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Carruth, defense rise up as Hawks beat Spokane 2-1, even series

by: BRYAN HEIM Portland Winterhawks defenseman William Wrenn celebrates his goal Sunday against Spokane.

He allowed another soft goal, but Portland goalie Mac Carruth stood tall the rest of the game as the Winterhawks beat Spokane 2-1 Sunday at the Rose Garden to even the Western Hockey League Western Conference finals at one game each.

Carruth made 34 saves and the Hawks rebounded with solid defensive play and opportune goal scoring after dropping Game 1 of the series at home by the same score.

Defenseman William Wrenn rifled home a slap shot and Ryan Johansen scored on a rebound for Portland's goals, Johansen's second-period tally being the difference.

The series shifts to Spokane for the third and fourth games - Game 3 at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Game 4 at 7 p.m. Friday.

Game 5 will be at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Rose Garden.

As expected, it's turning out to be a tight series between the U.S. Division rivals.

Portland exploded in the second period to dominate play, outshooting the Chiefs 19-8, but the teams otherwise traded blows before 6,506 fans. Spokane goalie James Reid was good again, making 34 saves as well, but Carruth was just better, especially in the third period.

Carruth credited his defensemen.

"As soon as we got the puck, it was out of the zone and into their zone deep," he said. "We didn't get a lot of scoring chances (in the third period, six shots). But the boys did their job and shut down their offense. They didn't have too many quality shots.

"I was battling the puck a little bit tonight, and the boys helped me out."

Carruth had let a slow-moving, knuckling puck slip under his pads for a Spokane goal in Game 1. Then, with 2:11 to go in the first period on Sunday, Spokane's Matt Marantz fired a shot at Carruth from the left faceoff circle, and the goalie couldn't get his shoulder or glove on the puck. Coach Mike Johnston said that defenseman Troy Rutkowski might have tipped it.

"It was a knuckle puck, a weird thing," he said. "Handcuffed me a bit. Those things are going to happen; I had a weak one Friday as well. I have to get my focus on."

From there on, his focus was fine, and Portland quickly countered with an energetic shift. Wrenn took a pass from Ty Rattie and beat Reid with a slap shot 33 seconds later.

"I was surprised, I'm not really a goal scorer," said Wrenn, of his first WHL playoff goal and third since joining the Hawks midway through the season. "It was exciting, good to get guys going and even it up."

Said Johansen: "It was huge. That's the thing you want to do, on the next shift, change the momentum right back. It couldn't have been a better shift."

The Hawks put some rubber on Reid in the first period, per their plan, and then ramped up in the second.

"We were making good plays, good decisions with the puck," Johnston said. "When you get the puck, you don't have much time. (The Chiefs) come after you hard, they're a high-pressure team. You have to make good decisions with the puck, and you have to support the puck. Those little five-foot passes in and around pressure are the things that get you open ice; we practiced it, talked about it, and (players) knew what they had to do tonight."

The line of Craig Cunningham-Ty Rattie-Sven Bartschi had some good chances, and then Johansen put the Hawks ahead on the power play with his eighth playoff goal at 7:38 of the second period. Brad Ross tried a wraparound shot, and Johansen put in the rebound.

"I had one hand on my stick and reached as far as I could, tapped it home," Johansen said.

From there, the Hawks relied on Carruth and defensemen. Spokane's Tyler Johnson fired wide on a four-on-four shift in the second period. In the third, Carruth stoned Levko Koper, survived a scramble in front of him, stopped an Anthony Bardaro shot, withstood another slapper-and-scramble situation and then corraled a point shot tipped by Steven Kuhn.

In the closing moments, Koper got a stick on a puck and sent in through the crease, and Kuhn was foiled on a wraparound.

"Mac was good, and our defense was really good," Johnston said, of the third period, in which Carruth made 13 saves. "Any loose pucks around the net (the D-men) just punched them to the corner, then we moved it up the boards and wingers were good along the boards.

"I was comfortable in the third, actually enjoyed it. It was a nice 2-1 game. We knew they would push a little bit. They had to juggle their lines, splitting up Johnson and Koper. You see teams do that (to make something happen), like we did in the third period the other night."

So, it's 1-1 in the best-of-seven series. Portland went 4-0 at Spokane Arena in its first-round playoff win last season, and 3-2 there this year.

"Momentum is in our hands right now, and we're feeling pretty good," Johansen said.

Should the series go seven games, the schedule turns wicked: The fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh games would be played in a five-day period, April 29 to May 3.

"The only thing that matters to me is the travel and getting the bus leg thing," Johansen said.

"You've got to make sure you get the right nutrition and rest," he added. "It's going to be a grind, if it goes that far. We've been preparing all year, and (athletic trainer) Rich Campbell has done a great job with us."

Added Wrenn: "It's a whole new series. Great response by all the guys (Sunday). It should be a grind from here on out."