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Winterhawks ride special to open series with two wins over Seattle; Portland shoots for 3-0 lead on Wednesday at home

COURTESY PHOTO: MEGAN CONNELLY/PORTLAND WINTERHAWKS - Returning from injury, Winterhawks captain Clay Hanus had an assist and the game-winning goal on May 7 in Game 1 of their second-round playoff series with Seattle.Competition is always intense when teams representing Portland cross paths with teams from Seattle. Throw in the stakes of a playoff series, and the intensity reaches unique levels.

That is certainly the case as the Portland Winterhawks and Seattle Thunderbirds clash in the second round of the Western Hockey League playoffs. Portland won the first two games by the narrowest of margins, breaking late-game ties with a power-play goal late in Game 1 and a short-handed goal late in Game 2.

Game 3 in the best-of-7 series is at 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 11 at Veterans Memorial Coliseum. The Winterhawks also are slated to play at home for Game 5 at 6 p.m. on Saturday, May 14 and for Game 7 (if needed) at 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 17.

Even after Portland's dramatic wins in the first two games, it's easy to see this series turning on four games between Friday, May 13 and Tuesday, May 17.

Besides two wins, the thing the Winterhawks have going for them is a sense of confidence — especially in penalty-killing situations like the one that produced a dramatic short-handed goal to win Game 2.

The Winterhawks won their first six playoff games. Allowing only one power-play goal over a sweep of Prince George, then none in the first two games against Seattle, is a big part of the story. Composure is critical to that, both in terms of not taking retaliatory or sloppy penalties and in staying on task when the need to kill penalties arises.

In fact, in a Game 2 that featured tight checking and little room for quick attacks, the Winterhawks actually seemed more energized while killing four Thunderbirds' power plays than they did skating at even strength. In addition to the short-handed goal, Portland's Cross Hanas earned a short-handed penalty shot in Game 2, and while that chance was turned away, it served as a reminder of how the Hawks' speed can put the T-Birds in a quandary.

Portland's penalty killing has been among the best in the Western Hockey League all season. It's a credit to associated coach Don Hay.

"He takes big-time ownership for it, making sure that he works with the defense, works with the forwards and on what the other team is doing — but more importantly, on how we want to play," Winterhawks VP/GM/coach Mike Johnston said, highlighting Hay's contribution. "We're pretty aggressive when we have the chance to be aggressive."

Added Klassen: "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."

As Johnston noted, the most significant penalty killer is the goalie. Portland's Taylor Gauthier continues to be up to that challenge. Gauthier stopped 51 of 54 shots faced in the first two games, including a couple of dramatic stops in each game.

The owners' view — Michael Kramer is glad to have playoff hockey to enjoy, a significant change from last season when COVID-19 meant the abbreviated season was played without fans.

"One of the weirdest things I've ever experienced in my life is sitting in the VMC by myself watching a hockey game. It was a little eerie, a little weird, and I questioned a lot about why we did what we did at that point in time," Kramer said during a recent visit to Portland from his home in Connecticut.

One of the majority owners in a group that took on ownership of the Western Hockey League club in December 2020, Kramer said he watched every Hawks game this season — most of them online, but still a challenge when living in the Eastern Time Zone.

Kramer, a majority owner along with Kerry Preete, reiterated that the owners' vision is to increase participation in hockey at the youth and developmental levels in this region.

A lot of focus has gone into building the business side of the Winterhawks' operation, but the owners have left the hockey side of the club to Johnston, his staff and Portland's extensive scouting network.

"We firmly believe that it all starts with the talent that's on the ice. And then I think you know, we take it to another level in the sense of we believe that we have to support these boys as they pursue their dreams."

In case you missed it

Former Hawks in NHL playoffs — Five former Portland Winterhawks are on teams playing in the first round of the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs.

Seth Jarvis and Nino Niederreiter helped Carolina to a 3-2 lead over Boston through May 6. Niederreiter had three goals and one through the first five games and Jarvis, a rookie, had two goals in a Game 5 win on May 10 and had three goals and one assist in his first 5 NHL playoff games.

Defenseman Matt Dumba is one of the team leaders Minnesota and is a plus-3 through five games, but the Wild trail St. Louis 3-2 through five games.

Ryan Johansen had two assists in four games as Nashville was swept by top seed Colorado. Cody Glass was called up and played in Game 4 for Nashville.

A total of 55 former WHL players were on Stanley Cup playoff rosters.

NHL scouting list — Winterhawks James Stefan (157th) and Marek Alscher (177th) are among the North American skaters listed in the final NHL Central Scouting pre-draft rankings.

Stefan, 18, was second on the Winterhawks with 79 points (34 goals, 45 assists) in the regular season.

In his 17-year-old rookie season from Kladno, Czech Republic, Alscher had seven goals and nine assists and had a plus-20 rating playing mostly alongside team captain Clay Hanus.

Bardsley new Spokane GM — Portland native and former Winterhawks assistant general manager Matt Bardsley is the new GM for the Spokane Chiefs.

Bardsley, 50, spent 18 years in the Winterhawks organization before becoming the GM for Kamloops in 2018. He left that position a year ago because he'd been separated from his family during the pandemic. This season he was a scout for the Philadelphia Flyers.

Dumba a King Clancy nominee — Former Hawk Matt Dumba is the Minnesota Wild's nominee for the King Clancy Memorial Trophy, which recognizes leadership and noteworthy humanitarian contributions off the ice. Dumba won this award in the 2019-20 season.

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