As the warmth of early summertime descended on Portland over the weekend, the Winterhawks hosted the Edmonton Oil Kings at the Rose Garden Arena in the first two games of the WHL Championship series.
Rematch for the Chynoweth Cup
As the warmth of early summertime descended on Portland over the weekend, the Winterhawks hosted the Edmonton Oil Kings at the Rose Garden Arena in the first two games of the WHL Championship series. A rematch of last year’s final, which Edmonton won in seven games, the series will determine who takes home the Ed Chynoweth Cup and goes on to represent the WHL in the Memorial Cup to determine junior hockey supremacy.
NHL scouts and beat writers were on hand for a firsthand glimpse of the prospects in action on both squads, including Seth Jones, the Portland defenseman projected as the first overall pick in next month’s draft. Portland had a hard time shaking off the rust of a weeklong layoff between rounds as Edmonton, fresh off a seven-game slog against the Calgary Hitmen, stole the first game. The Winterhawks came back and returned the favor on Saturday night, however, and the two WHL powerhouses exited Portland tied at 1-1 in the series.
Game 1: Forfeiting home ice
The Rose Garden buzzed on Friday with the energy of 10,097 giddy spectators.
Cowbells clattered throughout the venue, and fans pushed up the decibel levels as they exhorted the Winterhawks to score. But with the exception of the vastly outnumbered contingent of Edmonton supporters that made the trip from Canada for the occasion, the crowd left the arena two hours later hoarse and deflated following a 4-1 defeat.
After Portland dominated the first two minutes of play, Edmonton got their first opportunity to counterattack, and the visitors made the chance count, scoring on their first shot of the game. Coming fast across the blue line behind teammates Travis Ewanyk and Martin Gernat, Dylan Wruck finished the play to beat Mac Carruth and put Edmonton ahead in the early going.
The Winterhawks almost had the equalizer with 8:08 left in the period as Brendan Leipsic, Nicolas Petan and Ty Rattie cycled the puck on a 3-on-1 breakaway. Petan hit Leipsic with a pass in front of the goalmouth, and it appeared that the winger had tapped the puck past Laurent Brossoit to even the score. But referee Brett Iverson was quick to wave off the goal, and the video review confirmed that Leipsic had in fact gotten some help from his skate. With two minutes left in the period, Petan and Rattie raced toward goal on a 2-on-1 shorthanded breakaway. Rattie bungled the chance, shooting low into the goalie’s pads—a rare misfire for the leading scorer in the postseason, and one that he would inexplicably replicate 40 seconds later.
“We weathered the storm. We bent, didn’t break,” Edmonton coach Derek Laxdal said after the game. “[Brossoit] was outstanding with some of his saves in the first period—it was our goalie who got the first game here.”
Edmonton added to their lead midway through the second period, when Henrik Samuelsson collected Stephane Legault’s centering pass for the first of his two goals on the night, and the Oil Kings seized the momentum from there.
Taylor Leier pulled a goal back three minutes into the final period, directing the puck past Brossoit amidst the chaos in front of the crease. Less than a minute later, though, Edmonton restored their two-goal lead as Samuelsson beat Carruth for his second goal with assistance from Legault. Curtis Lazar added some extra insurance midway through the third period, outracing Chase De Leo and Jones to take control of the puck on the boards and finding the net once more for the Oil Kings. After the game, Winterhawks head coach Travis Green was disappointed by the setback, but remained unbowed.
“They’ve got home-ice advantage now, but our group’s capable of winning anywhere,” Green said. “It’s one game. We’ll bounce back.”
Game 2: Responding with a shutout
With less than 24 hours to recover from the sting of the opening game defeat, Green knew what Portland had to do to get back on track in the series.
“It’s that time of year where you’ve got to find ways to score greasy, dirty goals,” Green said after the loss on Friday night.
A capacity crowd of 10,947 packed the arena to find out if the home team would heed the message. And Winterhawks fans were not disappointed, as Rattie opened the scoring in the first period by cleaning up a rebound in front of the net. The Portland defense was equally determined, holding Edmonton to just 16 shots, all of which were turned away by Carruth. Two quick goals by the Winterhawks late in the second period were more than enough to even the best-of-seven series in a 3-0 shutout on Saturday night.
Portland came out in control of the first period just as they had in Game 1, but this time the Winterhawks didn’t give Edmonton an opening to reply. Rattie’s 16th goal of the playoffs came on the power play nine minutes into the game, beginning with an outlet pass from team captain Troy Rutkowski to Petan, who then streaked up the left wing and snapped the puck on net. His shot was deflected by Brossoit, but Rattie was there to deposit the rebound.
The Oil Kings incurred four minor penalties in the first period while getting just three shots on goal. In the second period, Edmonton increased their offensive pressure, creating 11 opportunities to score, but Carruth was there to shut them all down.
The Portland offense reasserted itself in the final three minutes of the period, scoring two goals in less than 90 seconds. Leipsic made it 2-0 with 2:40 left in the period. Collecting a pass from Taylor Peters, Leipsic got an open look from the left faceoff circle and beat Brossoit with a heavy shot high on Brossoit’s glove side. The crowd had barely settled from celebrating Leipsic’s marker when Derrick Pouliot found Oliver Bjorkstrand moving toward the net, and the rookie forward, taking notice of the last goal, unleashed another shot high to the glove side. As the puck entered the net to put Portland up 3-0, it appeared the Winterhawks had finally solved the riddle of Edmonton’s goaltender. Bjorkstrand was characteristically unassuming in his assessment of the scoring burst.
“I guess it was two excellent shots,” he said. “I got the puck from Derrick and just tried to shoot high, and it went in.”
Coming back from the second intermission, the Winterhawks clamped down defensively and Edmonton, unable to find any space to operate, put just two shots on net in the final period as Portland squashed any chance at an Oil Kings comeback bid.
“Your work ethic has to be at a high level to play well defensively,” Green said of his team’s performance. “We talked about doing the little things in the playoffs, and it’s not easy to win this time of year. You have to put a lot of effort in, and we obviously did [tonight].”
The series now shifts to Edmonton, where the Oil Kings will host the Winterhawks in back-to-back games tonight and Wednesday. The championship then returns to Portland on Friday night for Game 5 at the Rose Garden.