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Winterhawks clinch titles; next up, WHL playoffs against Everett

The Portland Winterhawks are the regular-season Western Conference and U.S. Division champions, and now it's time for the Western Hockey League playoffs.

The Winterhawks (50-18-0-3, 103 points) won 5-4 in Seattle (27-35-4-5) Saturday, while the Spokane Chiefs dropped a 6-4 decision in Kennewick, Wash., against the Tri-City Americans to fall three points being Portland with just one game remaining.

The Winterhawks and Chiefs meet at 5 p.m. Sunday at the Rose Garden.

Portland's first-round opponent will be the Everett Silvertips, who are locked into the eighth spot in the conference. The Winterhawks were 9-1 against the Silvertips this season, with all but one of the 10 games decided by just one or two goals.

That series will begin next weekend, with Game 1 set for 7 p.m. Saturday at the Rose Garden and Game 2 scheduled for 5 p.m. Sunday at the Rose Garden. Tickets are on sale now at ticketmaster.com.

Against Seattle Saturday, the Winterhawks opened the scoring with two goals 1:35 apart in the first period by Sven Bartschi and Pearce Eviston, who was making his Winterhawks debut after being signed yesterday following the conclusion of his season in the British Columbia Hockey League.

But Seattle tied the game with goals from Marcel Noebels and Colin Jacobs before the end of the first to make it 2-2 going into the second period.

The Thunderbirds took a lead at the 9:41 mark of the second on a power-play goal by Brenden Dillon, but the Winterhawks got a goal from Brad Ross at the 15:29 mark to even the game at 3-3 going into the third period.

Portland then struck twice in a span of 34 seconds in the third period when Nino Niederreiter and Craig Cunningham scored in quick succession to give the Hawks a 5-3 lead at the 8:18 mark.

With their season on the line, Seattle pulled netminder Calvin Pickard with three minutes to go and it paid off as Burke Gallimore scored to cut Portland's lead to 5-4 at the 17:10 mark. But that would be as close as Seattle would get, giving Portland the win and the regular-season conference championship.

Keith Hamilton got the win in net for Portland, making 27 saves on 31 shots. The Hawks fired 53 shots at Pickard, who made 48 saves.