Winter Hawks' Toews doesn't disappoint in his first WHL playoff

Mike Williamson avoided any second-guessing by picking his goalie for the Western Hockey League playoffs and sticking with him for seven games.

The Portland Winter Hawk coach had to pick between Krister Toews and Lanny Ramage, a playoff hero from two seasons ago. He went with Toews, who did not disappoint in his first WHL playoff action. And the good thing for Williamson and the Hawks is that Toews will probably be back for another year.

The 19-year-old from Kleefeld, Manitoba, stopped 125 of 133 shots in the first four games against Spokane (a .940 save percentage), including 49 saves in a stunning 2-1 Portland overtime victory in Game 4.

He allowed eight goals in Game 5, but four came on the power play and one on a rare three-on-none breakaway. Toews tightened up in Game 6, allowing only two power-play goals and, eventually, the game-winner in overtime to Spokane's speedy Mason Wallin.

The Hawks lost the series Wednesday in Spokane, going down 4-2 in Game 7 despite outshooting the Chiefs 31-21.

In the final three games, Spokane got its power play untracked. The Chiefs finished the series with 12 power-play goals.

'You can't give a guy that good of a chance and expect to keep the game going,' Williamson lamented after Wallin picked up a bouncing puck and went in to challenge Toews uncontested before finishing off Game 6.

Sure, Williamson could have gone with Ramage in Game 7, but why mess with success? Toews not only played well in most of the Spokane series, he had terrific numbers in the last seven regular-season games: 2.42 goals-against average and .932 save percentage.

'He's played very well, very composed under pressure, which you have to be in the playoffs,' Williamson says. 'There are ups and downs, it's a bit of a roller-coaster. Being composed is probably Krister's strength. He's confident, and he doesn't let things bother him.'

Even after the disappointing Game 6, in which Portland could have clinched the series victory, Toews seemed unfazed.

'I shouldn't have poke-checked on it,' he says of Wallin's goal. 'Hindsight 20-20. He's just shifty, gets behind guys, and finds the open ice.'

Besides, it was really penalties that led to the eight goals in Game 5, and a series of defensive breakdowns by experienced players on Wallin's goal.

'You can't fault the goaltender,' assistant coach Blake Wesley says.

Toews wasn't bothered by the eight goals in Game 5, either.

'One of those one-of-a-kind games, I guess,' he says. 'They scored eight goals, four on the power play, and had a breakaway in the third. They weren't bad goals in the sense that I flubbed one or let one in from the blue line.'

He allowed overtime goals in two losses, but he also stood tall in the longest playoff game in Winter Hawks' history, Game 4.

'It's tough because the regular season doesn't prepare you for overtime,' he says. 'It's just another five-minute overtime, and it's four on four, totally different.'

In playoffs, it's five on five with full 20-minute periods.

'The longer the game goes, you get into a zone once you make that many saves,' Toews says. 'You feel really good. After the game, you feel tired.'

Meanwhile, Ramage's junior career is coming to an inglorious end. Two years ago, he was the star of Portland's run to the WHL finals. Even last year, while not as stellar, he certainly wasn't the reason the Hawks lost to Seattle.

'Down the stretch Willy made the decision to go with one guy, and Krister the last two weeks emerged as the guy,' Wesley says. 'He played consistently on back-to-back nights, and he's done it in the playoffs.'

The ancillary benefit to using Toews in the playoffs was that he will probably return next year. The Hawks also have a couple of goalie prospects waiting in the wings and, eventually, maybe Toews will be dealt. With several rookies and second-year players, Portland's best days are ahead of it.

Toews may have improved his stock. He certainly has the size (6-2), although he could put on some weight (165 pounds).

'Playoffs is a big thing,' he says. 'It's a whole new game. The season's down to seven games or however many it takes. You have to be ready for all 60 minutes. If you play well, people notice in the playoffs.'

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