Winterhawks fail to crack Brossoit, Oil Kings
Edmonton appears to be a tough team to crack.
The Oil Kings fended off Portland's early charge, settled down and took control Friday night thanks in part to some Winterhawks mistakes as they won Game 1 of the Western Hockey League finals 4-1 before 10,097 fans at the Rose Garden.
"We didn't think we were going to sweep Edmonton," Portland coach Travis Green said. "We've said it all year: It's one game, there's no sense dwelling on it too much or get emotionally revved up because you lost a game.
"It's a long series, a seven-game series. They got home-ice advantage now, but our group's capable of winning anywhere.
"It's one game. We'll bounce back (Saturday)."
Three days after disposing of Calgary in the Eastern Conference finals' Game 7, the Oil Kings beat the well-rested Winterhawks, who breezed through the Western Conference finals in five games. Goalie Laurent Brossoit made some key saves early including two on shorthanded breakaways in the first period and Henrik Samuelsson scored twice. His first goal came when Portland defenseman Troy Rutkowski turned over the puck in the defensive zone, and Samuelsson beat a screened goalie Mac Carruth. The second came on a whip-and-fire shot just after Portland's only goal by Taylor Leier on a five-hole rebound shot early in the third period, and after the Hawks' failed to clear the puck in the defensive zone.
Curtis Lazar scored Edmonton's fourth goal when a puck bounced off the back boards after a Keegan Lowe shot and landed in front of Carruth. Lazar made no mistake.
It wasn't Portland's night. The WHL's most lethal line of Ty Rattie, Brendan Leipsic and Nicolas Petan was held off the scoresheet, as their only tally by Leipsic off Petan and Rattie passes was disallowed in the first period because the puck bounded off his skate.
But Green took the positive approach.
"I liked a lot of parts of our game," he said. "We had an outstanding first period, and quite easily could have had three, four or five goals. I liked our pace, our energy. I thought the one goal that didn't count for us brought us down after that. ... I thought their energy picked up a little bit."
After the disallowed goal, Rattie had both of the shorthanded attempts with the score 1-0.
"It's a good thing when you're getting chances," he said. "You're doing something right. I'd be worried if I wasn't getting chances or if my line wasn't generating chances. We had chances all night. That's a positive. (Saturday) it's a matter of putting those chances in the net."
Game 2 will be 7 p.m. Saturday at the Rose Garden, with the third (Tuesday) and fourth (Wednesday) games in Edmonton.
Dylan Wruck backhanded a rebound past Carruth just 2:03 into the first period, a big goal because Portland dominated the first period, outshooting the Oil Kings 16-6.
"They came out with a lot of energy, real physical, and caught us on our heels a little bit," Edmonton coach Derek Laxdal said. "We weathered the storm. We bent, didn't break. 'LB' was outstanding with some of his saves in the first period. ... It was our goalie who got the first game here."
Said Brossoit: "I can't take all the credit."
Edmonton played well in front of him, defensively with blocking shots and positioning and stick work and making simple plays.
"They're bigger defensemen, and they collapsed a lot in the defensive zone," Leier said. "We had a little trouble with that. (Saturday) we'll have to focus on going to the dirty areas a little bit more."
Portland held a 27-11 shot advantage when Edmonton bagged its second goal, by Samuelsson. From there, the Oil Kings controlled the game, as Portland finished with only a 36-29 shot advantage.
Few teams have held the Rattie-Petan-Leipsic line in check. And, Edmonton doesn't have its best defenseman (Griffin Reinhart), and a top-six forward (Trevor Cheek), both injured.
"That line's probably the best in major junior hockey across Canada," Laxdal said. "We have to (defend) by committee, groups of five. Limit their chances, keep pucks in deep and force them to play a 200-foot game. It's a pretty dynamic line. You saw with that one goal that was disallowed, they can move the puck pretty quickly. We've got to make sure we have great puck management against them."
Brossoit said the amount of shots he had to stop helped get him into the game.
"In the first three (playoff) series, I'd have to keep my focus. I wouldn't get a shot for a period at a time," he said. "Coming into this game, I got a consistent amount of shots. You can ask any goalie, they love that. It keeps them in the game. I'm just glad I was seeing the puck."
Laxdal said he expects his team to be better from the start Saturday.
Green said the Winterhawks need to grind it out.
"It's that time of year, you've got to find ways to score greasy, dirty goals," he said. "Their defense is pretty good at blocking out or blocking shots. We've got to find a way to get pucks to the net, and get to the net pucks and bodies to the net and make it hard for them."