(Everett, WA) After winning eight straight games to start the WHL playoffs, the Tri-City Americans had not had to face too much adversity. Their power play and top line were clicking at an incredible 48 percent rate and they piled up 46 goals in just eight post-season contests.
Friday night’s Game 1 at Angel of the Winds Arena brought them the U.S. Division champion Everett Silvertips and a whole lot of adversity.
The matchup between two very hot lines in Michael Rasmussen centering Morgan Geekie and Kyle Olson for Tri-City and Riley Sutter centering Garrett Pilon and Connor Dewar lived up to expectations as they were in on all five goals in the contest.
Pilon scored twice and Sutter and Dewar each added two points as Everett jumped out to a 2-0 lead and then overcame a comeback from Tri-City in the second, to score late in the middle frame and go on to win 3-2.
The Silvertips now lead the best-of-seven series 1-0 with Game 2 coming tomorrow in Everett.
Everett Head Coach Dennis Williams was happy with his team’s fast start.
“One of the things we talked about before the game was trying to get that first goal,” Williams said. “Getting the fans going and putting them on their heels quickly. It was a great goal by Peels (Pilon) there to rip it and we were able to get that fortunate bounce there on Dewar’s goal there. I thought in the first we had a good jump and we were skating good there.”
Tri-City lost for the first time in the WHL postseason and how Everett scored the game winner after the Americans had tied the game two, will not sit well with them or their star defenseman Juuso Valimaki.
Everett forward Sean Richards collided with Valimaki near the Tri-City net, taking him down and freeing up room for him to find Pilon in front for the 3-2 lead.
Tri-City Head Coach Mike Williamson was not happy with the lack of a call on Richards for the play. “It was a missed call. It has to be called. It was a slew foot-trip that led directly to a scoring chance. It happens throughout the game but unfortunately that ended up in the back of our net. I don’t think it was a gray-area it’s just one that was missed.”
The Silvertips struck first in the series as Dewar made a nice play to set up a 2-on-1 with Pilon. Rather than pass, Pilon filed a shot by Patrick Dea for his seventh of the playoffs.
The goal came off a turnover and that would be the story for Tri-City as Everett forced them to give the puck up often in the opening frame.
It would be how Everett scored their second goal as well.
Dewar picked off a pass from Dylan Coghlan and drove to the net getting a backhand chance off that was stopped. Dewar smartly stuck with the play and flipped the puck off of the back of Dea and into the air. Both Jake Bean and Coghlan waved their sticks at the puck in the air and Bean tapped it into his own net.
Two turnovers for the Americans and two goals against.
Tri-City Head Coach Mike Williamson was disappointed with how his Americans started the game. “I thought we were a little slow out of the gate. I thought we had a chance but that third goal ended up being a big one. We made a couple of errors with the puck that led to their goals and they are an opportunistic team. They force you into those plays sometimes and the possession can change pretty quick. They are a fast team.”
Tri-City was handed a little bit of life late in the first as Dewar was called for charging at the 20 minute mark, giving the Americans a full two minute power play to start the second.
That is not something you want to give to Tri-City in the 2018 playoffs.
Dennis Williams thought that the Tri-City power play cam as advertised. “We knew coming in that was one of their strengths. I think it was 49 percent so it is probably up to 52 now. They have weapons that can score up there and we gave them too much time.”
47 seconds into the second, Morgan Geekie dished off to Bean and then set up to receive a pass between the face off dots. Geekie then fired home his 16th of the postseason.
Then after two Everett teammates collided at the Tri-City blue line, causing a bad line change a too-many men penalty was called on the Silvertips.
The Americans power play cashed in yet again, but not in the way they usually do.
Everett goalie Carter Hart left the puck behind the net for defenseman Jake Christiansen but Rasmussen, who had just missed receiving a breakaway pass was right there and tucked home the puck. The goal was his 11th and tied the game two.
Tri-City had found their legs in the series and utilized the man advantage to tie the game and fully overcome their sloppy play to start.
The Americans would end up going 2-of-3 on the man advantage in the game, while Everett failed to convert on any of their three opportunities.
Then with 2:48 left in the second, Richards took down Valimaki, Pilon scored and Everett had a one-goal lead after 40 minutes of hockey.
After an up-and-down second that was aided by three combined power plays, the third was much tighter with the teams combining for 16 shots – 12 less than the second.
Everett kept the pressure up on Tri-City, while not allowing them much room to operate in their zone.
Williams was pleased with the home team’s defensive effort in the third that only allowed eight Tri-City shots.
“We did a good job of keeping five guys in the picture and not giving up too many odd-man rushes. They come at you in waves with Valimaki and Coghlan who get up the ice. A lot of their opportunities came off of line rushes. Defensively I thought we did a good job of staying inside the dots and keeping them outside.”
The Americans pulled Dea late for an extra attacker and had some looks, but could not find the equalizer, falling 3-2.
Williamson feels that his team can push past the tough loss and come back tomorrow with a better 60-minute effort. “You just have to put it behind you. If we were on the right side of things tonight, we’d be talking about the importance of forgetting about it and being ready for tomorrow. It’s a long series we expect and you have to be ready to go back-to-back, especially the guys that played a lot have to take care of themselves and be ready.”
Hart turned away 24 of 26 for Everett, while Dea stopped 30 of 33.
-Everett with the home-ice advantage went with the line of Sutter, Pilon and Dewar and defense pair of Ondrej Vala and Kevin Davis against Tri-City’s top line of Michael Rasmussen, Kyle Olson and Morgan Geekie at seemingly every opportunity.
-Tri-City defenseman Anthony Bishop did not play a lot in the second and third periods, but Williamson said that his team is healthy. This leaves open the possibility that Bishop did not see much of the ice for other reasons.
-Williamson referenced players that “played a lot” in the game. At the top of that list would be his trio of NHL-signed defensemen Bean, Coghlan and Valimaki who played a majority of the third period. How much those three play will be something to watch for in this series.
-Topping led the way in shots for Tri-City with five, while Everett was led by Pilon’s six.
-Geekie was 11-for-19 from the face off dot for Tri-City; Nolan Yaremko was 6-for-13 and Riley Sawchuk went 7-for-12. For Everett Matt Fonteyne was 11-for-20, Sutter went 8-fo-20 and Reece Vitelli was 3-of-10.
-Tri-City is now 13-fo-26 on the power play in the playoffs for 50 percent.
-5,181 fans were in attendance in Everett for the game.