Hart-breaking loss for Winterhawks
It doesn't take long to cut a hockey team's heart out.
Nine seconds, to be precise.
That was the time it took for the Everett Silvertips to wipe out the 2-1 lead the Winterhawks had worked so hard to build Thursday night in Game 4 of their second-round Western Hockey League playoff series at Moda Center.
Defenseman Henri Jokijarju bangs one past Everett roadblock, er, goaltender Carter Hart with 2:07 to play, and it's pandemonium at Moda. Hold on for the win and the best-of-seven series is tied at 2-2 going back to Everett for Friday's Game 5.
Nine seconds later, Everett's Garrett Pilon takes advantage of a fortuitous bounce and deposits the puck in the Portland net, and that sound is the wind sucking out of the Hawks' sails.
Forty-six seconds after that, the Silvertips score again to grab a 3-2 lead in the game, a 3-1 lead in the series and a slice out of the Hawks' aching tickers.
"Heartbreaking," Portland center Cody Glass said. "But with a 2-1 lead and two minutes left, you shouldn't be giving those kind of chances."
Portland's domination of Everett was thorough. The Hawks out-shot the Silvertips 46-24, allowing only nine shots on goal over the final two periods. Portland pitched tent in the Everett zone much of the night.
"We couldn't play any better," Portland coach Mike Johnston said. "We did everything we wanted to do in the game. We hung in there in a 1-0 game against a good team. Then we got the two third-period goals. As a coach, you think, 'There's not much more we could have done.'"
Except get to Hart, who was the Hawks' real Hart-breaker Thursday night. His 44 saves weren't out of the norm for the WHL Player of the Year and Goaltender of the Year, the young man who minded the nets for the past two years for Canada in the World Junior Championships.
"He made some great saves tonight," Johnston said. "It shouldn't have been a 1-0 game going into the third period. That's why he's the World Junior goalie, the top (junior) goaltender in Canada. It makes a difference in a game."
Portland's Kieffer Bellows has come across Hart in each of the last two World Junior Championships — Bellows for the U.S., Hart for Canada.
"Carter is a top-end goalie," Bellows said. "He is going to play huge every single night. It's about getting shots to him."
The Hawks did that in waves Thursday night, but didn't get many past him.
Bellows had his chances — two good looks on a power play in the first period, one that bounced off the post early in the third period. Then there was the moment in the second period when Bellows found himself coming out of the penalty box with the puck ahead of him at mid-ice.
"I knew two (Silvertips) were right behind me," the Hawks' left wing said. "I needed to make a quick decision. I thought shooting the puck was the best option. Didn't want to risk not getting a chance on net. I got the shot off I wanted; he was just there for it."
Statistically, Everett had the best defense in the WHL by far this season. Hart, who is averaging more than 35 saves per game in the series, is the biggest reason. He's Ozzie Smith in the Cardinals' infield. He's Mark Eaton rim protecting for the Jazz.
"He's a really good player," Glass said. "He shows it every year. You get frustrated when the bounces don't go your way. That's part of hockey. If bounces go your way, you're going to get some goals."
They didn't go the Hawks' way Thursday night. There were two shots off the post. There were a lot of great chances, but none better than Bellows' breakaway out of the penalty box.
"I had a lot of chances tonight," he said. "It's about me bearing down and putting those in. If I put those in, it's a different game. I put a lot of responsibility on myself to put those in for next game."
The Hawks' path to the next round is full of potholes. They must win three straight, two in Everett's Angel of the Winds arena, to advance.
That would be tough enough, even if the Silvertips didn't have Hart.