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U.S. Division could be all but decided tonight when T-Birds host Silvertips

Seattle would retake first place in the U.S. Division with a regulation victory over Everett tonight (T-Birds photo)

For the tenth and final time this regular season, the Seattle Thunderbirds and Everett Silvertips will meet Friday night. In what has quickly become the most important game of the season, Seattle will once again attempt to jump Everett for first place in both the U.S. Division and the Western Conference.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the head-to-head numbers this season:

Seattle vs. Everett 5-4-0-0 (10 points)
Everett vs. Seattle 4-3-1-1 (10 points)

Seattle at home vs. Everett 4-0-0-0
Everett at Seattle 0-3-0-1

Seattle goals for vs. Everett 23 (15 at home)
Everett goals for vs. Seattle 21 (7 on the road)

Seattle top scorers vs. Everett
Mathew Barzal 12 points (3 goals, 9 assists)
Keegan Kolesar 7 points (5 goals, 2 assists)
Ethan Bear 7 points (3 goals, 4 assists)
Ryan Gropp 7 points (1 goal, 6 assists)

Everett top scorers vs. Seattle
Kevin Davis 9 points (0 goals, 9 assists)
Riley Sutter 8 points (5 goals, 3 assists)
Matt Fonteyne 6 points (4 goals, 2 assists)
Patrick Bajkov 6 points (2 goals, 4 assists)
Dominic Zwerger 6 points (2 goals, 4 assists)

In this series, the bottom line is that both teams have been far better at home than they have been on the road, making home-ice advantage an even bigger priority heading into the playoffs.

The last two games in the series have been anomalies when compared to the rest of their head-to-head matchups this season. On March 4, Everett beat Seattle 4-2 at Xfinity Arena in a contest that was not nearly as close as the score would indicate, with the ‘Tips controlling the pace for nearly all 60 minutes. The February 26 contest, when Seattle defeated Everett by a score of 6-1, was an accurate representation of how dominant Seattle was the last time these two teams met at the ShoWare Center.

For Seattle, losing this game realistically all-but-dooms them if they want to hang a second consecutive division champion banner in the ShoWare Center rafters. They’d be down by three points in the standings with two fewer games to try and make up that difference. By no means impossible to overcome, but incredibly difficult, and you’d need a lot of help from a team that has won seven of their last 10. Even if the T-Birds win, their destiny remains out of their hands as Everett would then trail by just one point in the race but would still have two games in hand.

The remainder of Seattle’s schedule after tonight looks as such:

March 11 at Portland
March 15 at Spokane
March 18 vs. Portland
March 19 vs. Vancouver

No game in this league is considered an easy win, but neither Spokane nor Vancouver really have much to play for other than pride at this point, as both have been eliminated from the playoffs. Portland currently sits eighth in the conference and has locked down a spot in the postseason, but still has plenty of opportunity to climb.

For Everett, their remaining schedule is far more road-heavy:

March 11 at Tri-City
March 12 at Portland
March 15 at Kelowna
March 17 at Victoria
March 18 vs. Victoria
March 19 at Tri-City

In addition to five of their final six games being away from Xfinity Arena, the ‘Tips will be playing against four teams that all still have something to play for. Tri-City and Portland are separated by just three points in the standings. Victoria and Tri-City are currently tied for sixth in the conference, and Kelowna trails Prince George by just two points for first place in the B.C. Division. On the season, Everett maintains a .650 winning percentage on the road, compared to a .742 home winning percentage.

If Seattle can pull out a victory tonight – especially a victory in regulation — it will go a long way towards giving them a chance to win the division and conference. Not only that, but should the two teams eventually finish tied in the standings, a Seattle victory tonight would give them the edge in the league’s second tie-breaker, which is head-to-head points between the two teams. The first tiebreaker is overall wins, of which Seattle currently has 42 and Everett has 40.

The key to victory for Seattle tonight? Get out to an early lead. And if you should happen to fall behind early, don’t let that deficit grow to more than one goal. When the ‘Tips jumped out to an early 3-0 lead last Saturday, we saw how they were quickly able to switch gears to the conservative, neutral zone trap style we’ve seen them employ for the last few seasons. It felt like Seattle was never really able to put together sustained possessions in the offensive zone, and beating Carter Hart on shots from the blue line won’t happen very often.

A very telling statistic that holds true for both teams is that they are far more successful when leading after one period. The T-Birds are 24-1-2-1 when ahead after 20 minutes, while the Silvertips are 25-0-0-2. The first period tonight could very well determine where these two teams finish relative to one another in the playoff race.