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Winterhawks

by: brad ross

Next: 7:30 p.m. Friday, at Everett; 7 p.m. Saturday, at Seattle; 7 p.m. Tuesday, Regina at Rose Garden

• The Winterhawks have rattled off a season-high five straight wins, including three in British Columbia to close a stretch of nine road games in 16 days.

The latest victories came on home ice over a key division rival; Portland topped Spokane twice in two nights, winning 6-5 in a shootout last Friday and 4-3 in overtime the following evening.

Coach/general manager Mike Johnston, on the sweep of the Chiefs at the Rose Garden: 'Those were key points. Our division is going to be so tight. … There were some exciting goals in the shootout, and then the overtime -if you're a fan of the game, I don't know if you can ask for more.'

• Tri-City, Portland and Spokane are 1-2-3 in the Western Hockey League U.S. Division. The Americans have 30 points in 20 games, the Hawks have 28 points in 22 games, and the Chiefs have 21 points in 16 games.

Tri-City, which also has won five in a row, has played 11 road games, Portland 12 and Spokane 6.

Lagging behind in the division are Seattle (14 points in 18 games, 11 away) and Everett (13 points in 22 games, 12 away).

• Sven Bartschi, the 19-year-old left winger from Switzerland, is on pace to easily surpass 100 points this season. He has 30 in 13 games (a league-leading 2.3 points per game). Last season, Bartschi played 66 games, scored 85 points (34 goals, 51 assists) and was named Western Conference rookie of the year.

With him, the Winterhawks are 10-3 this season. Without him, they have gone 3-6 (he missed the first six games of the recent trip with a bruised hip and the first three games of the WHL season while in camp with the NHL Calgary Flames, who drafted him 13th overall in 2011).

Bartschi shares the club lead in plus-minus (plus-4) with defensemen Tyler Wotherspoon and William Wrenn, and he's produced 23 assists and seven goals, mostly while forming a potent 1-2 punch with right wing Ty Rattie (19 goals, 17 assists, 36 points in 21 games).

Bartschi and Rattie teamed up for the winning, 2-on-2 rush in last weekend's second Spokane game, with Bartschi scoring 30 seconds into OT.

'They made a great play to the net, like they can do,' Johnston says, calling it a 'highlight-film goal.' (Winterhawk marketing department, take note).

• In the 6-5 shootout win over Spokane, the Hawks rallied five times from one-goal deficits. Brad Ross tied the game at 5-5 with 40 seconds left in regulation, after the Hawks had pulled goalie Mac Carruth.

'We really had to scramble to come back, but our guys were great in doing that,' Johnston said. 'You never know when you pull your goalie, it doesn't often happen that you score.'

Then came a six-round shootout, with Rattie, Bartschi, Brendan Leipsic and, finally, Taylor Leier scoring for Portland.

• Johnston says the experience the Winterhawks got on their long trip, to Alberta and B.C., helped them pull through in the back-to-back with Spokane.

'When you're on the road like that, it gives you some resiliency in your game and the ability to handle things,' he says.

• Among the other things Johnston likes about the way his team is playing: defense, special teams and veteran forward Brad Ross.

'Our defense is real solid, top to bottom,' Johnston says. 'They've contributed offensively (16 goals) and been good defensively. They get us out of our zone quickly, so we don't have to spend a lot of time defending.

'The special teams have been excellent, and Brad Ross has had a really good start. I think he's playing his best hockey, in terms of a complete game.'

Portland ranks third in the league in both power-play scoring (26.3 percent) and penalty killing (83.5 percent). In the two games with Spokane, the Hawks went 5 of 13 on the power play and killed seven of nine penalties.

Rattie leads the league in power-play goals with 10.