Winterhawks even WHL finals with 3-0 win
Portland put on the pressure to tie the Western Hockey League finals Saturday night, beating Edmonton 3-0 before 10,947 fans at the Rose Garden with the Winterhawks' typical game speed, puck management, pinpoint shots, stifling defense and steady play from goaltender Mac Carruth.
"We were good tonight," coach Travis Green said. "We had to come out and play a really good game. I liked our energy and compete level for the whole 60 minutes. We were solid. When you're in the finals, you have to play a complete game."
The Winterhawks, who lost the series opener 4-1 at home on Friday, controlled play in the early going, again, and took advantage of four Edmonton penalties in the first period.
With Travis Ewanyk in the penalty box for charging Presten Kopeck, the Hawks broke through. Ty Rattie scored his 16th playoff goal off Nicolas Petan's playmaking in front of Edmonton goalie Laurent Brossoit for a 1-0 lead.
Just like in Friday's game, the Hawks had two shorthanded opportunities at the end of the first period, and came up empty.
The Oil Kings had only three first-period shots.
Then, after fending off the Oil Kings' second-period rally, the Winterhawks quickly made it 3-0 near the end of the period. Brendan Leipsic picked up a loose puck in the neutral zone, skated in on Brossoit and rifled a shot over the goalie's glove hand. One minute and 20 seconds later, Oliver Bjorkstrand also beat Brossoit on the glove side on a pass from Derrick Pouliot.
Carruth & Co. held Edmonton off the score sheet in the third period, with the record-setting goalie notching his eight career playoff shutout and 19th overall.
The Oil Kings had only two shots in the third period, as Portland outshot Edmonton 36-16 for the game, and very few of the visiting team's 16 chances would be considered quality. Carruth credited Portland's skaters for clearing space in front of him.
Edmonton will play host to the Hawks on Tuesday and Wednesday.
"From the get-go, Portland really took it to us," Edmonton coach Derek Laxdal said after Game 2. "The penalties didn't help in the first period. We couldn't get any traction in the game."
Laxdal lamented what he saw as a tripping noncall on his top scorer, Michael St. Croix, with the score 1-0 in the first period, but the Oil Kings considered the Hawks the better team in Game 2.
The Hawks appeared one step ahead of the Oil Kings with their transition game and speed, and they limited the mistakes that led to Edmonton's Game 1 victory the night before.
Portland had seven power-play chances to Edmonton's three.
"Portland's the type of team that will sting you," Laxdal added. "We had to handle a lot of pressure.
"With Portland's skill level, if you're going to sit in the box all night, they're going to tear you apart. ... Their speed is unbelievable. They've got great transition. They got forwards who can scoot. Look at their passing, they were pretty sharp; we had a lot of passes that were off. It's tough to pick up pucks when they're at your feet, and you're trying to attack defensemen. We didn't do a good job of getting pucks in deep against them."
Portland had several games during the season where the Hawks limited chances. Saturday's game was another example five shots combined in the first and third periods.
"We played hard. We were on top of the puck for 60 minutes," Green said.
"Your work ethic has to be at a high level to play well defensively. You have to manage the puck," offensively with passing and possession and defensively by not allowing breakouts. "They worked hard, blocked shots. We talked about doing the little things in the playoffs, and it's not easy to win this time of year. You have to put a lot of effort in, and (Saturday) we obviously did."
Said Edmonton forward Stephane Legault: "They just played a better game than us. They deserved to win that one. We've got to get more than five shots combined (in first and third). So, we're going to work on that get more pucks to the net, get more guys to the net and be better next game."
Edmonton, of course, had already accomplished something with its Game 1 victory, which came only 72 hours after the Oil Kings finished off Calgary in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals. The Oil Kings get some rest now about 72 hours but still will play without injured star defenseman Griffin Reinhart and possibly forward Trevor Cheek. Reinhart's absence means more minutes for other Edmonton D-men.
Portland has controlled play early in both games, which would bode well for Green's team in Edmonton.
"We have to have energy," Laxdal said. "I thought we were a little zapped on back-to-back nights."