Winterhawks grab series lead
Blocked shots. A dominant penalty kill. Taking hits to make plays. A strong third period.
Add it up and the Portland Winterhawks had all the ingredients for a strong road hockey game on Wednesday. The result was a 3-1 win over the Spokane Chiefs in front of 3,417 fans at Spokane Arena to take a 2-1 lead in their best-of-7 Western Hockey League playoff series.
Cody Glass, Dennis Cholowski and Joachim Blichfeld scored the Portland goals and goalie Cole Kehler stopped 24 shots — 16 of them in the first period — as the Winterhawks took the lead in the series for the first time.
Game 4 is at 7 p.m. on Thursday at Spokane Arena. The series returns to Portland on Saturday for a 6 p.m. Game 5 at Memorial Coliseum.
For the second consecutive game, Portland limited Spokane's third-period chances. The Chiefs got only four shots on goal in the final 20 minutes as the Winterhawks controlled more of the puck and created plenty of dangerous chances to extend the lead.
Spokane played the final 2:24 with an empty net and extra skater but struggled to establish any sustained possession in the offensive zone. Portland narrowly missed on several chances to add an empty-net goal, but then won races for the puck to avoid icing calls.
In the last two games, both with Portland protecting leads, the Hawks have outshot the Chiefs 15-9 in the third period.
Spokane briefly tied it 1-1 with a goal 5:31 into the second period. Jaret Anderson-Dolan scored an unassisted goal, finding a loose puck in the slot after a faceoff, skating to the crease and banked in his second effort off of Kehler.
But a power-play goal for Cholowski put Portland back in front. Glass found Cholowski alone in the slot for the defenseman's third goal of the series.
Blichfeld made it 3-1 by chipping the puck behind Spokane goalie Bailey Brkin after Ryan Hughes won a race for the puck in the right-wing corner and found Blichfeld alone in front of the goal 11:30 into the second period.
Each team had a shot hit the cross bar late in the second period, with Jake Gricius ringing a chance off the crossbar from a Skyler McKenzie feed.
Glass scored 6:50 into the game for Portland, on a play that typified the Hawks' performance.
McKenzie took a hard hit in front of the Spokane bench, but the Hawks took advantage by catching the Chiefs out of position. Bellows slid the puck to an open Glass in the high slot. Glass skated to the bottom of the right-wing circle and slid a shot along the ice that slipped inside the post.
"Spokane is trying to play us physical, I thought we were able to roll off of hits and get back into the play," Winterhawks coach/GM/VP Mike Johnston said. "Those are key, key things. If they're going to play that physical we've got to work around them."
Among Kehler's 16 first-period saves were a pair that foiled Spokane odd-man rushes as he handled a shot from Jaret Anderson-Dolan and a chance for Luke Toporowski off a pass from Anderson-Dolan.
Portland killed two Spokane penalties in the first period, including 26 seconds of five-on-three time for the Chiefs.
Spokane was 0 for 4 on the power play, and Portland's penalty kill was dominant during a Chiefs' power play that started with seven minutes left in the game.
"I thought we played really well defensively and had great penalty kills tonight. Our penalty killers were really, really solid," Johnston said.
Portland was 1 for 4 on the power play, with Cholowski scoring his second power-play goal and third of the series off a heads-up feed from Glass.
Acquired from Prince George at the trade deadline, Cholowski scored one goal in 32 regular-season games with Portland after netting 13 in 37 games with the Cougars.
"He was going to score. It was just a matter of time," Johnston said. "He was handcuffed a little bit early. It didn't seem like things were going in for him. Now they're starting to go for him."
Johnston also praised the effort of all four lines on a night when the Winterhawks seemed to wear down the Chiefs.
"Gricius' line with (Connor) Barley and (Lane) Gillis, I thought they had a really good night defensively and they also created and they played physical," Johnston said. "And (Reece) Newkirk's line (with Conor MacEachern and Mason Mannek) kind of wore them down a little bit. The contributions of those two lines are key because we can't overplay our top two lines."
The top offensive players delivered as Glass had a goal and an assist, Kieffer Bellows had his third two-point game of the series with two assists, and McKenzie and Hughes each had their assists.
It was a strong night for Portland's defensemen as the Hawks blocked shots throughout the game, kept the Chiefs to the perimeter, and limited transition chances for the home team after the first period.