#WHLPlayoffs Preview: Seattle Thunderbirds (WC2) vs. Everett Silvertips (1)
With the 2018 WHL Playoffs set to begin Thursday, March 22, WHL.ca provides a look in at each of the eight head-to-head matchups across the league.
With a general introduction, vital statistics and keys to the series, we’ve got everything you need to know heading into the 2018 WHL Playoffs. While the usual suspects are known, our ‘Players to Watch’ section will take a deeper dive into some of the supporting characters set to take on a big role in the post-season.
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 ignite.
In our fourth of eight opening round 2018 WHL Playoffs previews, we examine the U.S. Division Champion and Western Conference regular season champion Everett Silvertips taking on their neighbours to the south in the Seattle Thunderbirds, who earned the second wild card spot in the Western Conference.
Whether it lasts four games or seven, there’s no denying the hotbed of hockey excitement in the Seattle area. Whether you’re in Kent with the Seattle Thunderbirds or north with the Everett Silvertips, this may ultimately prove to be the closest of the four first round series involving a division winner and wild card team.
Of the 10 games in the regular season series, eight were decided by a single goal, with the Silvertips carrying a 6-2-0-2 record and the T-Birds claiming a 4-4-2-0 record in battles between the two clubs.
The playoff history between the two teams has been confined to the previous four seasons, with the T-Birds coming away victorious in all three matchups. This year’s Silvertips squad is perhaps the most offensively dangerous we’ve ever seen them at. For the Thunderbirds, the groundwork has been laid throughout the season series for a first round upset and the defending Ed Chynoweth Cup Champions would love nothing more than to actually pull it off.
To do that they’ll have to once again be victorious inside Angel of the Winds Arena in downtown Everett, where games one and two will take place on Friday, March 23 (7:35 p.m. PT) and Saturday, March 24 (7:05 p.m. PT). The series will then shift to Kent, Wash. for games three and four on Tuesday, March 27 (7:05 p.m. PT) and Friday, March 30 (7:35 p.m. PT).
— The WHL (@TheWHL) March 18, 2018
Game 1 – Friday, March 23 – Angel of the Winds Arena – Everett, Wash. – 7:35 p.m. PT
Game 2 – Saturday, March 24 – Angel of the Winds Arena – Everett, Wash. – 7:05 p.m. PT
Game 3 – Tuesday, March 27 – accesso ShoWare Centre – Kent, Wash. – 7:05 p.m. PT
Game 4 – Friday, March 30 – accesso ShoWare Centre – Kent, Wash. – 7:35 p.m. PT
*Game 5 – Saturday, March 31 – Angel of the Winds Arena– Everett, Wash. – 7:05 p.m. PT
*Game 6 – Tuesday, April 3 – accesso ShoWare Centre – Kent, Wash. – 7:05 p.m. PT
*Game 7 – Wednesday, April 4 – Angel of the Winds Arena – Everett, Wash. – 7:05 p.m. PT
Oct. 22: Seattle 4 at Everett 3
Nov. 17: Seattle 2 at Everett 3
Nov. 18: Everett 0 at Seattle 2
Jan. 26: Seattle 1 at Everett 3
Jan. 27: Everett 2 at Seattle 3 (SO)
Feb. 16: Everett 4 at Seattle 3 (OT)
Feb. 17: Seattle 3 at Everett 2 (SO)
Feb. 24: Everett 2 at Seattle 1
Mar. 3: Seattle 1 at Everett 2 (OT)
Mar. 10: Everett 3 at Seattle 2
|Everett Silvertips||vs.||Seattle Thunderbirds|
|47-20-2-3 (99 points)||Record||34-28-8-2 (78 points)|
|First – U.S.||Division Standing||Fifth – U.S|
|246 (11th)||Goals For||250 (10th)|
|167 (First)||Goals Against||258 (15th)|
|23.5% (Ninth)||Power Play||22.9% (11th)|
|84.5% (First)||Penalty Kill||78.1% (10th)|
|Lost Round 2||2016-17 Playoffs||Won WHL Championship|
|Patrick Bajkov – 33-67—100||Leading Scorer||Nolan Volcan – 32-44—76|
|Matt Fonteyne – 35-53—88||Second Leading Scorer||Donovan Neuls– 22-54—76|
|Garrett Pilon – 34-46—80||Third Leading Scorer||Zack Andrusiak – 36-38—74|
|Connor Dewar – 38 goals||Top Goal Scorer||Zack Andrusiak – 36 goals|
|Kevin Davis – 10-55—65||Top Scoring Defenceman||Austin Strand – 25-39—64|
|Carter Hart (31-6-1-3, 1.60, .947, 7 SO)||Top Goaltender||Liam Hughes (16-12-5-1, 3.15, .909)|
Key to the Series – Everett Silvertips
Trust the process: The team’s go-to social media caption is “It’s a great day to be a Silvertip’. Over the course of the 2017-18 WHL regular season, there were plenty of days where it was a great day to be a Silvertip, something the team and their fans should remember. There’s a reason they are the top-seeded club in the Western Conference and back-to-back U.S. Division champions.
With arguably the best goaltender in the Canadian Hockey League at the top of his game, a solid defensive core and forward group brimming with offensive talent, there’s a reason to believe this year will be the year where things are different for the Silvertips. Their previous playoff losses to the Thunderbirds can be learned from, and Seattle won’t be a pushover, but going in with their head held high and the confidence of how they got to where they are now should be enough to keep them rolling through the first round.
Key to the Series – Seattle Thunderbirds
History is on their side: In the three playoff series between the two clubs, the Seattle Thunderbirds have always broken the hearts of their neighbours to the north, with the Thunderbirds ending the Silvertips’ season in the past two campaigns. Granted this is a Thunderbirds team without the likes of Mathew Barzal, Ethan Bear, or Scott Easnor but it hasn’t caused a complete drop-off in the team’s play this season either.
That’s something that should excite fans of the Thunderbirds, who had a taste of championship success last year and are hungry for more. As much as regular season series can often indicate how a series will go, the only realistic prediction worth making going in is that we’ll see a lot of overtime battles between these two clubs, an extremely early gift for fans of playoff hockey. Two of Seattle’s 15 road wins this season came in Everett and given how close playoff games can be, the slightest bounce in the T-Birds favour could shift their entire series in their favour again.
C Garrett Pilon (34-46-80): An acquisition by the Silvertips near the WHL’s Trade Deadline, the Washington Capitals prospect has tallied 36 points (16G-20A) in 30 games with Everett. He also topped the charts of leading scorers in the head-to-head series, though nearly half his points came with the Kamloops Blazers. There’s no denying Pilon’s offensive skill and Everett’s ability to be a scary team offensively with him in the lineup.
For the wow factor some of the teams possess in the standalone talents of one or two players, the Silvertips are different from that. With four players surpassing the 30-goal plateau this season and another three hitting or surpassing the 20-goal milestone this year’s U.S. Division title was a complete team effort from top to bottom. Everett’s top scorer, Patrick Bajkov (Florida Panthers), their captain Matt Fonteyne or their goals leader Connor Dewar could have easily fit into this section as well. Then there’s 2018 NHL Draft prospect Riley Sutter and his 25-goal campaign or a 24-goal performance from Bryce Kindopp, also eligible for this year’s NHL Draft (wink wink, nudge nudge).
C Donovan Neuls (22-54-76): As much as the Thunderbirds should celebrate the past two seasons, they should also understand that the core from those teams are moving on and will need to be replaced with a new core intent on capturing another championship. Having said that, Donovan Neuls is the immediate contradiction to the previous statement.
The overage forward finished tied for the team scoring lead this season and is the highest-scoring returning player from the team’s championship run last year with 23 points (8G-15A) in 20 games. In fact, Neuls has been apart of the T-Birds last two playoff runs and could join an exclusive list of players to appear in three straight Rogers WHL Championship Series with the same team.
The Thunderbirds will need contributions from all parts of their lineup in order to be successful, but players like Neuls will be counted on especially so.
Defenceman to Watch – Everett Silvertips
D Kevin Davis (10-55-65): When the Silvertips have needed offensive production from their blueline over the past four seasons, they’ve turned to players like Kevin Davis. The overage defenceman from Kamloops, B.C. has had a career year, topping his 59-point campaign from the 2016-17 season. He’s done it while also setting career-highs in even-strength goals, short-handed goals, and points-per-game.
For a player who has appeared in 347 WHL regular season games and 38 WHL playoff games, he’s shared in the successes and tough defeats of the team over the past four seasons. With the end of his junior hockey career looming, you know Davis will be one of the players giving his all for the Silvertips in each game to ensure that they reach the promised land once again.
Defenceman to Watch – Seattle Thunderbirds
D Austin Strand (25-39-64): Of all the free agent overage skaters to sign entry-level contracts with NHL clubs this season, the Los Angeles Kings might come away with the steal of them all. Strand has picked up offensively where Ethan Bear left off, leading all Western Conference skaters in goals and finishing 11th overall in defensive scoring.
Though he was able to taste championship success last season, Strand is no doubt hungry for more and the Calgary, Alta. product is eager to get the playoffs rolling. It’s not a stat that will define Strand’s WHL career, but with just two goals in the season series against Everett this campaign, he’ll be counted on to chip in more this time around while also playing against some of Everett’s top lines. How he handles that will weigh greatly on Seattle’s plans for an upset.
Goaltender to Watch – Everett Silvertips
Carter Hart (41 GP, 31-6-1-3, 1.60 GAA, .947 SV%, 7 SO): Every series often looks for a game-changer to break through at the right moment and tip the scale’s in his team’s favour in a way the opposing team can not recover from. Philadelphia Flyers prospect Carter Hart has been that game-changer all season. Behind a studded offence and blue line, Hart has held his opponents to two goals or fewer in 34 of his 41 games this season, making 30 or more saves in 17 of those games. He once again finished with the best save percentage and goals-goals against his peers.
Having won gold with Canada at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship, tying the WHL’s all-time record for career shutouts and doing so much more between the pipes, having Hart at the top of his game will make Everett a tough team to challenge in the entire WHL, let alone the Western Conference.
Goaltender to Watch – Seattle Thunderbirds
G Dorrin Luding (28 GP, 9-15-1-0, 3.78 GAA, .884 SV%, 1 SO): The Thunderbirds rolled with the tandem of Liam Hughes and Dorrin Luding this season to strong play from both at points. Hughes will more than likely see the bulk of the time in net during this series, but the Thunderbirds haven’t been shy to turn to Luding throughout this season when searching for a spark. He managed to secure one of Seattle’s four wins against the Silvertips this season, stopping 41 of 43 shots. His stats may not show it, but Luding is capable of taking over a game when required. Having spent the first bulk of the season with the Silvertips, Luding is the surprising answer to the trivia question about who recorded the first shutout for the Silvertips this season (a 29-save performance Oct. 6 against the Calgary Hitmen). If things don’t start well for the T-Birds, Luding could be the answer they need.
Playoff History – Everett Silvertips
In 15 years, the Everett Silvertips have accomplished plenty, but the Ed Chynoweth Cup has always eluded their grasp. With their moves throughout the season and play down the stretch, there’s no question that the Silvertips are focusing intently on this year to be the year they realize their championship aspirations. Of their five previous U.S. Division titles, three have featured exits in the second round of the playoffs with one exit in the Western Conference Final and of course their lone trip the WHL Championship in their inaugural season. As back-to-back U.S. Division Champions for the second time in franchise history, is this the year they power through all the playoff exits of years past and hoist the Ed Chynoweth Cup?
Playoff History – Seattle Thunderbirds
As the defending Ed Chynoweth Cup Champions and with a trip to the 2016 WHL Championship Series, the success for the Thunderbirds is recent and very rich. Before recording double digit playoff wins in back-to-back seasons there had been years of frustration for the T-Birds, missing the playoffs in three straight seasons before having a combined nine playoff wins in three seasons. They’re matched up well against the Silvertips team, but with so much change from last year’s championship roster, the question now becomes a matter of who will step up for the T-Birds if they are to be victorious.
Head-to-Head Playoff History – Everett Silvertips and Seattle Thunderbirds
2016-17: Seattle Thunderbirds defeat Everett Silvertips 4-0 in Western Conference Round 2
2015-16: Seattle Thunderbirds defeat Everett Silvertips 4-1 in Western Conference Round 2
2013-14: Seattle Thunderbirds defeat Everett Silvertips 4-1 in Western Conference Round 1