Road to the Memorial Cup: Silvertips take game one of WHL Championship
If Game 1 of the 2018 Rogers WHL Championship Series was any indication, folks are in for one heck of a treat.
WHL Goaltender of the Year and WHL Player of the Year Carter Hart turned aside 34 pucks and forward Connor Dewar struck for the game-winning goal 1:49 into the third period as the Everett Silvertips edged the Swift Current Broncos 2-1 to claim a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven Rogers WHL Championship Series.
For Dewar, an 18-year-old product of The Pas, Man., his 10th goal of the 2018 WHL Playoffs may have been the biggest he’s scored to date as it helped his Club get out in front to open the 2018 Rogers WHL Championship Series.
It was a mere 1:50 into the third period when Dewar made the most of a scoring opportunity, redirecting a point shot past a helpless Stuart Skinner. A nervous hush settled over the Innovation Credit Union i-Plex sellout crowd of 2,890.
“We had a good shift, we were working it down low, rolling and spinning off guys,” Dewar said Friday evening. “The puck went up top, I went to the net and got a stick on it.
“[Getting traffic in front] was really important. Skinner is a really good goalie and if he’s going to see it, he’s going to stop it.”
The Silvertips managed to control the puck for a significant portion of the remaining time in the third period, though the Broncos remained tenacious on the forecheck in search of their own chances.
“I thought we did a really good job in the first game here on the road in this building, which is very tough to play in,” said Dennis Williams, head coach of the Everett Silvertips. “We had a great power-play goal to start us off [in the first period]. We came out in the second [period] and I think the ice probably tilted in favour of Swift Current.
“I was really proud of our response in the third [period]. We started playing the way we should play. I thought we skated, played a 200-foot game, got a big goal to start the third and from there, we backed up each shift with a positive each time.”
Among Hart’s 34 saves was a 10-bell showstopper as time wound down in Game 1.
With 1:57 to go in the third period and Everett protecting a 2-1 lead, a loose puck squirted into the low slot, right onto the tape of notorious sniper Matteo Gennaro, who wired a quick wrist shot that was labelled for the top corner. Making it look more routine than a Grade-A scoring chance should be, Hart calmly snapped it up with the trapper as Gennaro could only shake his head in disbelief. That turned out to be the best scoring chance the Broncos saw in the final two minutes of play and it entered the highlight reel as the biggest of Hart’s 34 stops.
“I felt good in the net and we did a really good job of limiting their chances to the outside,” said Hart, a prospect of the Philadelphia Flyers. “We did a really good job throughout the whole game of our ‘D’ zone coverage and got a lot of key blocks during the game. Guys were laying their bodies on the line to get the blocks… it just goes to show what this means to our whole group.”
The frantic fervour of the final two minutes of play was limited to that stretch of the evening. The puck hadn’t even dropped on Game 1 of the 2018 Rogers WHL Championship Series and the Innovation Credit Union i-Plex in Swift Current was already fully charged, a deafening roar thundering throughout the rafters.
Fast and physical is how the first period started and that only throttled a raucous Swift Current crowd into an even greater frenzy.
The first power-play opportunity of the series went to the Silvertips. With 5:42 to go in the first, Washington Capitals prospect Beck Malenstyn caught a Silvertips defender with a knee in the corner, prompting a quick call. And it didn’t take long for the visitors from Washington State to suck the air out of the i-Plex.
Only 25 seconds into the man advantage, Florida Panthers prospect Patrick Bajkov took a loose puck from the faceoff circle, powered his way to the top of the crease before wrapping a power-play effort past Skinner for his 14th goal of the post-season a 1-0 Silvertips lead.
Just as he was on his game late in the festivities, Hart did his part between the pipes to preserve a first-period lead for the visitors. Perhaps his best stop of the opening 20 minutes came with only 14 seconds to go as Giorgio Estephan snapped a quick wrister in on net following an offensive zone faceoff win.
“We expected exactly that tonight – Everett came in and did a real good job of making it real difficult for us to get to their net-front area,” said Manny Viveiros, head coach of the Swift Current Broncos. “When they had opportunities they cleared the zone.
“I thought both teams played very well tonight. The goaltenders were very, very good for both teams. [The Silvertips] come as advertised – they battle hard for loose pucks, especially in their zone along the walls and especially in front of the net. We’ve got to do a better job [in Game 2] of getting to the net more and making sure we’re getting our shots through.
“I thought we played well. I was very happy with our effort.”
The physical play continued in the second period. Approaching the midpoint of the game, Arizona Coyotes prospect Tyler Steenbergen and Bajkov got tangled up in the Everett zone with tempers boiling over though the mitts managed to hold their place.
Moments later, Washington Capitals prospect Garrett Pilon was caught for tripping and the Broncos were off to their first power play of the series. Sustained pressure led to a number of chances, and while the man advantage had expired, Aleksi Heponiemi used the offensive zone control to even the affair.
From high in the slot, Gennaro sent a long shot low along the ice, where Heponiemi – the WHL Most Sportsmanlike Player of the Year – redirected the rubber, beating Hart and tying the game 1-1 with 8:34 to go in the second. Just like that, life was breathed back into the Innovation Credit Union i-Plex.
“You’re always going to try to get to the net,” said Heponiemi, a prospect of the Florida Panthers. “I got a really good pass there.
“[The Silvertips] were blocking shots. That’s part of playoffs. You’ve got to maybe make an extra move and just get pucks through.”
With 7:30 to play in the second period, Dewar was able to sneak in behind the Broncos defense, skating in alone on Skinner for another high-quality opportunity. As he has been so consistently throughout the 2018 WHL Playoffs, Skinner was up to the task, turning away the veteran to maintain the tied score after 40 minutes of play.
The Broncos started the third period with good zip. An early rush saw Gawdin wheel from the right circle, finding Steenbergen for a one-timer in the high slot. Once again, Hart was there to respond.
Hart’s 34-save performance earned him his 13th playoff victory of the year as he improved to 13-4 in the 2018 WHL Playoffs. Skinner, a prospect of the Edmonton Oilers, was also admirably excellent to open the 2018 WHL Playoffs, knocking away 23 pucks.
“I thought both teams played really well,” Skinner said. “Carter Hart did his job, too. He came up with some big saves at the right time. It’s a tough first game for us, but overall, I thought we played well. We’ve just got to come out the same [in Game 2].”
Pilon finished the night with a pair of helpers for the Silvertips, boosting his team-leading point total to 26 (11G-15A).
Game 2 of the 2018 Rogers WHL Championship Series is scheduled for Saturday, May 5 (7 p.m. MT) at the Innovation Credit Union i-Plex in Swift Current.