By Nick Patterson, Herald writer

It's hard to imagine a group of junior hockey players more ecstatic about going through the mundane routine of practice on Monday than the Everett Silvertips.

The Tips could easily have found themselves undergoing exit meetings and packing up to go home. Instead, they're preparing for the first round of the playoffs.

Everett's second-half drive paid off as the Tips squeezed into the playoffs on the final day of the season, taking the eighth and final berth in the WHL's Western Conference.

"It feels awesome," Tips winger Ryan Harrison, who was Everett's top offensive threat down the stretch, said following Monday's practice at Lynnwood Ice Center. "That's what we've been focused on and working toward the past couple months here."

Said Everett defenseman Brennan Yadlowski: "There were definitely a lot of doubters, and we proved a lot of people wrong. There was never a doubt in our mind we could make it. We always believed in our team and the guys we have."

It's hard to imagine this is the same Everett team that had just six wins at the turn of the new year and was 10 points off the bottom of the conference standings. But the Tips won 12 of their final 23 games to finish two points ahead of Seattle for the last spot.

"We knew we had a group here that if we stayed healthy and had good efforts from guys, it was a team we felt would make the playoffs from day one," Everett coach Mark Ferner said.

"The credit has to be given to the kids," Ferner added. "They worked so hard over the past two months and they're playing with lots of confidence. I'm a believer that the kids will decide when to go home. As of right now this group isn't ready to go home yet."

But the Tips needed help at the end. Everett kept its season alive with a dramatic 6-4 victory at Seattle on Saturday. Then the Tips found themselves in the unusual position of rooting on U.S. Division rival Portland on Sunday as the Winterhawks played host to the T-birds in the final game of the regular season. Seattle could have forced a one-game playoff with Everett by beating Portland. However, the Winterhawks made sure there was little drama Sunday night, handling the T-birds 8-2 to send the Tips into the postseason.

For Yadlowski it was particularly awkward pulling for Portland. Yadlowski was handed a 10-game suspension by the league after he angrily invaded the Winterhawks locker room following Everett's 7-3 loss at Portland on Feb. 3. Before Sunday's game Yadlowski poked fun at the situation on Twitter when he tweeted, "If Portland beats Seattle I'll come in their room again ... except this time to kiss every one of them."

But Yadlowski was able to put his history with Portland aside for one day.

"That was a tough one," Yadlowski said. "I talked to (Portland defenseman Troy) Rutkowski a bit, kind of gave him a little incentive to beat them. It was tough to be a Portland Winterhawks fan for a night. But after that first period we pretty much knew it was over."

Everett's prize for getting into the playoffs? A date with the top-seeded Tri-City Americans. Tri-City finished the season with 104 points, which was nearly double Everett's 54. The Americans feature the league's scoring champion in Brendan Shinnimin, three players who breached the 100-point barrier, and won the season series with Everett 6-2.

However, Everett can take heart from the fact the Tips have played Tri-City tough of late. The last three meetings included a comprehensive Tips victory in Everett, plus two games in Kennewick in which the Tips were either leading or tied in the third period.

"We have our hands full, no question," Ferner said. "If you look at their team, they're ranked No. 5 in the country. We just wanted the opportunity to play somebody. They're a great hockey team with some great players who we have to be aware of."

The best-of-seven series begins Friday in Kennewick.