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Playoffs give Hawks a fresh perspective

Next: Portland (34-29-6-3, 77 points) vs. Tri-City (31-27-10-4, 76 points) in best-of seven first-round Western Hockey League playoff series, starting Friday.

The season series: Portland was 8-2, going 4-1 in each building and outscoring the Americans 34-25. É The Hawks scored on 20 percent of their power plays, the Ams 18.9 percent. É Series scoring: Portland Ñ Michael Funk, 2 goals-7 assists-9 points; Alex Aldred, 2-7-9; Cody McLeod, 5-3-8; Dan Da Silva, 4-4-8; Brandon Dubinsky, 4-3-7; Brian Woolger, 6-1-7; Richie Regehr, 3-4-7. Tri-City Ñ Ryan Kinasewich, 5-6-11; Dylan Stanley, 3-4-7; Marcus Jonasen, 2-4-6. Goalies: Portland's Krister Toews, 7-1-0-0, .928 save percentage, 2.36 goals against; Tri-City's Tyler Weiman, 2-5-0-2, .895, 3.53.

The Portland angle: If a team wins eight out of 10, isn't that team simply better than its opponent? 'Maybe on paper,' Dubinsky says. 'The past doesn't mean anything. The playoffs are a whole new season on their own. We can't dwell on what we've done before.'

The differences in games, Portland coaches say, have been goaltending, clicking on the power play and stopping the Tri-City first line of Kinasewich, Stanley and Jonasen (or Cam McCaffrey).

'I'd like to think I'm a steady Eddie,' Toews says. 'I'd like to think the team can hold on to me and help me out at the other end.'

The Ams put just 22 shots on Toews in a 2-1 loss Sunday. 'We match up pretty well, line for line,' coach Don Nachbaur says. 'We've got to throw more than 20 pieces of rubber at (Toews), though. Their back-end play isn't that stifling where we shouldn't generate more than 20 shots.'

A year later: The Winter Hawks went up on Spokane 3-1 last year before losing the seven-game series. 'We're 15 wins better than last year,' assistant coach Blake Wesley says. 'And we learned how to win close games; we've won in overtime.'

Portland also lost in a seven-game first-round series against Seattle in 2002. 'It's been a bit of a soap opera here the last couple of years, with highs and lows and ups and downs going into the playoffs,' Portland coach Mike Williamson says. 'It's the teams that control their emotions and maintain a healthy balance that win.'

The schedule (all games 7 p.m.): -Game 1 Ñ Friday, at Portland -Game 2 Ñ Sunday, at Portland -Game 3 Ñ March 23, at Tri-City -Game 4 Ñ March 24, at Tri-City -Game 5 (if necessary) Ñ March 26, -at Portland -Game 6 (if necessary) Ñ March 27, -at Tri-City -Game 7 (if necessary) Ñ March 31, -at Portland.

Ñ Jason Vondersmith