Fast start, poised finish win Game 2 for Winterhawks
The Portland Winterhawks delivered the fast start they wanted on Sunday, then finished with poise, holding on for a 4-3 win to even their Western Hockey League playoff series with the Spokane Chiefs at a game apiece.
Three first-period goals gave the Hawks the chance to play from the lead, which was 4-0 seven minutes into the second period.
But the Chiefs scored twice late in the second period and pulled within one with 14:03 remaining in the third period, setting up the second tense finish in as many nights as 4,898 fans watched at Memorial Coliseum.
Games 3 and 4 in this best-of-seven first-round series will be Wednesday and Thursday at Spokane. Game 5 is 6 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Coliseum.
A night after defensemen accounted for all three Portland goals in an overtime loss, the forwards did the scoring on Sunday. Kieffer Bellows, Jake Gricius and Mason Mannek each scored his first WHL playoff goal, and Alex Overhardt scored his third career playoff goal.
The other difference was the way Portland started.
Bellows opened the scoring 2:25 into the game on a wicked wrister from the right-wing circle. Cody Glass won a puck battle and sent a cross-ice pass to the open Bellows, who blew the puck past Bailey Brkin.
"That's something I have in my game, that I can naturally find space," Bellows said, "and Cody just has great hockey IQ. I was lucky enough to put it on net, and it went in."
The second goal, by Gricius 8:43 into the first period, came after a nifty play by John Ludvig. Ludvig blocked a Spokane shot, then skated up the ice. The rookie defenseman, in his first WHL playoff game, sent a pass to Lane Gilliss on his right, then continued toward the net. Gilliss sent a floated pass back toward Ludvig, and the puck found its way through to Gricius at the far post.
The third goal, which came 15:58 into the game, was a rebound finish by Overhardt after Ryan Hughes won control along the left-wing boards and put a quick shot on goal that Brkin bobbled.
"It was sitting right there, so I had an easy tap-in," Overhardt said. "I'm thankful for my linemates. It was just an easy tap-in sitting there for me."
Spokane's best scoring chance in the first period was a breakaway for Hudson Elynuik that Cole Kehler calmly denied, perhaps the biggest of his 26 saves.
Mannek made it 4-0 for Portland 6:36 into the second period, banking the puck off of goalie Dawson Weatherill. Weatherill replaced Brkin for Spokane at the start of the second period.
The Chiefs scored twice in the last 5:27 of the second period to pull within 4-2. Tyson Helgesen scored from the high slot to put Spokane on the scoreboard after Riley Woods won a puck battle and found Helgesen. The second goal came on a power play. Ethan McIndoe put home a rebound with two Chiefs in front of Kehler after Kailer Yamamoto took a shot.
Winterhawks VP/GM/coach Mike Johnston called that a critical goal.
"They got that 4-2 goal and then all of a sudden that changes the whole game," Johnston said, noting that a three-goal lead heading into the third would have made it difficult for the Chiefs to gain traction.
But gain traction they did.
When Jake Fischer ripped a shot past Kehler with 14:03 on the clock, the visitors were very much in the game. Spokane created a few scrambling chances in the next few minutes before Portland settled into a more controlled final 10 minutes.
"Our mind-set was just to stay calm, stay relaxed and keep playing our game," Overhardt said. "We got a little off-topic there for a bit, but it was just stay calm and keep playing our game and we'll be fine.
"Playoff (hockey) is a game of momentum, and their forecheck gave them a little momentum. But I think it was just a matter of time before we captured it back."