The Everett Silvertips had a chance to finish off the Tri-City Americans at home on Saturday and send themselves to the WHL Finals for the first time since their magical inaugural season 15 years ago. And for 7 seconds, it looked like they would succeed. Riley Sutter helped prove the importance of faceoffs by winning the opening draw. Ondrej Vala got the puck to Connor Dewar, who got a good shot on net and tapped in his own rebound to give the Silvertips the lead before most people could sit down with their first beer.
Unfortunately for the Silvertips, hockey games last a touch longer than 7 seconds, as some players seemed to forget.
“I’d definitely say we probably played 7 seconds of that first period,” said head coach Dennis Williams, “and then I don’t know if we thought it was just going to be easier or not, but they took it to us.”
The Americans regrouped and played like any team trying to stave off elimination should: desperately. They led in the shot counter 10-7 in the first, but their powerplay was again stymied by the Silvertips and Carter Hart, who inches closer to local legend status with each passing series. But the way they took control of the period was an indication that they just wanted it more.
“We expected them to be desperate,” said Dewar postgame, “and they were more desperate than we were. We were outmatched by their desperation.”
Forward Matt Fonteyne echoed his teammate’s sentiment.
“We knew they were going to come out hard and we didn’t answer the bell as well as we needed to. They’re a good team, they’re here for a reason, and they have a lot of guys that can make you pay if you take a couple shifts off.”
The second period struggles continued for the Silvertips, just like they have all series. Juuso Valimaki tied the game early on a shot that just barely squeaked through Hart.
Everett woke up a bit after the goal and managed some good offensive pressure, but a couple great saves by Patrick Dea and his goalposts (yes both of them) held the Silvertips at bay. Then with just over 7 minutes remaining, Jordan Topping created a turnover in the Everett zone and threw it to the front of the net, where Nolan Yaremko found a hole in what looked like Hart’s stomach and gave the Americans their first lead of the game.
The period finished with the Silvertips outshooting the Americans 19-7, but the Americans were the only ones to find the back of the net.
The Americans opened the scoring in the third when Valimaki walked in from the point and lifted an impressive backhand that went blocker-crossbar-skate and in for his second of the night.
The Silvertips couldn’t get anything going the rest of the period. The Americans were very stout defensively, and were able to capitalize on their chances while Everett sat back without getting much more than soft point shots on net.
“We know we’re going to get their best, and I didn’t think we gave our best,” said Williams. “Not to take anything away from their game. I thought they played an effective road game and they came and got what they needed. They weathered the storm
With 4 minutes left the Americans made it 4 straight goals when Parker AuCoin got his first of the night.
The Silvertips managed to stop the bleeding and make it a little more interesting when Dewar got his second of the game just a minute later.
But is was for naught, and a Michael Rasmussen empty netter put the final nail in this one. It was an all around tough night for the Silvertips. They struggled to get much going for most of the night, and the chances they did get were denied by a hot goaltender, those goalposts, and an all around hungrier Tri-City Americans team. Looking to game 6, Coach Williams is looking for his big name guys to step up and make the most of those opportunities.
“We need players to make plays. We need individuals to step up out there. I thought we had too many guys that were just kind of not fully bought in. It’s the compete of every shift. We gotta be better. We have to make some plays and score goals there. We had lots of opportunities, but we have to be willing to stay in the paint. I thought sometimes we were just doing flybys in there and you got to be patient, got to be ready to take cross-checks and slashes. If you want to score goals this time of year, that’s right where you have to hang out. We had our chances and we didn’t bury them.”
The Silvertips get their second chance to close out the series in Kennewick on Monday night.