A common saying during playoff time is “a series does not begin until a team loses on their home floor.” The 2014 Western Hockey League Western Conference Finals have begun. Portland split the first pair of playoff games. This is the fourth consecutive year Portland is playing in the conference finals.
The Portland Winterhawks traveled to Kelowna, British Columbia, for the first two games of their best of seven series. During the regular season the Kelowna Rockets defeated the Hawks in all four meetings. Kelowna was fresh off a sweep of the Seattle Thunderbirds.
Game 1 was a back-and-forth affair with Kelowna scoring last, giving them a 4–5 victory. Portland’s right winger Oliver Bjorkstrand scored the game’s first goal 33 seconds after the puck dropped and again with 5:49 remaining in the first. Chase De Leo scored the Winterhawks’ third goal on Rockets goalie Jordon Cooke late in the period.
Kelowna came back with a pair of goals by Tyson Baillie and Madison Bowey. Bjorkstrand almost scored a fourth Portland goal in the closing seconds of the first, but an official review showed that the puck entered the net after the game clock reached 0:00.
The Winterhawks took a 3–2 lead heading into the second period, which had a less feverish pace and once again Portland scored first. Keoni Texeira scored on a drop pass from Dominic Turgeon to give the Hawks a two-goal lead, but Kelowna’s Rourke Chartier scored to cut the lead to one going into the third.
Justin Kirkland tied the game on a power play 4:17 into the final period, and a Jesse Lees go-ahead score gave the game its final numbers.
The next night, game 2 took place and the Winterhawks knew if they could steal one on the Rockets’ home floor their chances to advance to the finals would be significantly greater. They were fired up and aggressive, with 53 shot attempts against Kelowna’s 27.
The game began with an early pair of goals by the Rockets’ Nick Merkley and Riley Stadel. It wasn’t until the second period that Portland got on the board with a Turgeon goal. Bowey returned the favor with a Rockets goal, bringing their lead back to two. The Winterhawks then decided to replace starting goaltender Brendan Burke with Corbin Boes.
The second period was then all Portland from there. Nic Petan scored on a power play followed by a Bjorkstrand and Leipsic pair of goals 13 seconds apart. It gave Portland a 4–3 lead heading into the third. The Hawks made 25 shots in the busy second.
Both teams battled hard in the final period and the goaltenders were blocking everything that came their way. Forward Alex Schoenborn scored the only goal of the period to cap off the Winterhawks’ 5–3 win.
Petan was the Winterhawks player who shone the brightest, he finished with three points from a goal and two assists, and Schoenborn recorded two helpers.
Now deadlocked at 1–1, the series moves to Portland for the next two games. The Rose Garden (known to some as the Moda Center) will host the home games on Tuesday and Wednesday and the final three matchups will alternate between Kelowna and Portland.