Late goals lift Winterhawks in Game 7
Before the start of Game 7 on Tuesday, Portland Winterhawks coach/GM/VP Mike Johnston had a request of Kieffer Bellows.
"I said to him before the game, 'You're a big-game player. We need you tonight.' He always rises up in big games. Some of those guys have that ability."
Bellows lifted the Winterhawks into the second round of the Western Hockey League playoffs, scoring the go-ahead goal with a laser shot late in the third period and setting up the insurance goal in a 3-1 win over the Spokane Chiefs to the delight of 3,898 fans at Memorial Coliseum.
The victory advanced the Winterhawks to the WHL Western Conference semifinals against the Everett Silvertips. That best-of-seven series featuring the top two teams in the conference during the regular season begins with games on Friday and Saturday at Everett. Game 3 is Tuesday, April 10 at Memorial Coliseum. Game 4 will be April 12, tentatively at Moda Center.
Portland's top three scorers each came up big with the season on the line Tuesday. Cody Glass had a goal and two assists. Skyler McKenzie had a goal and an assist, as did Bellows, whose blast with 4:29 left in the third period won't soon be forgotten by Hawks fans.
His one-timer off a feed from Cody Glass broke a 1-1 tie — and, finally, allowed the Winterhawks to finish off a Chiefs team that had erased a 3-1 series deficit to force Tuesday's dramatic finish.
"I saw the puck was in the corner. I back-checked, and then I made a turn," said Bellows, the New York Islanders prospect who had only one goal through six games of the series. "I saw Cody had the puck so I opened up. He put it perfectly in my wheelhouse, and I knew all I had to do was hit the net, and lucky enough it went in."
Bellows wasn't finished. He set up the third goal with a nifty chip around Spokane's Tyson Helgesen at the blue line. Chiefs goalie Dawson Weatherill — who was sharp all night — denied Bellows another goal, but McKenzie pounced on the rebound for the Hawks' second power-play goal of the game and a huge two-goal lead with 2:23 left.
"That last goal was all Kieffer," McKenzie said. "I just got there and gobbled up the rebound. Kieffer made an unbelievable play getting that past Helgesen there, and he got a shot off with a stick wrapped around him."
Spokane had one last gasp, a power play as a result of a tripping penalty on Portland goalie Cole Kehler, but Kehler made a couple big stops to cap a strong 30-save night in net, and it was on to the next round for the home team.
The game was tight throughout, and tied at 1-1 as the third period melted away.
Portland led 1-0 through the first half of regulation until Spokane rookie defenseman Ty Smith scored on a shot from the right point that found its way through traffic in front 11:31 into the second period.
Spokane, which had few chances to that point, kept the momentum. Kehler made a huge lunging stop to deny Kailer Yamamoto on the doorstep with 4:48 left in the second period.
Then, with Spokane on a power play after Joachim Blichfeld was penalized for knocking the net loose during a scramble in front of Kehler, a shot by Jaret Anderson-Dolan beat Kehler but hit a post and bounced away.
The Chiefs were pressing for the go-ahead goal early in the third, getting some extended attack zone time and forcing Kehler to make a huge save against Smith on a back-door feed, then denying Yamamoto on an odd-man rush.
Surviving Spokane's push early in the period, Portland gradually became the assertive team as time ticked off the clock.
"The turning point was basically the last 10 minutes of the game," Johnston said. "I thought we took over the last 10 minutes. We had them back on their heels, we had them running a little bit. And for the first time in the series I think we had extended zone pressure time."
Glass opened the scoring 9:38 into the game on the first power play of the night. Portland's top power-play unit had good possession in the offensive zone, and McKenzie took a pass from Henri Jokiharju and took a one-timer from the top of the right-wing circle that Glass deflected past Weatherill.
"Before the power play, (Jokiharju) came over to me and said, 'I'm going to give it to you and you better shoot it,'" McKenzie said. "I didn't think twice. I was just going to put that one on net."
A delay of game penalty against Spokane's Luke Toporowski for lifting the puck out of play from the defensive zone led to that power play.
Portland was 2 for 3 on the power play and killed both Spokane power plays.
The best chance on the second Portland power play came from Alex Overhardt following up Ryan Hughes, who drove to the net. Weatherill made a blocker save on that close-range chance.
Inside the first five minutes of the game, Dennis Cholowski hit the cross bar for Portland and Weatherill denied McKenzie from in close. Between those chances, Spokane created a scramble in front of Kehler, who made three quick saves.
But it was the final minutes that decided a series that was nip and tuck throughout the seven games. It was clear all season that at least one excellent U.S. Division team would be ousted in the first playoff round. The Winterhawks felt fortunate to be moving on.
McKenzie praised the Chiefs, and said he sees a lot of similarities between Spokane and Portland, teams that including the final regular season game went head to head eight times in a row.
"They play a very similar style game to us. They've got really, really good speedy forwards up front that have a lot of skill, and their (defensemen) are big, hard-nosed guys that kind of take away from our skill," McKenzie said. "It was hard for us to play against them. They did a real good job in this series. I'm just glad we came out on top."
So was Johnston, who hugged assistant coach Danny Flynn and gave an emotional fist pump as the final seconds ticked off the clock.
"That Spokane team, they're a great hockey team. You knew as the series went along that a very good hockey team was going to get beat out here," Johnston said. "They're going to be good next year. They've built a real good strong foundation there in Spokane. It's going to be a nice rivalry."