On paper, the Western Hockey League first-round playoff matchup between the Tri-City Americans and the Everett Silvertips looks a bit like David vs. Goliath.
The Americans won the U.S. Division title and first place in the Western Conference with a 50-18-2-2 record. They allowed the least amount of goals in the league (190), had the top penalty kill (84 percent), and have Bob Clark trophy winner Brendan Shinnimin (134 points) driving the scoring express that accounted for 281 goals this season.
Tri-City has a whopping 358 games of playoff experience, with Adam Hughesman and Shinnimin combining for 100.
The Silvertips (22-40-2-8), on the other hand, sneaked in the backdoor of the playoffs after Seattle dropped its season finale to Portland. Their top player is defenseman Ryan Murray, and as a whole, the team has just 102 games of playoff experience.
"Those numbers are all well and good, but the numbers are all zero, zero, zero right now," said Tri-City coach Jim Hiller, whose team was 6-2 against Everett during the regular season. "We have a good team and we know that. Everett is a different team than they were in the first half. They were missing their best defenseman (Murray) and a centerman (Manraj Hayer) earlier in the season, and they added another really good centerman (Reid Petryk) in a trade."
The Silvertips earned points in six of their last 10 games. The solid play of goaltender Kent Simpson and being healthy were keys to earning those points.
"Obviously, Kent is a good goalie and is playing with confidence," Everett coach Mark Ferner said. "Losing Ryan early in the year hurt our group. Reid is not the flashiest guy out there, but he has solidified our forward group. What our kids have accomplished is pretty amazing with what we have gone through with the injuries and losing our general manager (Doug Soetaert). As players and coaches, we felt like we didn't do a good enough job and that wears on you."
Ferner appreciates the effort his team has put forth since the Christmas break, but taking on the Americans is a tall order.
"The kids have worked so hard the last couple of months and we have scratched for every point," Ferner said. "We are happy to be here playing somebody -- maybe not the Americans. They are a great hockey team. We are up against it, no doubt about it. Their first line is one of the best in the league and they are going to get their opportunities and get their goals. They are deeper than that first line. We are going to have to have some great efforts by some guys to give ourselves a chance."
A key matchup in the series will be Tri-City goaltender Ty Rimmer versus Simpson, a 2010 second-round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks. The Edmonton natives workout together in the summer with goalie coach Blaine Russell.
"It's always fun to play against someone you know," Simpson said. "It will be a fun battle, but it's nothing more than what it is -- a playoff game. They have a very skilled team on their end and that can help a goalie, but I have confidence in our team, as well. They deserve credit for the season they've had, but it's a whole new season and you never know what will happen in the playoffs."
Both goalies have the same amount of limited playoff experience (nine games between them), but Rimmer has had the advantage of a stingy defense in front of him and a high scoring offense at the other end of the ice.
"Lots of our guys have been in the league a long time and have playoff experience, but Kent is a solid goalie and a big guy," Rimmer said. "We have to get shots to the net and go upstairs on the rebound. That's his weakness."
Rimmer, who was named Western Conference Goalie of the Year on Thursday, said playing Everett eight times during the season has allowed him and Eric Comrie to pick up tendencies of the Silvertips' top shooters.
"We have studied their systems and we will be ready defensively," Rimmer said. "It's playoff time and we know they will come hard and we won't look past them."
While Rimmer has seen his numbers take a turn for the better this year, Simpson has seen his drop (3.33 GAA, .909 save percentage).
"I think my game has been pretty good all year," Simspon said. "There have been ups and downs, but I think I've played well down the stretch. I feel comfortable with my game."
The Americans and Silvertips have met twice before in the playoffs, with Tri-City winning 4-1 in the first round in 2009, and Everett taking a first-round series 4-1 in 2006.