By Paul Danzer/Portland Tribune/Portland erases four-goal deficit before losing; still clinches playoff berth

COURTESY PHOTO: PORTLAND WINTERHAWKS/MEGAN CONNELLY - Mason Mannek's breakaway goal started Portland's comeback against Spokane on Tuesday at Veterans Memorial Coliseum.There were 13 goals scored on Tuesday at Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

For the Portland Winterhawks, there were many more lessons than goals in a 7-6 overtime loss to the Spokane Chiefs.

Starting a game a bit unfocussed? Costly. Particularly when the opponent has the firepower the Chiefs possess.

Take a few ill-timed gambles in the offensive zone? Hope your goalie is sharp at the other end to fend off odd-man rushes.

Down four goals midway through the game? Plenty of time to make up the gap.

"The big thing from tonight is, we kept fighting back. We fought back every time we were down," Winterhawks VP/GM/coach Mike Johnston said.

In fact, despite behind down three goals in the third period Portland could have won. The Hawks had several excellent chances for the game-winner in the closing seconds — after tying the game with 42 seconds left in regulation. Both teams had chances in overtime before confusion on a line change left Portland with two men on the ice as Jack Finley won it for the Chiefs 4:04 into OT.

Every game is a learning experience in the Western Hockey League, but it's a good bet Tuesday's is one that will stand out as the Winterhawks prepare for playoff hockey.

For the 11th year in a row, there will be playoff hockey in Portland. That was assured with the point the Winterhawks earned by erasing a three-goal deficit in the third period, forcing overtime with Jaydon Dureau's late goal.

Portland is the first team to clinch a WHL playoff spot, securing its berth with 19 regular-season games remaining. At 35-7-3-4 (77 points), the Winterhawks are nine points up on second-place Everett in the U.S. Division.

But Spokane looked like the first-place team for the first half of Tuesday's game. The third-place Chiefs (28-17-4-1, 61 points) took advantage of two power plays to lead 2-0 at the end of the first period on a pair of goals from WHL scoring leader Adam Beckman, who has 38.

They led 5-1 after a Leif Mattson centering attempt deflected past Joel Hofer at 11:22 of the second period. It was a deserved lead, as the Chiefs dictated play for much of the first 30 minutes and pounced on Winterhawks turnovers for a flurry of odd-man opportunities. Portland's high-powered attack managed only nine shots on goal through the first 26 minutes of action.

Then Portland's depth and skill started to show up.

A breakaway goal from Mason Mannek off an up-ice feed from Kade Nolan 94 seconds after Spokane's fifth goal gave the home team a boost and Johnny Ludvig's power-play goal with nine seconds left in the second made it 5-3 with 20 minutes to play.

"Both teams would probably say they have to be better defensively," Johnston said, noting that Spokane and Portland are two very talented offensive teams. "Both teams were tested defensively and neither team passed."

Another defensive breakdown led to Cordell Larson's goal 1:05 into the third period that put Spokane up 6-3.

It looked bleak, for Portland. But Jack O'Brien found a loose puck to score from a goal-mouth scramble at 4:51 of the third. Then, after standout Spokane defenseman Ty Smith — who seemed to be on the ice all night — was called for holding, Portland's Reece Newkirk dashed up the right wing and scored on the power play with 5:56 left to make it a one-goal game.

Dureau's 14th goal of the season, a wrist shot through traffic from the right-wing circle as Portland skated six-on-five, tied it.

Ludvig had a goal and three assists, one when his point shot was deflected by Tyson Kozak for Portland's first goal, and Jake Gricius three assists. The Hawks went 2 for 2 on the power play, matching Spokane (which was 1 for 2 statistically but 2 for 2 practically).

Beckman, Minnesota Wild prospect, finished with two goals and one assist and New Jersey Devils prospect Smith and Finley each had a goal and three assists for the Chiefs.

Hofer finished with 33 saves on 40 Spokane shots.

"As I said to our group, we have to defend and we have to commit to defending," Johnston said. "We're leaving our goaltenders out to dry with some Grade-A chances that we shouldn't give up. Whether it's mistakes or its coverage or little details that we weren't allowing before that are starting to creep into our game — we've got to be better defensively."

Winterhawks defenseman Clay Hanus sat out his second consecutive game with an injury. Johnston said it is not a long-term injury.

Portland visits Kelowna for games Friday and Saturday. The next home date is Feb. 14, again against Spokane.

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