-old rookie.
The attempted comeback was short-lived for Portland. About four minutes later, Brendan Lee scooped up a drop pass from Jalen Price to beat Hofer glove side.
Everett scored its third power-play goal just over two minutes later on a blast by Kasper Puutio. The first overall selection in the 2019 CHL Import Draft, who was acquired from Swift Current at the trade deadline, netted his fourth goal of the season.
Portland’s power play was finally able to break through on a goal from Johnny Ludvig, but it was too little too late.
Most of the season, Portland has been able to rely on its scoring depth to help carry the team to victory. On Sunday, it was Everett’s turn to showcase its depth.
“You can’t rely on one line, or two or three guys,” Williams explained. “We need everybody to contribute. I think almost every line had goals there for us, or at least was on the ice for it. A lot of positives to take from it, but we also know it is still a long year.”
Both teams completed their third game in as many nights. Smiling from ear to ear, Williams mentioned, “Right from the drop of the puck, we competed hard for 60 minutes. All in all, our whole group played a really hard game, especially for the end of a three-in-three. I thought we did a real good job with our puck management and our decisions, especially at the end of a long weekend. It is easy to have those mental mistakes, but thought our guys were quite sharp.”
For only the second time in 2019-2020, the Winterhawks lost in regulation at home. After back-to-back losses this weekend, outside of Portland’s locker room, the area was very quiet.
Ludvig said, “We weren’t too happy with how we played tonight. I thought our battle and our compete levels were up high which was good to see, but we got away from our structure giving them too many good chances tonight.”
Portland has five days before it is back in action. The schedule is once again challenging for the Winterhawks — a third straight weekend with three games in three nights. However, the next three games are all on the road, starting Friday in Tri-City. After facing the Americans for the final time on the road, Portland will travel to Kent to battle the Thunderbirds. The final game of the weekend is another showdown with Everett.
To prepare for the week ahead, Ludvig shared his perspective. “It is a mixture of getting rested up and preparing for the teams we are playing next. We have Everett again next week. The boys will be excited for that one for sure.”
– Forward Reece Newkirk left the game early after colliding with Johnny Ludvig in the defensive zone. There was no update from the team on his status going forward. The next update will come via the WHL’s Weekly Report on Tuesday.
– Dustin Wolf finished the night with 35 saves on 37 Portland shots. Meanwhile, Joel Hofer turned aside 27-of-33 in the loss.
– Everett’s defense combined for six points on Sunday: Jake Christiansen 2A, Wyatte Wylie 2A, Ronan Seeley 1A, and Kasper Puutio 1G.
– With an assist on Johnny Ludvig’s power-play goal, Seth Jarvis extended his point streak to nine straight games.