Seattle Thunderbirds thump Portland Winterhawks 5-0 Wednesday
Most playoff hockey series — heck, most playoff hockey games, have ebbs and flows.
The Portland Winterhawks' first loss of this Western Hockey League postseason was a reminder of that. Or, more accurately, it was a lesson for young players who on Wednesday, May 11, experienced a playoff loss for the first time.
The Seattle Thunderbirds, playing with energy born of desperation, set the tone early with an aggressive and effective forecheck and beat the Winterhawks 5-0 at Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
Portland still leads the best-of-7 series 2-1, with Game 4 on Friday in Seattle. It could be a frantic few days, with the final four games scheduled in a five-day window — including Game 5 at 6 p.m. Saturday at Veterans memorial Coliseum.
In the aftermath of his team's first loss since March 26 — ending a run of 12 consecutive wins — Mike Johnston was upbeat. The Winterhawks' VP/GM and coach said that, by their count, Portland had five more scoring chances than Seattle on Wednesday and that, on most nights, the Hawks are going to score their share of those.
"We had some great chances tonight. We're not going to be stopped on those chances on a regular basis. We had some phenomenal scoring chances today," Johnston said.
Thunderbirds goalie Thomas Milic certainly did come up big when called upon in his 28-save shutout. And his teammates were quick to clear danger from the front of the net.
Sure, Portland hung around and had a reasonable chance to rally until Connor Roulette's power-play goal 7:29 into the third period made it 3-0, Seattle's forecheck and proactive play in all three zones led to a sense of inevitability.
Seattle scored first for the third time in three games, and this time the Thunderbirds were able to keep momentum.
"We have to have better starts. They've started really well the first 10 minutes of the game and we got to do better at the start," Portland co-captain Clay Hanus said.
It wasn't just Seattle's surge in the first 10 minutes of the game, when the Thunderbirds' forecheck set the tone for the night. It also was the way Seattle's penalty kill kept the pressure up.
The first of two Portland power plays midway through the second period was played as much in the Hawks' zone as the attacking zone. The Winterhawks did create several great chances that Milic denied on power play when the score was 3-0 midway through the third period.
But this game was more about Seattle's strong play than it was any shortcomings from Portland. The T-Birds were the more determined outfit on this night, and were justly rewarded.
Johnston noted that the Seattle line of Lukas Svejkovsky (one goal, three assists), Jared Davidson (two goals, one assist) and Henrik Rybinski was particularly impactful.
"They had a heavy forecheck and they've always had heavy forecheck in the series," Johnston said of Seattle. "Our puck movement wasn't as sharp in the first 10 minutes of the game, but it did get better. They came hard. They came desperate right away. And I thought we could have made a couple of better choices."
Johnston was confident his younger players would turn Wednesday's lessons into positives. Given that Portland hasn't lost consecutive games since late November, such faith makes sense.
"Sometimes experience is the best teacher of those moments and how you handle those moments," Johnston said about responding to Seattle's assertive play.
Winterhawks captain Tyson Kozak chalked it up to one of those nights.
"We had quite a few chances tonight, but obviously their goalie made some pretty good saves for them," Kozak said. "It's just kind of what happens. It wasn't our night. Pucks weren't bouncing for us the right way."
Portland goalie Taylor Gauthier was his solid self. Seattle's first goal came when the Hawks were outnumbered behind the goal and a wide-open Davidson was alone in front. The second, late in period two, was a rebound stuff by Svejkovsky after Gauthier made a tough save and thought he had the puck covered. The critical third goal came on the power play after a too-many-men infraction by Portland.
Johnston has seen this team respond positively to adversity much of the season. The coach expects a strong response in Game 4 on Friday at Kent, Washington.
Johnston described his Hawks as "a team that has been through a lot of things during the year and we've been able to rise to the occasion. And. certainly this series wasn't one where we thought we weren't going to have our struggles. Seattle's a very good team."
It certainly was on Wednesday.
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