In one quick turn of events on Thursday, Joachim Blichfeld gave the Portland Winterhawks a 3-1 lead in their best-of-seven playoff series with the Spokane Chiefs.
Blichfeld scored twice in a seven-second span of the third period to lift Portland to a 4-3 win in front of 3,450 fans at Spokane Arena, gving the Winterhawks a chance to wrap up the Western Hockey League first-round series at home on Saturday.
"That's a key win for us to come back against them. Psychologically, you get a little bit of an edge. But it's still a series," said Mike Johnston, Winterhawks coach/GM/VP.
Portland scored three goals in a wild third period.
The defining sequence came seconds after Portland thought it had tied the game at 3-3 on a Kieffer Bellows shot that led to a video review. Ruled a goal initially on the ice, it was waved off following the review.
Portland didn't waste time getting even, though.
Off the ensuing faceoff, won by Alex Overhardt, Blichfeld pounced on the loose puck in the slot, and his shot got through goalie Dawson Weatherill and dribbled across the goal line to tie the score with 6:22 remaining.
The Winterhawks then ran a designed play off of the faceoff at center ice. A pass from Keoni Texeira found Blichfeld breaking behind the defense. Blichfeld lifted the puck over Weatherill's shoulder for the go-ahead goal with 6:15 left.
Spokane pressed hard from there. On one sequence, the Chiefs kept offensive zone possession for more than 90 seconds after Portland skated the puck back into its own zone — and for much of that time Portland goalie Cole Kehler was without his stick.
"We didn't give them a lot of shots. But we gave them a lot of territory time and a lot of shot attempts. I thought we plugged up the middle of the ice pretty well like you should in those situations. It was a nerve-racking 90 seconds or whatever it was in our zone," Johnston said. "You've got to expect a push from them. They're a good hockey team and they put on a big push there. But Cole made a couple of really nice saves when we needed him to."
Kehler finished with 25 saves as Portland won its third consecutive game.
Game 5 is at 6 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Coliseum.
Spokane led most of the night, and the Chiefs took a 2-1 lead into the third period. But Portland again made a third-period push.
"In this series, our third periods have been really, really good. So we have a lot of confidence in the third," Johnston said.
Portland's Skyler McKenzie tied the game at 2-2 just 2:30 into the third period with his first goal of the series, converting from in close after Henri Jokiharju got a shot off from the point.
Spokane regained the lead 9:50 into the period on a power-play goal from Jaret Anderson-Dolan. Johnston said he felt the officials a missed hooking penalty when Portland defenseman Matthew Quigley had a chance to clear the puck — and that led directly to the third Chiefs' goal.
From there, the bounces all went the Winterhawks' way.
Weatherill, who finished with 20 saves in his first start in the series, got most of Blichfeld's shot on the tying goal but had it squirt behind him and across the goal line. The Chiefs goalie had no chance on Blichfeld's go-ahead goal seconds later.
All of the excitement in the last half of the third period came after Spokane killed off more than a minute of five-on-three power-play time for Portland when the game was tied 2-2.
Spokane led 2-1 after one period.
The Chiefs scored two goals 1:27 apart to go up 2-0. Hudson Elynuik kicked home the first goal of the night 9:01 into the first period with the Chiefs on the power play. A shot from Ty Smith bounced off the end boards and Elynuik got his right skate on the rebound to kick it past Kehler. Because Elynuik was outside the crease, the goal was legal.
Eli Zummack won an offensive-zone faceoff and went to the net to tip shot by Tyson Helgesen past Kehler to make the scre 2-0 Chiefs at 10:28.
The Winterhawks' first goal came after Blichfeld won a race to nullify an icing. He then won possession of the puck and sent it back toward the front of the goal. It deflected toward the right-wing circle where Overhardt was able to put a quick shot through traffic past Weatherill.
"I thought it was a big goal in the first period to make it 2-1. And then I thought the rest of the game it was pretty even," Johnston said.
Weatherill made two great post-to-post saves to deny Bellows chances from in close during the second period.
Portland killed two Spokane power plays during the scoreless second period, including a four-on-three chance for the Chiefs.
Spokane, playing perhaps its best game of the series, went 2 for 4 on the power play while Portland was 0 for 5. The Chiefs won 10 more faceoffs than Portland, but the Winterhawks made two of their faceoffs count.
Three of the four games have finished 4-3, the exception being Portland's hard-fought 3-1 win at Spokane on Wednesday.
"We've just got to keep playing the way we're playing. It's a very close series between two very close teams. There hasn't been a lot of margin for error in any of the games," Johnston said. "You look at the other series around the league and there's been some wide-open scores. Our series has been really, really tight."
The winner of the Portland-Spokane series will face Everett or Seattle in the Western Conference semifinal round. Everett leads the series with Seattle 2-1, with Game 4 scheduled for Friday at Kent, Washington.
• The Tri-City Americans beat visiting Kelowna 5-3 on Thursday to complete a four-game sweep of the B.C. Division champions. Tri-City scored 24 goals in the four games against the Rockets. This is the second consecutive season that a U.S. Division wild-card team has eliminated the B.C. champions in a first-round series. A year ago, Portland ousted Prince George.
Tri-City will face the winner between Victoria and Vancouver. That B.C. Division series is tied 2-2.
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