For the first time ever, Seattle and Everett will meet this weekend in a playoff series (Thunderbirds photo)
By Andrew Eide
Eleven years. It took eleven years, but finally we have an Everett Silvertips and Seattle Thundbirds post season match up.
As the two fan bases get ready for what should be a tough and hard fought series, the two teams are preparing to face each other for Game 1 on Saturday evening at the ShoWare Center. Seattle has home ice advantage over Everett, something that was their goal from the start of the season.
As they beat Tri City Sunday night, they had to wait out and see if Portland could dispose of the Silvertips in a shoot out which would give them home ice.
"It was pretty exciting, the guys were all trying to get updates," head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. "They were all sitting in the locker room when that game was done in Tri City. We heard some pretty good cheers when the game went final and they accomplished their goal. I think now we've moved on to our next goal."
A year ago the T-Birds were preparing for a playoff series against the heavily favored Kelowna Rockets. Seattle only had a couple players that had any playoff experience whatsoever. After a highly entertaining seven-game series, the T-Birds now have a core of players who have been there before.
"The guys that played here, obviously, know what to expect a little bit more," Konowalchuk says of his team's experience. "They know the mental side of the playoff series and can help out the other players. Guys are excited, Its seems like they've had the playoffs on their mind for the last two,three weeks, and I think guys are finally excited to get going."
These two teams know each other well.
They played ten times this season, each winning five times, and most of the games were tight affairs that came down to the wire to decide. Konowalchuk says that knowing your opponent that well is ultimately a good thing. Even though they know you and your tendencies, he feels that it's always nice to know what you're going to be facing.
Seattle will need to be mentally tough in this series.
The Silvertips are a tough match up as they clog the neutral zone, daring you to turn the puck over so that they can capitalize. A lot has been made of the Everett trap this season, but Konowalchuk doesn't see the two clubs to be that dissimilar.
"I don't know that they play a whole lot different than us," he says. "I think we try to establish a little bit more of an aggressive forecheck. I don't think the styles are that different to be honest, the neutral zone is similar, the D-zone is pretty similar, I think its just a matter of who can play their game the best."
The neutral zone could be the key to who wins this series. When Seattle has struggled with Everett they did not manage the puck well, leading to turnovers and chances the other way. When they've won, they've been able to get the puck deep and ultimately get goals.
"That's with any game or series that you're playing," Konowalchuk says. "If you're clean through the neutral zone and do a good job that way, you're going to spend more time in the other team's offensive zone."
Getting a lead is also key for this series.
The Silvertips have only lost six times in regulation when they score first and only once when they have the lead after two periods. That one loss of course, was to the Thunderbirds. Konowalchuk says that the key to starting well is in your preparation.
"Be aware that they're going to be mentally ready and try to get the puck deep, go to work, and we're going to try to do the same thing," he said.
If you are able to get the puck deep against Everett you must then get the puck past goalie Austin Lotz. Lotz had another stellar year with a goals against average of 2.53. While he's good, the Everett defense helps him by blocking a ton of shots.
The Silvertips don't give up a lot of shots, something the T-Birds will need to be ready for.
"You have to be ready to shoot right away," Konowalchuk says. "If you hesitate they're going to get in the shot lanes...you're not going to get too many odd man rushes, or breakdowns. You've just got to crash and bang, get ugly goals with a lot of traffic and pucks on the net."
When it comes to offense, the Silvertips are lead by the line made up of Josh Winquist, Ivan Nikolishin and Jujhar Khaira. Winquist set an Everett record this season by potting 47 goals and that line is responsible for 37% of the Silvertips goals this season. Does that mean that we can expect to see Seattle's shut down line of Sam McKechnie, Scott Eansor and Jaimen Yakubowski matched up with Winquist?
"Quite a bit, see what they do," Konowalchuk said. "It depends on what they do a little bit too...but Eansor's line has been good against them so definitely in key situations we want to get them against them. See how they're going to play those lines as well."
With the rivalry between these two teams, and what's at stake now that they are playing in the post season, there should be big and lively crowds in both buildings. Konowalchuk says that his guys remember the big crowds at last year's games against Kelowna.
"It's huge for our guys" he said of the ShoWare Center crowds. "Our guys really feed off that, if they get a couple of big hits here at home and the crowd gets behind them, they get a little bit extra jump from that. Our fans, I believe, are the loudest and the best fans in the league. Our players think that too, they really enjoy playing in front of a big crowd."
This series is unique in the format. Instead of the standard format that sees the higher seeded team get the first two games at home, this series will alternate venues for each game. If the series goes the full seven games than the T-Birds will end up with the extra game at home. Konowalchuk said that the format doesn't change the game plan, and just might end up being fun for everyone.
"Well, you've still got to win four games," he said. "We really thought through the scenario, the pros and cons, and we didn't really feel that there was enough negative that we could come up with, without trying it. It could be a lot of fun for the players, a lot of fun for the fans with the close proximity, good travel.
We just think it will be fun and we're excited to try it."
When Seattle hits the ice Saturday they will be looking to achieve their next goal of the year, to win a playoff series. They will get a chance to do that against one of their rivals, in a unique atmosphere -- it's going to take all hands on deck.
"I think its just going to have to be a collective effort," Konowalchuk says. "Different guys, different nights. Maybe its a big goal, or its Eansor shutting them down for one game. Barzal stepping up, or Troock, or a defenseman like Hauf or Wardley getting a big goal, you never know. That's what's exciting about the playoffs, you never know who's going to step up and be the guy."
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