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BY PAUL DANZER/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/Portland's deep and versatile lineup bodes well for home stretch

COURTESY: PORTLAND WINTERHAWKS - Kieffer Bellows fires at the net in a game earlier this season against Moose Jaw.Last Saturday, for the first time since Dec. 9, Mike Johnston could look up and down his bench and see his full complement of players. The Portland Winterhawks VP/GM/coach was clearly pleased.

"You have more depth. You have more versatility with what you can do with your lineup," he said after a 3-2 win over Tri-City that had a tinge of playoff-like intensity to it. "If there's a penalty killer in the box, you've got another guy on the bench that you can use. You have more resources you can use as a coach."

Portland was a healthy 20-8 at the end of play on Dec. 9. In the 24 games between being at full power, they were 10-10-1-3.

Now, with 19 regular-season games left, Portland (31-18-1-3, 66 points) is five points back of Western Hockey League U.S. Division leader Everett and five in front of third-place Tri-City. If the playoffs started today, the Winterhawks and the Americans would match up in a first-round series.

Saturday started a stretch of six home games in seven for the Winterhawks. This week, they play host to Victoria at 7 p.m. Wednesday and Tri-City at 7 p.m. Friday at Moda Center. They play Saturday at Seattle and 5 p.m. Sunday at the coliseum (with the shades open) against the Thunderbirds.

• Kieffer Bellows scored a pair of goals twice last week and, despite missing 16 games, is second on the Hawks in goals (26) and third in points (52).

"I feel really good about hockey right now. My confidence is high with the way I've been playing," Bellows said after scoring twice in Saturday's win. "But I can't thank my teammates enough for helping me out, especially my linemates Skyler (McKenzie) and Cody (Glass)."

Even missing 16 games, Bellows is tied with Glass for shots on goal this season (193), only 11 shots behind team-leader McKenzie.

"My shot is probably my biggest asset," Bellows said. "As much as I can I try to use it — and try to use my teammates as well."

• In his third season with the Hawks, Conor MacEachern has career totals of five goals and 11 assists. But the 19-year-old  recently shifted from defense to wing to add size (6-4, 199) and energy to the fourth line.

"He's a big body (6-4, 199). We thought we needed to get bigger up front," Johnston said. "He's responsible. He's a defenseman, so he knows how to play in his own zone. He plays with energy. He's a real character, leader-type guy for our team. He's done a good job."

• Shane Farkas made 29 saves on Saturday to win for the third time in his last four starts. The rookie goalie has appeared in only 14 games as Cole Kehler's backup.

"At times it gets frustrating," he said of limited game action. "You have good days and bad days just like everyone does. But you've just got to trust in the process and believe that what you're doing is going to help you improve."

Judging from recent results — including his first WHL shutout (31 saves) on Jan. 20 at Vancouver — Farkas is on the right track. Getting the shutout was a big lift.

"It really helps, right," he said. "It's kind of similar to skaters and a lack of scoring. You get the monkey off your back and you get more confidence and the guys start believing in you more."

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