With the second round of the 2017 Western Hockey League Playoffs set to begin Thursday, April 6, WHL.ca provides a look in at each of the four head-to-head matchups across the league.
What fans can expect is a general introduction to the two teams, coupled with vital statistics and keys to the series. In our player-specific sections, we will highlight Players to Watch that do not serve as the usual suspects – the best of the supporting cast or perhaps the darkhorse playoff warrior.
Finally, we close each of our series previews with a quick look to the past for a brief historical take on the rivalry that exists – or stands to develop.
In our second of four second-round playoff previews, we examine an all-U.S. Division battle between the Everett Silvertips and Seattle Thunderbirds.
After emerging victorious from a marathon five-overtime game, one might think there’s no bigger game left to play, nothing left to prove.
But for the Everett Silvertips, they’ve got plenty left to prove as they take on the high-flying Seattle Thunderbirds in a greatly-anticipated all-U.S. Division second-round series.
These two teams went blow for blow throughout the regular season, with the Silvertips narrowly staking out the U.S. Division’s regular season title by a two-point margin. Everett hit the 100-point plateau with Seattle finishing at 98. But the Thunderbirds collected 46 wins, while the Silvertips managed 44.
On one side – a lethal offense that boasts Western Conference Player of the Year Mathew Barzal, veterans Ryan Gropp, Keegan Kolesar and Scott Eansor, along with Ethan Bear and his blueline cannon. On the other side – a stingy defense that features defending CHL Goaltender of the Year Carter Hart, captain Noah Juulsen, two-way ace Aaron Irving and the underrated Kevin Davis
The Thunderbirds skated to a four-game sweep of the Tri-City Americans in the opening round of the 2017 WHL Playoffs and they did it without the services of Barzal and overage goaltender Rylan Toth for the entirety, while also missing Gropp for a pair of games. The wellness of all three remains a question mark, but if the Thunderbirds have any hopes of advancing to a second consecutive WHL Championship, they will need the services of their crafty captain, Barzal.
Though the Silvertips enter Friday following four days rest from game action, that doesn’t change the fact they survived an eight-period odyssey to close out the Victoria Royals in Game 6 of their first-round series. What impact will that exhaustive clinching game have in the early stages of the second round? Hart was forced to make 64 saves in the CHL-record length game before journeyman Cal Babych finally closed the book 11:36 into the fifth overtime period.
— #WHLPlayoffs (@TheWHL) April 3, 2017
Game 1 – Friday, April 7 – XFINITY Arena – Everett – 7:35 p.m. PT
Game 2 – Saturday, April 8 – XFINITY Arena – Everett – 7:05 p.m. PT
Game 3 – Tuesday, April 11 – ShoWare Center – Kent, Wash. – 7:05 p.m. PT
Game 4 – Friday, April 14 – ShoWare Center – Kent, Wash. – 7:35 p.m. PT
*Game 5 – Saturday, April 15 – XFINITY Arena – Everett – 7:05 p.m. PT
*Game 6 – Tuesday, April 18 – ShoWare Center – Kent, Wash. – 7:05 p.m. PT
*Game 7 – Wednesday, April 19 – XFINITY Arena – Everett – 7:05 p.m. PT
Oct. 15 – Seattle (2) at Everett (3)
Nov. 23 – Seattle (0) at Everett (3)
Jan. 6 – Everett (3) at Seattle (4) – SO
Jan. 14 – Seattle (4) at Everett (3) – OT
Jan. 17 – Everett (1) at Seattle (3)
Jan. 20 – Seattle (0) at Everett (1)
Jan. 28 – Everett (2) at Seattle (3)
Feb. 26 – Everett (1) at Seattle (6)
March 4 – Seattle (2) at Everett (4)
March 10 – Everett (2) at Seattle (3)
|Everett Silvertips||vs.||Seattle Thunderbirds|
|44-16-9-3 (100 points)||Record||46-20-4-2 (98 points)|
|Third Place||WHL Standing||Fourth Place|
|First Place||Conference Standing||Second Place|
|First Place – U.S. Division||Division Standing||Second Place – U.S. Division|
|229 (15th)||Goals For||253 (T-8th)|
|169 (First)||Goals Against||206 (T-4th)|
|20.7% (11th)||Power Play||22.2% (Eighth)|
|85.8% (First)||Penalty Kill||83.3% (Third)|
|Eliminated in Second Round||2015-16 Playoffs||Lost WHL Championship|
|Patrick Bajkov – 29-49—78||Leading Scorer||Ryan Gropp – 35-49—84|
|Dominic Zwerger – 28-47—75||Second Leading Scorer||Mathew Barzal – 10-69—79|
|Kevin Davis – 9-50—59||Third Leading Scorer||Ethan Bear – 28-42—70|
|Patrick Bajkov – 29 goals||Top Goal Scorer||Ryan Gropp – 35 goals|
|Kevin Davis – 9-50—59||Top Scoring Defenceman||Ethan bear – 28-42—70|
(32-11-6-2-, 1.99, .927, 9 SO)
|Top Goaltender||Rylan Toth
(36-18-2-1, 2.75, .902, SO)
|2-1||Playoffs – Home Record||2-0|
|2-1||Playoffs – Road Record||2-0|
|16 (2.67/game)||Playoffs – Goals For||23 (5.75/game)|
|12 (2.00/game)||Playoffs – Goals Against||8 (2.00/game)|
|32.0% (Fourth)||Playoffs – Power Play||40.0% (Second)|
|72.2% (10th)||Playoffs – Penalty Kill||94.7% (Second)|
|Patrick Bajkov – 5-5—10||Playoffs – Leading Scorer||Keegan Kolesar – 3-8—11|
(4-2, 1.58, .938, SO)
|Playoffs – Top Goaltender||Carl Stankowski
(4-0, 2.00, .932)
Key to the Series – Everett Silvertips
Contain Keegan Kolesar: The 6-foot-2, 223-pound product of Winnipeg was an absolute beast with the absence of Mathew Barzal during the first round of the WHL Playoffs. His massive frame and high-end skill make him the perfect playoff power forward and the Everett defence will have its hands full as they try prevent him from bullying his way around the offensive zone and near Carter Hart’s crease.
Key to the Series – Seattle Thunderbirds
Score, score, score: No team is scoring at a greater rate in the WHL Playoffs than the Thunderbirds, granted nine of their 23 goals came in Game 3 of their first-round sweep of the Tri-City Americans. Still, they stacked up an average of 5.75 goals per game without the services of Barzal. When the captain returns to the lineup, look out.
Forward to Watch – Everett Silvertips
RW Cal Babych (2-1—3): With his fifth WHL team and after playing a mere 15 regular-season contests this season, the son of former NHLer Dave Babych stepped up when it mattered most in Game 6, scoring twice, including the fifth-overtime winner. He managed four points (2G-2A) in his 15 regular-season outings and already has three points (2G-1A) in six post-season games. The Silvertips need continued production from the likes of Babych to help alleviate pressure off of Patrick Bajkov and Dominic Zwerger.
Forward to Watch – Seattle Thunderbirds
RW Donovan Neuls (3-5—8): The pesky grinder was wildly effective in a first-round sweep of the Tri-City Americans and secondary scoring can’t be undervalued come playoff time. The 19-year-old product of Grenfell, Sask., has played a vital role as a checking winger for the Thunderbirds this season, but he can finish as well, having tallied 41 points (14G-27A) in 72 regular season contests.
Defenceman to Watch – Everett Silvertips
Wyatte Wylie (0-0—0): His name isn’t Noah Juulsen or Aaron Irving, but the 17-year-old hometown Everett kid is proving to be a blossoming presence on the Silvertips’ backend. At 6-feet tall and 175 pounds, the youngster is learning plenty from a quality crew of veteran blueliners and after playing in 71 regular season contests, he dressed for all six games in a first-round win against Victoria. Wylie might not see big minutes immediately, but he is a big part of the future on the blueline for Everett.
Defenceman to Watch – Seattle Thunderbirds
Jarret Tyszka (1-2—3): The 18-year-old product of Langley, B.C., has already caught the attention of NHL scouts, landing 33rd on Central Scouting’s midterm ranking of North American skaters. His 6-foot-3, 191-pound frame probably has something to do with that, but there’s no questioning this kid is more than just a big body – he can play. Originally named to the 2017 Sherwin-Williams CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game, Tyszka missed out after suffering an injury shortly before he was set to jet for Quebec City. Still, the former first-round bantam draft pick managed to post 25 points (6G-19A) in 54 regular season contests and he’s continued to produce in the post-season.
Goaltender to Watch – Everett Silvertips
Carter Hart (6 GP, 4-2, 1.58 GAA, .938 SV%, SO): If the Everett Silvertips hope to get through the Seattle Thunderbirds, Hart is going to be the difference-maker. In 2016, the Thunderbirds cruised to a five-game victory over the Silvertips in the second round of the post-season as Everett simple could not produce enough offense, scoring a mere seven goals in five contests. The 18-year-old product of Sherwood Park, Alta., has done nothing but improve over the course of his WHL career and the Silvertips are going to need his playoff performance yet if they’re to keep Seattle’s offense at bay.
Goaltender to Watch – Seattle Thunderbirds
Rylan Toth (58 GP, 36-18-2-1, 2.75 GAA, .902 SV%, SO): The 20-year-old product of Saskatoon was the main man between the pipes through the regular season, but injury prevented him from dressing during a first-round sweep of the Tri-City Americans. In his stead, rookie Carl Stankowski – with all of seven regular-season performances under his belt – stepped in and took care of the blue paint in admirable fashion. Should Toth be ready to go at some point in the second round, will the Thunderbirds hand the reins back to him or has Stankowski done enough to earn an extended opportunity in the playoffs?
Playoff History – Everett Silvertips
In 2015-16, the Everett Silvertips advanced to the second round of the WHL Playoffs for the first time since 2006-07. Now, in 2016-17, the hope is to go a few steps further. That 2006-07 Silvertips squad is arguably the best in franchise history, having tallied 54 wins and 11 points under the tutelage of Constantine. But even then, they were knocked out of post-season contention in the second round. Over the franchise’s 14 seasons, it has only advanced to the conference championship on two occasions – 2005-06 and 2003-04. Will this be the year the Silvertips make a long-awaited return to the Western Conference final? If so, they will need to find a solution for the Seattle Thunderbirds – the U.S. Division rival that put their playoff dreams to bed back in 2016.
Playoff History – Seattle Thunderbirds
The Seattle Thunderbirds suffered bitter defeat at the hands of the Brandon Wheat Kings in the 2016 WHL Championship, rendering the franchise still in search of its first Ed Chynoweth Cup. Prior to 2016, the Thunderbirds hadn’t seen a Western Conference final since being on the wrong end of a five-game set with the Kelowna Rockets back in 2003. The last WHL Championship appearance prior to 2016? It came back in 1997 when Patrick Marleau was a member of the Thunderbirds. Could Mathew Barzal be the man to help bring the Ed Chynoweth Cup to the Emerald City for the first time?
Head-to-Head Playoff History – Everett Silvertips and Seattle Thunderbirds
2015-16: Seattle Thunderbirds defeat Everett Silvertips 4-1 in Western Conference semifinal
2013-14: Seattle Thunderbirds defeat Everett Silvertips 4-1 in Western Conference first round