Winterhawks beat Prince George, lead series
Sharp goaltending from Cole Kehler and some opportunistic offense carried the Portland Winterhawks to a 5-3 win over the Prince George Cougars on Saturday in Western Hockey League playoff action.
The Winterhawks lead the best-of-seven Western Conference quarterfinal series 3-2. Portland can advance with a win in Game 6 on Monday at Memorial Coliseum.
Ryan Hughes scored the game-winner in the third period just 59 seconds after the Cougars tied the game at 3-3. Cody Glass added the insurance goal off a fortuitous bounce.
Joachim Blichfeld scored two Portland goals, and Brad Ginnell scored his first playoff goal.
But it was Kehler, with 48 saves, who gave the Winterhawks a chance.
"He was really good tonight, especially in the third period," Winterhawks VP/GM/coach Mike Johnston said. "They took a lot of shots early in the game from wide angles, and he was good with his rebound control. But in the third period, he had some in-tight shots and had a lot of action. We were back on our heels I thought in the third period, and he was the key to getting the win."
Prince George outshot Portland 51-28. The Cougars kept the Hawks pinned in their defensive zone for much of the third period, as well as in the later part of the second period and during the game's first four minutes.
Johnston said his young team looked nervous at times in the sold-out CN Centre when Prince George turned up its forecheck pressure.
"I thought we panicked with the puck a lot in our defensive zone. We have to show more poise in those types of situations," Johnston said. "It's a tough road game. I just thought our guys with the crowd and with the intensity and the emotion, they got kind of nervous."
Now the pressure is on the Cougars. To advance, the B.C. Division champions and the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference must win on Monday in Portland and a Game 7 on Wednesday in Prince George.
Still, Johnston knows his team has its work cut out against a mature opponent that at times in the series has controlled play with its size advantage.
"They're a tough team. We're going to have to give it everything to try to beat them," Johnston said.
What the Hawks have is speed, and it was the ingredient that produced five goals on Saturday — including three on only eight shots in the third period.
Portland took a 2-1 lead into the third period and quickly extended it to 3-1. Blichfeld's second goal of the game came 2:45 into the period off a rush. Matt Revel made a strong move to carry the puck to the left of the net and then spin around to find Blichfeld alone in front.
The Cougars' relentless pressure paid off with two goals to tie the score. First, Brogan O'Brien won a puck battle near the blue line, skated down the slot and scored from near the inside of the left-wing circle at 10:04 of the period. Next, Colby McAuley scored after his centering attempt bounced back to him off the skate of Caleb Jones and the score was 3-3 with 6:37 left.
The crowd of 5,822 was energized and the Cougars pushed for more. But the Hawks were able to turn that into an odd-man rush that Hughes converted from the slot off a feed from Evan Weinger to put Portland back ahead with 4:38 remaining.
"Our guys have been good like that all series. They've responded well when we've been down or something bad has happened," Johnston said.
Any doubt this was Portland's night came with 2:35 left when the puck bounced off the skate of referee Fraser Lawrence right to Glass at the side of the net, and on his 18th birthday Glass made the gift count to make the score 5-3.
The Cougars wasted no time setting the tone for the game. Jared Bethune put Prince George ahead 1:09 into the game, and the Cougars had several looks at a second goal before the Hawks scored on their first shot of the game.
Portland's fourth line scored 4:28 into the game with Brad Ginnell scoring his first playoff goal with assists from Ilijah Colina and Jake Gricius. Colina carried the puck hard into the zone and passed to Ginnell who scored from the high slot.
The Winterhawks took their 2-1 lead 15:14 into the first period with a power-play goal from Blichfeld off assists from Cody Glass and Keegan Iverson.
Portland was 1 for 2 on the power play. Prince George was 0 for 2. The winner of this series will advance to play Kelowna or Kamloops. Kelowna leads that series 3-2 with Game 6 on Sunday at Kamloops.