The Portland Winterhawks will face the hot Spokane Chiefs in the second round of the Western Hockey League playoffs.
Conventional wisdom had Tri-City being the biggest threat to Portland from the U.S. Division, but the Chiefs controlled their series against the Americans, winning 4-1.
With Seattle's overtime loss to Kelowna in Game 7 Wednesday, the Chiefs fell into the series with Portland as the lowest seed still remaining in the Western Conference. Kamloops and Kelowna play in the other second-round series.
The Winterhawks had an advantage on virtually every team during the WHL season, with Spokane being one of them. The Hawks won seven of the nine games, losing a regulation game and a shootout.
Blake Gal had five goals, Alessio Bertaggia eight points (two goals, six assists) and Mitch Holmberg six points (three goals, three assists) to lead the Chiefs against Tri-City, as Spokane outscored the Americans 21-14. Spokane also sports one of the best defensemen in the WHL in Brenden Kichton. And Portland coach Travis Green says the Chiefs have skill and depth on the forward lines.
"It's a skilled matchup. Tough series," Portland defenseman Troy Rutkowski says. "They're a good team that tries to force you into certain areas of the ice."
Portland beat Everett 4-2 in its first-round series. Brendan Leipsic (4 goals-7 assists-11 points), Ty Rattie (6-4-10) and Nicolas Petan (3-6-9) led the way in scoring, as they have all season. Defenseman Derrick Pouliot chipped in nine points (three goals, six assists), and second-line forward Oliver Bjorkstrand had eight points (three goals, five assists).
Portland outscored Spokane 45-20 in the nine regular-season games, with back-to-back shutouts Jan. 25 and Feb. 2, which came just after Spokane had taken both games from Portland in a two-day span. The Hawks won 6-1 on March 25 on home ice in the last meeting of the regular season.
Holmberg had a goal and nine assists for 10 points against Portland during the regular season, and Todd Fiddler had five goals and three assists for eight points.
Portland's top three scorers against Spokane were Bjorkstrand (8-5-13), Chase De Leo (3-10-13) and Rutkowski (2-11-13), but nine players had eight points or more.
Portland had a 57-12-1-2 (117 points) record during the regular season. Spokane finished 44-26-2-0 (90 points).
It's the third time in four seasons that the Winterhawks and Chiefs will meet in the WHL playoffs. Portland defeated Spokane 4-2 in the 2011 Western Conference final. A year early, Rattie scored the winning goal in overtime in Game 7 of a first-round series.
Game 1, Friday at Memorial Coliseum, 7 p.m.
Game 2, Saturday at Rose Garden, 7 p.m.
Game 3, Tuesday at Spokane, 7 p.m.
Game 4, Wednesday at Spokane, 7 p.m.
Game 5 (if necessary), April 13 at Rose Garden, 7 p.m.
Game 6 (if necessary), April 15 at Spokane, 7 p.m.
Game 7 (if necessary), April 17 at Memorial Coliseum, 7 p.m.