Winterhawks rally to beat Brandon
Tired, short-handed and three goals behind, the Portland Winterhawks on Sunday came alive for one of their most impressive wins of the Western Hockey League season.
Alex Overhardt's power-play goal with 6:12 remaining completed a comeback from a 3-0 deficit as the Winterhawks beat the Brandon Wheat Kings, 4-3, in front of 6,588 fans at Moda Center.
"It was a big win," said Overhardt, who won a faceoff then went to the front of the net to deflect a Henri Jokiharju shot past Brandon goalie Logan Thompson.
Brendan De Jong had a goal and a key assist, and Joachim Blichfeld and Lane Gilliss had goals as Portland won despite trailing 3-0 at the end of the first period.
The Winterhawks (28-15-1-3, 60 points) remain two points behind Everett in the U.S. Division. The Wheat Kings (28-15-3-1, 60 points) are third in the tough East Division.
Two of Brandon's early goals came off the stick of Evan Weinger. The 20-year-old played three full seasons with Portland. He was traded at the start of this season because the Hawks had one too many overage players.
His two goals on Sunday gave Weinger a career-high 22 this season and also pushed him past the career-high 38 points he posted last season for Portland.
Overhardt, the 20-year-old forward who stayed with Portland, scored his 12th goal of the season after a clean win on an attacking-zone faceoff at the start of a power play. He sent the draw back to Jokiharju at the right point and went directly to the top of the crease.
"Henri just laid into it. It was easy for me. I saw it the whole way. Credit to Henri," Overhardt said.
A big second period gave Portland a shot.
The rally started 4:43 into the period with Blichfeld scoring on a breakaway after corralling a saucer pass from De Jong.
De Jong scored his second goal of the season 72 seconds later. Skyler McKenzie and Blichfeld hustled to win a puck below the goal line, then McKenzie created a partial screen in front of Thompson. De Jong faked a shot from the point and skated to the top of the left-wing circle to release his shot.
"Coaches have been emphasizing to the defense to get pucks on net," De Jong said. "I just made a move and got it on net. It was an open net so it was pretty easy."
The tying goal came from Gilliss 12:52 into the second on a play that mirrored the game-winner to come. Reece Newkirk won an offensive zone faceoff to Matthew Quigley, who took a shot that Gilliss was able to redirect. The goal stood following a review to see if Gilliss' stick was above the goal.
"Our defense did a real good job of shooting the puck from the point," Winterhawks VP/GM/coach Mike Johnston said. "They had some time, they gave us some opportunities from up top, but I thought we got to the net well. Good screens, good net traffic."
Weinger got going early in his return to Portland, scoring twice in the first 12 minutes. Weinger opened the scoring on a rebound chance with the Wheat Kings on a power play. He made it 2-0 on a shorthanded breakaway after intercepting a cross-ace pass by Ryan Hughes.
Ty Lewis converted off a two-on-one rush to make it 3-0 Brandon with 1:05 left in the first period.
But Cole Kehler shut the door from then on, finishing with 23 saves — 14 over the final two periods, including on a partial breakaway chance for Weinger in the second period and with the Wheat Kings in scramble mode around the crease in the final minute.
"It's tough to come back in any league when you're down 3-0. Not only did we come back, but we kind of dominated the second and third with shots and chances," Johnston said.
The Winterhawks had a 30-14 shots advantage over the final two periods. They were 1 for 5 on the power play and stayed out of the penalty box after Weinger's early power-play goal.
"We got our forecheck going," Johnston said. "We got on their defense, and that created some havoc and created some action for us and some chances."
Portland's next three games are against Kamloops. The Hawks visit the Blazers for games Friday and Saturday, then the teams travel to Portland for a game next Sunday at Moda Center.
Cody Glass and Kieffer Bellows remain out with injuries, and each is "week to week," according to Johnston.
Hughes returned from illness and drew the tripping penalty that led to Overhardt's winning power-play goal.