Winterhawks open playoffs with win
The Portland Winterhawks used goals from four players and 23 saves from Cole Kehler to get the jump on the Prince George Cougars as the Western Hockey League playoffs opened on Friday.
The visiting Winterhawks never trailed in defeating the Cougars 4-2 at the CN Center in Game 1 of the best-of-7 series.
"It's important. But it is a long series. It's a long road ahead," Winterhawks VP/GM/coach Mike Johnston said.
Game 2 is 5 p.m. Sunday in Prince George. Games 3 and 4 are on Wednesday and Thursday at Memorial Coliseum.
Brendan De Jong, Skyler McKenzie, Keegan Iverson and Colton Veloso scored for Portland.
Jared Bethune and Jansen Harkins scored for the Cougars, who won their first B.C. Division championship this season.
Portland had to kill a late power play for Prince George after Caleb Jones was called for an interference penalty with 4:27 left and the score 3-2.
Veloso sealed the win with an empty-net breakaway goal with 38 seconds remaining.
Portland outshot Prince George 35-25, including 25-9 over the last 40 minutes.
Johnston said his team did not play well in the first period but controlled the second and third periods with its speed and puck management.
"We had the puck a lot in the second and third periods," Johnston said. "We made some poor decisions with the puck in the first period, and they were pretty good in the first. (The Cougars) had a lot of speed to their attack. I think we were just a little nervous maybe to start the game and weren't really ready for that type of playoff action."
The Winterhawks were 2 for 5 on the power play. The Cougars went 1 for 3.
Five Winterhawks contributed assists, including Cody Glass, who returned after missing last Sunday's regular-season finale with an undisclosed injury.
Evan Weinger also returned to action after missing the final 10 games of the regular season.
The Winterhawks led 2-1 at the end of one period. De Jong and McKenzie scored for Portland.
De Jong scored the first goal of the series on the first power play of the series. Alex Overhardt and Ryan Hughes worked to win a face-off, and the puck found De Jong sneaking into the crease to break the ice 4:35 into the game.
Prince George also scored on its first power play, tying the score 1-1 at 17:49 of the first period. A shot from the left point by Kody McDonald hit traffic and floated high into the air. As the puck fell into the goal mouth behind Kehler, Bethune batted it home with his stick.
Less than a minute later, McKenzie put Portland back in front. Matt Ravel sent the puck to Jones, who entered the zone on the left wing and waited for McKenzie coming late down the slot. McKenzie put a back-hander home at 18:39 of the first.
The only goal of the second period came from Keegan Iverson, 3:06 into the period with the Winterhawks on a four-on-three power play. Kehler made a terrific save on a shorthanded chance for the Cougars' Brendan O'Brien.
Kehler pushed the puck to Glass to start an odd-man rush the other way. Glass found Iverson, who skated into the right-wing circle and beat Prince George goalie Ty Edmonds.
Portland played a strong second period, outshooting Prince George 16-5 in the middle 20 minutes. The Cougars' best chance of the period came when Jansen Harkins hit the left post with Prince George on a power play.
The Winterhawks two-goal lead didn't last long in the third period, which started with the Cougars killing a two-minute penalty.
Harkins brought Prince George within one just 2:43 into the third. Following two teammates across the blue line, Harkins collected a loose puck and beat Kehler with a shot through traffic after the Hawks had disrupted a Cougars rush into Portland territory.
The Winterhawks, though, allowed the Cougars only three more shots on goal. When Prince George was in the attacking zone, the Cougars were mostly kept to the perimeter, and Kehler and his teammates took care of any rebounds.
"We did a good job of clearing any loose pucks that were there off shots, and we did a really good job of keeping the front of the net clean after rebounds," Johnston said.
Portland had several good chances to regain a two-goal lead denied by Edmonds. Among the third-period stops for the Cougars' 20-year-old goalie were a close-range shot from Overhardt that was followed by Joachim Blichfeld putting the rebound off the post. Later, Edmonds used his left skate to deny Weinger on a breakaway
"Even in the third, we didn't sit back.," Johnston said. "We had a lot of good chances in the third period and overall."