WHL Playoffs: Everett edges Tri-City in Game 1 of Western Conference Finals
EVERETT – Garret Pilon found himself alone in the slot late in the second period of a tied game Friday night at the Angel of the Winds Arena.
His Silvertips teammates battled with several Tri-City Americans in the corner and Sean Richards would come out of the scrum with the puck. He spotted Pilon and hit him with a pass that allowed the Everett winger to square, and fire a wrist shot that beat Tri-City goalie Patrick Dea. It was Pilon’s second marker of the night and turned out to be the game-winning score as Everett won Game 1 of the Western Conference Final by a 3-2 tally.
“It was a good battle down low there by (Riley) Sutter and I was high guy,” Pilon said of the play. “I saw Richards pick it up and I just went to a hole. He made a nice soft pass to me and I had quite a bit of time to pick a spot there.”
It was the first post-season loss for Tri-City ,who were paced offensively by goals from both Morgan Geekie and Michael Rasmussen. While Pilon was scoring for Everett, goalie Carter Hart kicked out 24 American shots to get his ninth win in the playoffs.
Defensively, Everett held Tri-City to its lowest goal output in the post season and limited the Americans to just 26 shots. Tri-City had averaged over 30 shots on goal in its previous eight contests and just under six goals per game.
“I thought we did a really good job of keeping five guys in the picture and not giving up the odd man rushes,” Everett head coach Dennis Williams said. “Obviously, they come up the ice in waves…I thought defensively we did a good job of staying inside the dots and keeping them to the outside.”
Williams deployed the line of Pilon, Riley Sutter, and Connor Dewar against Tri-City’s top line that featured Rasmussen and Geekie – two of the top three WHL playoff scorers. It was the same Everett trio that slowed down Portland’s top line in the second round.
While Geekie and Rasmussen found the net on the power play, they were held scoreless while playing five-on-five.
“It’s just 100-opercent staying consistent with the little details,” Pilon said about slowing down Tri-City’s top guns. “We weren’t 100-percent and got a little bit lucky at times. But I think if you can stay good defensively against those guys, stay close to them, and eliminate their space, they get frustrated.”
With 5,181 excited fans in the building Friday, the Silvertips wasted no time in getting the home patrons on their feet.
An early neutral zone turnover by Tri-City a minute into the game lead to a two-on-one break for the Silvertips. Pilon would keep the puck and beat Dea over the shoulder to give Everett a lead on its first shot of the night.
“It was one of the things we talked about before the game, to try and get that first goal,” Williams said. “Get the fans going and put them on their heels quickly.”
Another first-period turnover would cost the Americans 11 minutes later. Dewar intercepted an errant pass and after his initial shot was stopped, he flung the puck back at the net where a Tri-City defender knocked it in the goal while trying to clear it.
Down two goals, the Americans would push back in the second period.
Geekie cut the Everett lead 47 seconds into the period on a Tri-City power play. It would be Geekie’s 16th of the post season as he received a pass in the slot from Jake Bean and loosed a wrist shot that beat Hart’s blocker.
Tri-City would then take advantage of a Hart misplay behind the Everett net to tie the game at the 3:55 mark on another power-play chance. Hart funbled the puck and left it for Rasmussen to pick up and wrap around into the empty goal for his 11th of the post season.
The Americans ended the night 2-for-3 with the man advantage.
“A little bit of a layup for Rasmussen,” Williams said. “We can’t leave a puck and it doesn’t help that he’s six-four, or six-five and can do an easy wrap around. What I was real happy with was that they put us on our heels after that goal and we just stuck to it. We chipped away and chipped away.”
Sticking to it would lead to Pilon’s game winner at 17:12 of the second period. Tri-City players protested to the officials after the play, saying that defenseman Juuso Valamaki was knocked down with a slew foot during the battle for the puck in the corner. No call would come and the play stood.
In the third period, Everett clamped down on the Americans and got two big Hart saves on Geekie in the game’s final five minutes to seal the victory.
With the win, the two teams will try to recover and get back on the ice Saturday night for Game 2. Tri-City will be looking to rebound from a loss for the first time in the post season while Everett will look to ride the momentum from Friday’s win.
“It’s just a reset when we come tomorrow,” Pilon said. “It’s a playoff thing. You come prepared for the next game and don’t stay too high after this one.”
Eastern Conference Final
In the WHL’s Eastern Conference, the Swift Current Broncos took a 1-0 lead by beating the Lethbridge Hurricanes 3-2. Swift Current got a goal and assist from Aleksi Heponiemi and 39 saves from goalie Stuart Skinner in the win. Former Seattle Thunderbirds goalie Logan Flodell stopped 27 shots in the loss. Heponiemi’s goal broke a 2-2 tie midway through the third period to give the Broncos a big home win. The two clubs will play Game 2 Saturday night.