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Wednesday, March 21, 2007 - Page updated at 02:00 AM

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Silvertips

Mueller back for playoffs opener

Special to The Seattle Times

Peter Mueller looked a little gaunt, but it was hard to tell with the big smile on his face.

Mueller missed the final five games of the regular season for the Everett Silvertips with a double bout of the flu but expects to be at full strength for the playoffs.

"I'm feeling good and I'm getting better," Mueller said. "It was pretty tough. I got the flu and then just as I started getting better, I got it again. I lost a couple of pounds, but it's not hard to gain it back."

Everett rolled through the regular season with the best record in the Western Hockey League (WHL) at 54-15-1-2, but the players are taking nothing for granted when they open the playoffs at home Friday against the Spokane Chiefs.

Spokane, 36-28-4-4 in the regular season, is the fourth seed from the U.S. Division but went 4-4 against Everett in the regular season.

"We won't underestimate them," Mueller promised. "We know everything will be more intense and that we can't afford to have an off night."

Everett rewind


Record: 54-15-1-2. The Silvertips won the Western Hockey League (WHL), Western Conference and U.S. Division regular-season titles and will have the home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs.

Last week: The Silvertips lost to Prince George 3-1, lost to Tri-City 3-1 and beat Vancouver 2-0.

This week: The Silvertips face Spokane in the opening round of the WHL playoffs with games in Everett on Friday and Saturday and in Spokane on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Star of the week: Defenseman Jonathan Harty scored the game-winning goal against Vancouver and soaked up minutes as Everett rested several players.

Who's hot: Leland Irving made 29 saves to post his 11th shutout of the season in the season finale against Vancouver.

Rankings this week: The Silvertips were ranked first in the WHL in the final poll of writers who cover the league.

Playoff tickets: Single-game and playoff packages are available at www.everettsilvertips.com or by calling 1-866-332-8499.

Jim Riley

Zach Hamill, the talented Everett forward who won the WHL scoring title with 93 points, admitted he'll be thinking defense when he's on the ice with Spokane's Michael Grabner.

Grabner, a first-round pick of the Vancouver Canucks, had a hat trick in one game against the Silvertips and tallied the game-winning goal in a shootout in another.

"With a guy like Grabner out there, you have to take some of the risk out of your game," Hamill said. "He's one of the fastest guys in the league, so you really have to know where he is."

Mueller had four goals and an assist in his last two games before getting the flu, both victories over Spokane. Mueller finished with 21 goals and 78 points in only 51 games this season.

"I think all I really need is some practice time," Mueller said. "With the players we have, that chemistry doesn't go away."

Everett coach Kevin Constantine said the Silvertips won't change their game now that the playoffs are here.

"The playoffs are more fun and more exciting, but we're so focused on our daily regimen and that won't change all that much," Constantine said. "Spokane is an explosive team with a lot of firepower. Grabner is just the headline player. They've got a lot more scoring than that."

The Chiefs rotated goaltenders Dustin Tokarski and Kevin Armstrong throughout the season, and both ended up with a 2.80 goals-against average.

"We don't really prepare for one goaltender or another and it would be hard to predict which one will play, so it won't really affect us," Constantine said. "Both have had strong games against us. We're more worried about our game than who might be in goal."

The Silvertips will counter with Leland Irving, who led the WHL with a 92.9 save percentage. Irving, a first-round draft pick of the Calgary Flames, was especially sharp in shutting out Vancouver in the season finale.

Irving finished with 11 shutouts and backup David Reekie added three to tie Everett for the most in WHL history. The Silvertips allowed the fewest goals in the WHL (143) and the fourth-fewest in WHL history.

"It's nice to go into the playoffs knowing that both are capable of starting," Constantine said. "Both finished strong down the stretch."

Moises Gutierrez, who led the team with 35 goals, returns after missing the last four games with a concussion. Brennan Sonne is also expected to return after a spleen injury, leaving only Taylor Ellington and Mike Alexander as question marks for the opening game.

"While you never want injuries, there's always a side benefit that other guys get a chance for more ice time and to gain confidence," Constantine said. "Lukas Vartovnik and Brandon Campos both stepped in and scored some key goals when other guys were out of the lineup."

The Silvertips have the home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs and that has been a key for the team all season. Everett is 34-4-0-1 at home, but two of the losses came against Spokane.

"We have so much respect for the rest of our division that we've known for a long time that this was going to be a very challenging matchup," Constantine said. "The regular season record shows just how competitive this series is going to be."

WHL playoffs
Spokane vs. Everett

First round, best of seven

# Day, date Site Time
1 Friday Everett 7:35 p.m.
2 Saturday Everett 7:05 p.m.
3 Tuesday Spokane 7 p.m.
4 March 28 Spokane 7 p.m.
5* March 30 Everett 7:35 p.m.
6* April 1 Spokane 6 p.m.
7* April 3 Everett 7:05 p.m.
* If necessary

Spokane vs. Everett
How the teams fared against each other during the regular season:
Date Site Result The skinny
Oct. 6 Everett Spokane 2, Everett 1 (SO) Michael Grabner scores game-winner in the shootout
Oct. 13 Spokane Spokane 5, Everett 2 Michael Grabner scores hat trick for Spokane
Oct. 25 Everett Everett 3, Spokane 0 Leland Irving stops 20 shots for Everett
Dec. 13 Spokane Spokane 4, Everett 2 Kevin Armstrong makes 22 saves for Spokane
Jan. 5 Spokane Spokane 1, Everett 0 Kevin Armstrong stops 23 shots for Spokane
Feb. 9 Everett Everett 2, Spokane 1 Zach Hamill scores game-winner and David Reekie stops 21 of 22 for Everett
March 3 Everett Everett 3, Spokane 0 Peter Mueller scores twice and Leland Irving makes 29 saves for Everett
March 6 Spokane Everett 6, Spokane 2 Peter Mueller has two goals and an assist for Everett

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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