Thunderbirds, Silvertips surprise in WHL playoffs, but remain wary
The Seattle Thunderbirds and Everett Silvertips may have shocked the Western Hockey League with wins to open the playoffs, but both remain...
Special to The Seattle Times
The Seattle Thunderbirds and Everett Silvertips may have shocked the Western Hockey League with wins to open the playoffs, but both remain decisive underdogs in their opening-round series.
The seventh-seeded Thunderbirds are up 2-0 against the second-seeded Kelowna Rockets, but coach Steve Konowalchuk said his team still needs to play its best to even have a chance to win.
"We have so much respect for their team that to go up there and win two games, we had to be at our best," Konowalchuk said. "Anything less than our best and they will win, fairly easily in their building."
Games 3 and 4 of the best-of-seven series will be played in Kent on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Kelowna had 28 more wins than Seattle in the regular season and was a WHL-best 31-5 at home, but Seattle shocked the Rockets with 5-4 and 2-1 overtime wins in Kelowna last weekend.
"We weren't supposed to win any games and with their depth and talent we're still the underdogs," Konowalchuk said. "Our guys played hard, competed for each other and were really committed to defense. It was fun to watch."
Rugged Seattle defenseman Jesse Forsberg tied for 200th in the WHL in scoring in the regular season with 26 points. He's tied for fourth in scoring in the playoffs with a goal and three assists in Seattle's two wins.
"He played two really good games," Konowalchuk said of the 6-foot-1, 212-pound defenseman from Waldhelm, Saskatchewan. "He was really solid on defense and we expected that of him because he's a really good player.
"He played his game and was able to chip in offensively when we needed it. All our defensemen were good."
The eighth-seeded Silvertips surprised the top-ranked Portland Winterhawks 4-3 in the series opener before Portland evened the series with a 4-1 win. Games 3 and 4 will be played in Everett on Wednesday and Friday.
"We're pretty happy with a split. I don't think many people gave us a chance to do well," Everett coach Garry Davidson said. "It was a combination of (Austin) Lotz playing really good in goal for us and top-to-bottom we were just much more focused."
Lotz made 55 saves in Everett's opening win and has stopped 85 of 92 shots in the two games and Kohl Bauml has two goals and an assist in the two games.
"Portland was first by a long way and the class of the league so we really have to continue to work very hard and do all of the little things right," Davidson said. "If we deviate from that, we'll be in trouble."
Portland had 32 more wins than Everett in the regular season including winning nine of 10 in the season series with the Silvertips. But the Silvertips won the last time the teams met in Everett, a win Davidson said sent out a message of what was possible.
"Our group is not overconfident," Davidson said. "But we are confident that if we play our game, we can beat these guys."