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Portland still leads WHL series 3-2 after 3-1 home loss to Seattle; Game 6 on Monday in Kent, Washington.

COURTESY PHOTO: KEITH DWIGGINS/PORTLAND WINTERHAWKS - As Seattle Thunderbirds' goalie thomas Milic covers the puck, Portland Winterhawks forward Jack O'Brien (92) is sandwiched by Seattle players. The Thunderbirds' success at protecting their own crease was key to their 3-1 win on Saturday at Veterans Memorial Coliseum.It's a playoff hockey truism that games are won in the blue paint.

That was certainly the case on Saturday, May 14, as the Seattle Thunderbirds extended their season with a 3-1 win over the Portland Winterhawks at Veterans Memorial Coliseum. The Winterhawks still lead the best-of-7 Western Hockey League playoff series 3-2 and will try again on Monday at Kent, Washington, to knock out the Thunderbirds.

If a seventh game is needed, it will be played at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

Seattle scored goals off a rebound chance in the first period and a tap-in play in the third to put any Portland celebrating on hold, as the Thunderbirds played smart positional game for the third time in three games at VMC in this series.

The Thunderbirds were strong on the forecheck, limited Portland's transition opportunities, and did a strong job of keeping the Winterhawks' sticks away from some enticing rebounds in front of Seattle goalie Thomas Milic.

"I think we got a lot of chances. We just didn't quite capitalize on all of them, but I thought everyone battled hard tonight. Not the outcome we wanted, but we're right there with them," said Jack O'Brien, who set up Robbie Fromm-Delorme's goal with 46 seconds left in the second period, a play that sent the game to the third period tied 1-1.

O'Brien took the place of captain Tyson Kozak on the line with Cross Hanas and Fromm-Delorme. Kozak was shaken up late in Friday's Game 4 at Kent. He came out and skated for Saturday's warmups but did not dress for the game.

Portland VP/GM/coach Mike Johnston, as is standard during playoff hockey, declined to comment on Kozak's status.

Seattle, which has established its forecheck early in games this series, did that in the third period and scored the critical second goal 2:02 into the period. Nico Myatovic's first career playoff goal was a deflection at the back post from a spinning pass by Conner Roulette.

The Thunderbirds took six of the first seven shots on goal in the third period. The Winterhawks did have chances to answer, among them a couple of scrambles with the puck loose in a crowd in front of Milic and a shorthanded breakaway for Jaydon Dureau that Milic stopped.

An empty-net goal from Seattle's Reid Schaefer with eight seconds left sealed the outcome.

The Thunderbirds set the tone early with aggressiveness in the Portland zone, but their first goal came off a rush. Henrik Rybinski scored it. He carried the puck into the zone, dropped a pass to Lukas Svejkovsky and went to the front of the net. Portland goalie Taylor Gauthier got a shoulder on Svejkovsky's shot, but Rybinski was there to put the rebound home.

Gauthier played well again, making 34 saves, and needed to be especially sharp early in the game with Seattle's forecheck setting the tone.

"Obviously, getting the first goal is really important," Fromm-Delorme said. "We know how hard they come out. I think for us, it's not going to be about that. It's just going to be about our working in the first 10 minutes. That's going to be a key to our success next game."

Johnston said his team played well, pointing to some good play on three power plays and holding Seattle scoreless on its four power plays. But his team just couldn't find the loose pucks available in the Seattle crease.

"I thought there were rebounds there, and I thought (Seattle) did a good job boxing out. And we have to fight for space and really try and capitalize," Johnston said. "What you can do is, before the shot gets there, get your position early, get to the front of the net early, get a screen early, so that when the puck comes, you're right there in front."

The task in front of the players now is simple, according to Johnston: Rest and recuperate.

"As you see in playoffs or in sports, you've got to be ready for the next day," Johnston said. "And this is a tight series with a bunch of games in a row. So we need energy. That's the message to our guys right now."


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