It’s coming down to the wire in the Western Hockey League. Just three weeks left in the season and every win is treasured and every loss is a dagger in the heart.
Everett’s Josh Winquist and Patrick Bajkov supplied a pair of daggers Saturday night, each scoring in the shootout as the Silvertips handed a 3-2 loss to the Tri-City Americans before a crowd of 4,767 at Toyota Center.
“We had some great efforts by some guys and some guys whose effort wasn’t good enough,” said Americans coach Jim Hiller.
It was the sixth consecutive loss for the Americans (27-28-3-4, 61 points), who saw their lead over the Prince George Cougars cut to one point for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
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The Silvertips (30-23-7-1, 68 points), who won at Tri-City for the first time this season, remained in seventh place in the West, seven points in front the Americans.
“It’s crunch time and you can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Silvertips coach Kevin Constantine. “It makes for close, intense games.”
Tied at 2 after regulation and overtime, the game went to a shootout, where Tri-City opted to shoot first.
Braden Purtill missed his shot, but Winquist connected at the other end. Brian Williams scored for the Americans, and Bajkov replied at the other end to give the Silvertips a 2-1 lead.
Parker Bowles, who had both Tri-City goals in regulation, needed a goal to keep the shootout going, but was denied by Austin Lotz.
A 1-1 tie after two periods turned into a 2-1 Everett lead at 6:07 of the third as Matt Pufahl’s shot from the high slot flew past Americans goalie Eric Comrie.
It took a few minutes, but the Americans knotted the score at 2 as Bowles scored his second of the night at 11:57 off an assist by Beau McCue.
The Americans killed off an Everett power play with less than 5 minutes to play, not allowing the Silvertips a shot on goal.
Neither team could find the net the last 2 minutes of regulation, send the game to overtime.
In the extra session, Everett outshot the Americans 5-1, but Comrie gobbled them all up.
Comrie finished with 39 saves.
“We had our fair share of shots, but Comrie is a good goalie and makes it hard to get easy goal,” Constantine said.
The Americans took charge of the game early in the second as Bowles scored on a rebound off a shot by McCue at 1:30.
McCue had pulled the puck out of a pile of players along the wall to the right of Comrie and took it up ice. He put a shot on Everett goalie Austin Lotz, who turned it aside, but the puck bounced off Bowles’ thigh and into the net at 1:30.
“It’s been a tough road for Parker since he came back from his latest injury,” Hiller said. “Tonight he played hard and was passionate. He played his best game. We need to see more of that from him.”
The Silvertips wasted no time in pulling even. Noah Juulsen’s shot from the point caromed off the back boards and the puck bounce around before Remi Laurencelle tucked it in at the right post at 2:39.
Everett was the beneficiary of a 5-on-3 power play at the end of the second period and a few seconds into the third, but the Americans allowed just three shots on goal.
In a scoreless first period, the Silvertips outshot the Americans 14-6, including a dandy one by Winquist, who came off the bench, took a pass from Jujhar Khaira and went in alone on Comrie at 15:53. The Americans goalie came out and challenged Winquist and made the save.