Cole Kehler has not had a great last month of his overage WHL season. Since February 10th, Kehler lost three of his last five starts, with the only two wins coming against the last place team in the Western Conference, the Prince George Cougars. Kehler had only one game with an above 0.900 save percentage over that span.
With Shane Farkas earning more starts and shutting out the high-powered Tri-City Americans, who was going to get the net when the WHL playoffs begin was starting to come into question.
Kehler made a very good argument Sunday evening that, despite the play of Farkas, the net will be his come playoff time. He stopped all 28 shots that he faced from the Everett Silvertips, earning his second straight shutout against the Silvertips and his fourth shutout overall this year. Back on January 31st, he stopped all 21 shots Everett fired at him for a 3-0 shutout win.
Kehler again beat Carter Hart thanks to strong defensive play in front of him that did not allow any choice rebounds and goals from defenseman Henri Jokiharju and Brendan De Jong.
Hart stopped 29 of 31 for the ‘Tips.
The strong defensive effort was all the more impressive because it came without top penalty killing forward and one of the best forwards in his own zone in Alex Overhardt. The center, who had a goal and an assist in Portland’s loss to Tri-City Saturday night, was scratched with what is believed to be an illness.
Everett’s power play went 0-for-5 thanks to Kehler and a solid effort from the penalty killers.
Portland opened the scoring thanks to a marker from Carolina Hurricanes prospect Brendan De Jong. The lanky blue liner’s shot from the point pin balled around and got by Hart, giving Portland the game’s first goal with 9:54 left in the first period.
The first period did not come without some bad news for Portland though as fourth line grinder Lukus MacKenzie left the game after being checked awkwardly into the half-boards in the Everett zone. He left and did not return. With only 13 healthy forwards on the roster, if Overhardt’s ailment holds him out for long and MacKenzie needs any time to recover, they could be short handed up front.
Everett threw a ton of pressure on Kehler and Portland in the second, but Kehler stopped all 12 shots that came his way.
On a power play of their own in the third period, Jokiharju put Portland up by two. He took a feed from Glass and beat Hart with a hard shot from the point that Hart had trouble tracking. The assist was Glass’ second on the night and helped him get to a career-high 95 points – one better than the 94 he put up a season ago.
The Hawks went 1-for-3 on the man advantage.
Everett did not go away quietly as they pulled Hart for an extra attacker and used a power play to have six skaters to Portland’s four in the late going. They still could not crack the overage L.A. Kings prospect though and Kehler visibly celebrated his win more than any he has in recent memory.
Portland went 5-4-0-1 vs Everett, while the Silvertips held a record of 5-5 in the season series with Portland.
The Portland win helped hold off Everett clinching the U.S. Division title. They are now four points up on Portland with both teams only having three games left.
The win does come close to clinching home-ice advantage in the first round for Portland as they are now seven points up on the Spokane Chiefs with the latter team having four games left.
The Silvertips next play in Kennewick vs Tri-City on Tuesday.
Everett then plays a home-and-home with Victoria starting Friday in Everett.
Portland plays a home-and-home with Seattle, starting at the Moda Center on Friday. They then close out the regular season with a home game vs Spokane next Sunday.