Winterhawks chop Chiefs in OT

Nino Niederreiter scored his second goal of the night with only 36.6 seconds remaining in overtime to give the Portland Winterhawks a 6-5 victory over the Spokane Chiefs Sunday evening at the Memorial Coliseum.

Nino Niederreiter scored his second goal of the night with only 36.6 seconds remaining in overtime to give the Portland Winterhawks a 6-5 victory over the Spokane Chiefs Sunday evening at the Memorial Coliseum.

In the final minute before the game would be decided by shootout, Niederreiter posted at the crease with his back to Spokane’s backup goalie Mac Engel. Taking a pass from Ryan Johansen, Niederreiter spun left and put the puck to Engel’s left and into the back of the net.

“It’s always a great feeling to get the game-winning goal for the boys, but in the end it’s just a goal like everybody else scored,” Niederreiter said after the win.

“It was a huge game for us,” he added. “It’s the finish to the season, and we’ve got to play our best and win this pennant.”

The Winterhawks (32-14-0-3, 67 pts) extend their winning streak to five games and now hold a three-point advantage over the Chiefs (29-12-4-2, 64 pts) in the Western Hockey League standings. The two teams are the top-ranking clubs in the Western Conference’s U.S. Division.

“It was a hard battle. Spokane’s a very good team and they’ve given us trouble all year,” head coach and general manager Mike Johnson said. “And really, when you look at the game it went back and forth. They may have had the slight edge on the special teams and scoring chances, but overall I thought we battled hard.”

Johansen and Niederreiter each finished the night with two goals and one assist each. Also scoring for Portland were Riley Boychuk and Sven Bartschi. Spokane saw goals from Brenden Kichton (2), Levko Koper (2) and Jared Cowen (1).

Portland’s Mac Carruth earned his 22nd win of the season, making 42 saves on 47 shots on goal. Spokane center Tyler Johnson, the WHL’s No. 2 goal scorer, assisted on three goals but never had a shot of his own find the back of the net.

The Winterhawks’ meeting with the Chiefs was their third game in as many days, a stretch that began in Everett, Wash. on Friday. The Hawks returned to the Rose City for a Saturday afternoon game against Seattle before hosting the Chiefs the next day.

“As I told the players, I really compliment them because playing three games in three days with a little bit of travel—that’s tough, tough hockey,” Johnson said before adding that Spokane was dealing with a similar schedule. “It was fair for [both] teams.”

The chips were stacked up against the Winterhawks from the beginning of the game as two penalties in the opening minute put Portland on an early 5-on-3 disadvantage in front of an announced crowd of 2,649.

The first whistle came just 0:06 into the game when Portland’s Troy Rutkowski was called for elbowing, and at the 0:33 mark teammate Ryan Johansen followed him into the penalty box for cross checking.

The Winterhawks were down by two goals late in the first period, but two Portland goals in just over a minute evened the score at 2-all. Johansen began the Hawks’ surge with a goal 17:42 into the period, and a breakaway goal from Niederreiter 64 seconds later sent the teams into the first intermission with matching scores.

If the Portland fans enjoyed the pair of first-period goals that evened the score, they surely loved the two goals scored just 10 seconds apart in the second period that gave the Hawks a 4-2 advantage. The first came 7:41 into the period off a shot by Bartschi, and the second came off the stick of Boychuk.

Spokane’s starting netminder, James Reid, came off the ice with the assistance of team trainers following Boychuk’s goal. Details of his injury were not available, but he did not put any weight on his left leg as he was being helped off the ice. Reid made 14 saves on 18 shots of goal before being replaced by Engel.

Spokane scored again in the 17th minute of the second period, then evened the score at 4-all 3:37 into the third period when Brenden Kichton took a crossing pass at the right side of the crease and put it by Carruth’s right side and into the net.

Johansen returned fire midway through the period on a crowd-energizing wraparound goal at the 10:13 mark to give the Hawks a 5-4 lead, but that advantage was snubbed just five minutes later when Spokane’s Koper earned his second goal of the contest on a power play.

The Winterhawks return to action Wednesday when they host the Chilliwack Bruins of the B.C. Division. The first puck is set to drop at 7 p.m. at the Memorial Coliseum. ?