Thunderbirds finish off Winterhawks in Game 7
In a matter of days, the Portland Winterhawks went from practically tasting a championship opportunity to experiencing a very bitter taste.
The Seattle Thunderbirds finished off an impressive revival with a 6-3 win on Tuesday, May 17, in Game 7 of the Western Hockey League playoff series between the rivals.
Seattle advances to meet Kamloops in the Western Conference final series.
A three-goal Seattle eruption in the second period and strong even-strength play from the Thunderbirds was the difference in the deciding game.
In fact, Portland scored only one even-strength goal over the last three games, a reflection of how well Seattle played in its own zone, as well as the play of Thunderbirds' goalie Thomas Milic.
In the four games in this series played at Portland, the Winterhawks scored only six goals. Seattle won the final three games in Portland, its only road loss in the series coming on Gabe Klassen's late shorthanded goal in Game 2.
Another factor: Portland played from behind, again.
This time it was a short-handed goal for Nico Myatovic, scored 19:05 into the game, that put the T-Birds up 1-0. Portland goalie Taylor Gauthier tried to pass the puck up ice, but Myatovic collected the puck at the red line, skated up the right wing and scored from the right-wing circle. A retreating Clay Hanus might have provided a partial screen on the shot.
That was one example of Seattle making Portland pay seemingly every time the Hawks slipped up.
Three more examples came in the decisive 2:11 of the second period, when Seattle scored three goals to make it 4-0.
T-Birds defenseman Jeremy Hanzel scored his first two playoff goals to make it 3-0, first on a crisp up-ice rush and then after Reid Schaefer won a board battle and slid a cross-ice pass to Hanzel in tons of space.
The situation went from troubling to dire for Portland moments later when Seattle's forecheck — a story the entire series — created a Portland giveaway. Lucas Ciona's shot through traffic — another theme of the series — made it 4-0 T-Birds.
With half a game still to play, the Hawks found life from power-play goals from Jaydon Dureau and Robbie Fromm-Delorme to make it 4-2 entering the third period.
Both teams had extended power plays early in the third without scoring, but with 8:09 left, Seattle's lead grew when Lukas Svejkovsky scored after Henrik Rybinski fought off multiple checks entering the zone and dropped a pass that Svejkovsky whistled past Gauthier.
Fromm-Delorme's second deflected goal from the net-front, off a feed from Dureau with Portland skating six-on-four with Gauthier pulled on a power play, gave the home fans a glimmer of hope. But Reid Schaefer's second empty-net goal of the series finished things.
Ultimately, Seattle was in control of play for long stretches of the final three games. Portland, to its credit, generated more extended zone time on Tuesday than in the previous two games (earning a couple of its six power plays that way) and outshot the Thunderbirds 36-30.
Portland's inability to score at even strength against a Seattle team that successfully kept the Hawks' attack to the perimeter was the difference in the series.
Portland also missed center Tyson Kozak over the final three games. Kozak played some on the wing in games six and seven after missing Game 5, but was not his regular presence around the goal or in the faceoff circle.
The loss ends the WHL careers of overage players Gauthier, Dureau and defenseman Hanus. Gauthier (Pittsburgh) and Hanus (Detroit) have signed NHL entry-level contracts.
Portland had nine first-year WHL players in the lineup on Tuesday, so there is reason for optimism moving forward. Seattle, too, is a young team (eight rookies in Tuesday's lineup) and now will play for a conference title — while Portland's staff turns its full attention to this week's WHL Draft.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.