Winterhawks win another tight one, grab 2-0 lead in series
Taking consecutive penalties late in a tie hockey game is seldom the path to playoff success — especially when scoring chances are a rare treat.
But, in a series that is about as even as can be through two games, the Portland Winterhawks have two wins thanks to a couple of special plays on special teams.
On Sunday, May 8, in front of a lively audience of 4,711 at Veterans Memorial Coliseum, it was Gabe Klassen's short-handed goal with 3:28 remaining that produced a 2-1 win that gave the Winterhawks a 2-0 series lead over rival Seattle in their best-of-7 Western Hockey League second-round playoff series.
Klassen was open at the back door after a strong individual play by Jaydon Dureau, who skated the puck up ice and drove hard to the net. Seattle goalie Thomas Milic covered Dureau's attempt, but when he tried to play the puck to a Seattle skater, Dureau reacted quicker than the Thunderbird players, who were then out of position to impede Klassen.
"I think they felt I was gonna pull back and (Milic) ended up playing it and they were all just kind of sleeping," Dureau said. "So, I was fortunate enough just to grab the puck and Gabe (made a) heads-up play coming back door, sneaking behind them, and I was able to get him the puck."
Klassen, who has four playoff goals, had just come onto the ice. He, too, said he was prepared to circle back into a defensive position before he saw Dureau get to the loose puck on the right-wing side of the net.
"I realized that they were kind of asleep and (Dureau) regained control, so I just slid in back door and he was able to find me," Klassen said. "Kind of got lucky with the goal … it was great play."
Klassen's winner came one second deeper into Sunday's game than the game-winner Clay Hanus scored on Saturday at Seattle. For the second night in a row, the Hawks and goalie Taylor Gauthier repelled the Thunderbirds' late push.
Portland coach/GM/VP Mike Johnston pointed to the composure his team has played with as one key to emerging with two wins.
"You don't want to be killing two penalties at the end of the game. But I thought our guys again, like last night, we had great composure," Johnston said. "We weren't rattled. Guys felt confident that we can kill the penalty. And that's always a good feeling on the bench that you can kill (the penalty). And certainly your goaltender is your best penalty killer."
That would be Taylor Gauthier, who again came up big when he was called upon. Of his 24 saves, those that stood out included gloving an open shot from the slot for Seattle's Sam Oremba early in the third period and a denial of a chance for Lukas Svejkovsky in the second period that was a potential big momentum moment for the visitors in that it came moments after Milic denied a Cross Hanas penalty shot — an opportunity created with Portland killing a penalty.
Under the direction of associate coach Don Hay, Portland's penalty kill has been a strength all season. Through six playoff games, the Hawks have allowed one goal. On Sunday, the PK produced the winning goal, as well as that penalty shot for Hanas.
"Don's all over us about our PK. We take a lot of pride in having a good penalty kill and it's been good all year. And I think it is a great way to build momentum and put them on their heels," Klassen said.
Seattle's kill has also been aggressive and successful. The Hanus shot through traffic for Saturday's winner is Portland's only power-play conversion on seven chances through two games, and there weren't many quality looks created on Sunday when the Hawks were 0 for 4.
As was the case in Game 1 in Kent, Washington, on Saturday, Seattle led 1-0 after one period. And, like on Saturday, the game was tied entering period three.
One of the few odd-man rushes in the game was a Seattle four-on-three midway through the first period that produced a Lucas Ciona goal.
Portland tied it 22 minutes later, with captain Tyson Kozak hitting the open net after a strong lay from behind the net set up a shot for Robbie Fromm-Delorme in front. That shot deflected off of a Thunderbird stick to Kozak, who didn't miss the open net for his first playoff goal.
Dureau had not played since April 26 in Game 3 of the first round. He said it takes a while to get a feel for playoff physicality. But by the third period he clearly was comfortable and delivered a fast and physical short-handed rush followed by a quick pass to produce the winning play.
Even up 2-0, the Hawks cannot get comfortable.
"Both teams did a good job of back checking, closing from behind, the defense staying up. So really you didn't see a lot of plays being made on the rush, a lot of great opportunities," Johnston said. "It's a tight-checking series and special teams will be important."
Wednesday's Game 3 is a big one for Portland because the back half of the series, should it go the distance, calls for the teams to play four times over five days starting with Game 4 on Friday at Seattle.
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