There is nothing quite like the thrill of playoff hockey and tonight was no exception. From the moment of warm-ups there was a buzz in the air as both teams took to the ice. Could Seattle take advantage of home ice? Would Everett’s Carter Hart, who’s playoff save percentage lingered below .900 return to his regular season form?
It looked as though Seattle was still buzzing from the overtime win in Everett as center Matthew Wedman won the first face-off, Seattle drew an interference penalty right in front of the crease of Hart and just seconds later buried the puck on a rebound at 1:38 in the first. Coach Matthew O’Dette would later say it was probably the Thunderbirds best period of the year. The Silvertips responded immediately with deep, consistent pressure in the Thunderbirds’ zone but to no avail. The extracurriculars between the whistles indicated this game would be everything that is right with playoff hockey.
By eight minutes into the first the shots on goal were 17-5 for Seattle and while Everett didn’t look out they were certainly reeling. The Thunderbirds were attacking with superior passing and time of possession but at 8:56 in the first the Tips evened the score off a deflection in front of Seattle net-minder Liam Hughes. In a game of seconds and inches, just one chance is all it takes.
A roughing double minor on Sean Richards of Everett and a 10 minute misconduct on goalie Carter Hart later the game was absolutely chippy. Hart, who was given the penalty after he said he was slashed and then defended by Richards, indicated he was happy his teammate stood up for him.
By the end of the first we were witnessing offsetting minors, Sami Moilanen was headed to the locker room early with an injury from a bad landing on what seemed like a clean hit. Seattle’s dominant 24 shot first period was mostly stymied by Hart doing exactly what he’s known for, playing the part of human top. Should the series go their way, you could look to this period of this game was one of the turning points.
The second period saw the end of one four on four set of penalties and the beginning of another. A short time later as Everett enjoyed the tail end of their 5 on 4 advantage Matt Fonteyne notched a power play goal and his first goal of the playoffs. And while Seattle looked dominant in the first, the score showed the Silvertips ahead on goals and creeping steadily towards even on the shot count as the gap closed to five by the end of the second period. If not for an absolutely inhuman save by Liam Hughes of Seattle, Everett would surely be leading 3-1 already.
For all the accolades and attention Hart earned throughout the year and early in this game, as Everett came roaring back offensively Hughes was the man of the hour. He slide across the goal crease flashing the leather with perfect execution, kept his rebounds to the outside, and played marvelously through multiple penalty kills and seemingly endless time in his defensive zone.
Everett gets the empty-netter with 30.8 to go. For the first time in the playoff history between these two teams, the Silvertips will have a 2 games to 1 lead.— TBird Tidbits (@TBirdTidbits) March 28, 2018
The game ended on a empty net goal from Matt Fonteyne with 30.8 seconds remaining, two goals for the previously scoreless center from Everett. I had a chance to chat with Thunderbirds coach Matt O’Dette after the game and ask him what Seattle needed to change heading into game four.
“We got off our game plan a little bit,” he responded. “We have to have a short memory from tonight and look at our first period and see if we can duplicate that.”
And while coach O’Dette was upset to lose his top six winger, he said that initially he didn’t see anything in the hit that indicated it would’ve been a penalty, though he hadn’t gone back to look at video yet.
As for Everett, I asked Carter Hart what it’s like to have a bounce back game after his short rough stretch in games one and two.
“You just have to worry about things day by day and you set yourself up for greater success.”
Clearly the highly sought after goaltender is focused not only on his play, but also on the short memory success requires at the WHL and higher level.
At the end of the night it was a bitter end to the game for Seattle and a much needed win for Everett, who for the first time ever find themselves up 2-1 in a playoff series against the Thunderbirds. Friday night’s showdown at ShoWare is sure to be one for the ages as the implications of game four loom large in the Northwest.