In playoff hockey, depth often is a determining factor.
Two games into their first-round Western Hockey League series, the Portland Winterhawks can point to depth as the reason they return home tied 1-1 in the best-of-seven series.
Games 3 and 4 are 7 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday at Memorial Coliseum.
Scoring from Josh Paterson, Lane Gilliss and Mason Mannek — was the Hawks' way around the intense defensive focus the Spokane Chiefs put on Joachim Blichfeld and to a 5-3 victory in Game 2 on Saturday.
"It's huge," says Kyle Gustafson, Winterhawks associate coach/assistant GM. "You look at the year that Blichfeld's had and Cody (Glass) when he's in our lineup. Those are two marquee players. But in the playoffs, you want to rely on your depth and rely on unsung heroes a little bit. It was great to see that (Saturday), and it seemed to be the difference."
Paterson, in particular, rose to the occasion, scoring twice as Portland shook off a two-goal deficit with a four-goal third period.
Paterson, 19, is in the WHL playoffs for the first time and playing with the urgency that demands. He's been strong on the puck and not afraid to get to the tough area around the goal.
"He waited a long time to get his first crack at the playoffs, and he's showing that the wait's worth it," Gustafson says. "He's really been good the first two games."
Paterson's line, which includes skilled rookies Seth Jarvis and Jaydon Dureau, was the Winterhawks' most consistent unit Saturday.
"We felt it was our best line start to finish," Gustafson says. "They just seem to feed off each other, their speed, their transition game. They had heavy (strong) sticks, for the most part."
In part, the success of the Paterson line was a reflection of the focus Spokane has put on containing Blichfeld, who has been paired primarily with Jake Gricius and Reece Newkirk in the absence of Glass, still listed as day-to-day with an injury.
Portland will be without key defenseman John Ludvig in Game 3 as he serves the last of a two-game suspension for a hit to the head of Spokane's Ethan McIndoe in Game 1. Ludvig drew a major penalty and game misconduct. McIndoe returned and contributed a goal in Game 1.
The hit didn't look malicious, and Ludvig didn't leave his feet, but hits to the head earn suspensions as the WHL (and all of hockey) tries to limit head injuries.
The Winterhawks won without Ludvig in Game 2 in part because Kade Nolan and Nick Cicek were solid in playing extra minutes and provided one assist each as a bonus.
"Our defense, we really rallied around the fact that it was going to be by committee," Gustafson says.
Spokane has had success feeding pucks from behind the goal line to the front of the net. Four of the Chiefs' eight goals in the series — Spokane won Game 1 5-2 — have come from a player below the goal line feeding a teammate in front.
Portland was the better team in the third period of both games — except for surrendering two goals early in the third period that essentially ended Game 1.
In Game 2, the Winterhawks were quicker to the puck for long stretches of the third period and won a good percentage of the possession battles.
Faceoffs were another area where the Winterhawks thrived in Game 2. Spokane had a slight edge in Game 1 faceoffs, but Portland had a 36-27 advantage in Game 2 and was particularly good late in the game while protecting the lead.
Gricius led in that category, winning 19 of his 27 draws. Paterson won 7 of 11.
"It's something we've really talked about lately," Gustafson says. "Jake and Josh have done a great job, but it's a collective effort. You look at our defense and our wingers really battling for those loose pucks. We did a great job in that area."
Portland also cleaned up its discipline in Game 2. No penalties were called on either team. It is believed to be the first penalty-free game — playoffs or regular season — in the Winterhawks' 43 seasons in Portland.
Gustafson said the tone set early in Game 2 by referees Steve Papp and Ward Pateman, the tight-checking nature of the game and the respect each team has for the opposing power play contributed to the infraction-free contest.
"There wasn't a lot of space," Gustafson says. "I think both teams realize how important specialty teams are, and they don't want to give the other team the advantage. But the referees did a great job of setting the standard early."
It was a much different scenario in Game 1, when the teams had a combined 13 power plays and five of the seven goals came on the power play.
First-game adrenaline might have played a role in all of the penalties Friday. The energy was different in Game 2, when both teams seemed focused on assignments rather than aggression.
• Joel Hofer started the first two games in goal for Portland. After some miscommunication led to a giveaway and an early Spokane goal in Game 2, Hofer played a very strong game, making a couple of highlight saves to earn his first WHL playoff victory.
Prior to Game 1, Hofer signed a three-year entry-level contract with the NHL's St. Louis Blues.
A Winnipeg, Manitoba, native, the 6-3 Hofer was the 107th player selected in last June's NHL draft.
Acquired in January from Swift Current, the 18-year-old Hofer was 9-8 with a 2.18 goals-against average and .911 save percentage for the Hawks while sharing the goaltending job with Shane Farkas. He was the backup goalie for the WHL champion Broncos last season and got limited, mop-up duty during Swift Current's 2018 playoff run.
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