WHL Playoffs: Silvertips on the doorstep after 3-1 Game 4 win
KENNEWICK – As great as Everett’s Carter Hart was Thursday night, he got a little help late.
Holding on to a tenuous 2-1 lead, and the Tri-City Americans buzzing, a shot from Jordan Topping got past the Everett goalie. As it flung over his shoulder it looked like Game 4 of the Western Conference Final was going to be tied up. Instead, it hit the cross bar and rebounded to safety.
“It took a couple of weird bounces,” Hart said of the near miss. “It bounced over top of my shoulder and hit the cross bar I thought ‘holy cow’. But when you’re playing hard and playing the right way you’re going to get lucky bounces like that. We definitely played really hard tonight.”
The Americans had cut a 2-0 lead down to one early in the third and then began buzzing. Hart made nine of his 29 saves and after the puck off the cross bar, Matt Fonteyne would end it with an empty-net marker to give Everett a 3-1 win as they take commanding three-games-to-one Western Conference Final lead.
In a warm Toyota Center, the puck was bouncing and both teams played desperate hockey.
“I think it took a little for both teams (to get going),” Everett head coach Dennis Williams said. “It was a really hot building out there tonight and pucks seemed to be bouncing on both sides. We did a really good job in the second, started using our speed a little bit more and transitioning.”
As they have all series, the Silvertips took the first lead in the game. It didn’t come until the second period however as both goaltenders left a physical first period with a clean slate.
The goal came at 9:48 of the period after Tri-City’s Anthony Bishop broke a stick and was unable to stop the puck from getting to Riley Sutter. The Silvertips forward scored his sixth of the playoffs by beating Patrick Dea over the glove.
“It was pretty lucky how he broke his stick there,” Sutter said of the goal. “We knew after we beat them in Game 3 that they would come out harder than they had before. I think they out worked us for the majority of the game but we had a couple of lucky bounces that went our way.”
With the one-goal lead, Hart would step up.
Everett killed off three Tri-City power plays in the period, with the third being Hart’s best. He came out of his net and challenged Dylan Coghlan, who had the puck in a scoring position in the slot. Hart absorbed the shot and kept the Americans at bay.
After allowing four goals in back-to-back starts, Carter Hart was having none of it Thursday.
“That’s huge,” Williams said of the penalty kill. “I thought Carter played a great game out there for us. He was solid, aggressive, limited his rebounds, and tracked pucks really well.”
A couple of minutes later Everett’s Reece Vitelli would give the Silvertips all the offense they would need when he snapped a quick shot past Tri-City goalie Dea to make it 2-0 at 17:22.
That sent the Silvertips to the second intermission with what felt like a commanding lead.
Tri-City would get one back 5:45 into the third when Riley Sawchuck would pot a rebound off the rush. That goal gave the home team momentum and they continued to push the pace. Hart fought through traffic but managed to make all the saves necessary.
“I wasn’t really overthinking,” Hart said of the third. “We got some huge clears near the end of the game when they were pressuring…we’re excited for an opportunity on Saturday.”
Everett’s road record in the post season moved to 6-0 with the win and once again they held Tri-City’s top guns, Michael Rasmussen and Morgan Geekie, off the score sheet. The two prolific goal scorers have only managed two goals at even strength – one of which was an empty-net goal in Game 2.
The Silvertips have been doing it with the Garret Pilon, Riley Sutter, and Connor Dewar line all series.
“They have multiple top guys,” Sutter said. “They’ve had a very good playoffs and season. It’s pretty important to try and shut them down and limit their chances. We all know they’re going to get chances, but we try to limit them as much as possible.”
With the series now on the brink, it shifts back to Everett for a Game 5 on Saturday night.
The Silvertips have been here in each of their previous two playoff series and each time took care of business by shutting out their opponent. This time, winning will send them to the WHL Championship round for the first time in 15 seasons.
“We know they’re going to come out hard and have a good hockey club,” Hart said about Game 5. “They came out hard tonight and we have to be ready for it. I don’t think the prep changes at all, we just have the same approach and mindset for Saturday.”