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Wire-to-wire 4-2 victory at home closes out favored Prince George, 4-2

COURTESY: DAYNA FJORD/PORTLAND WINTERHAWKS - Portland Winterhawks forward Ryan Hughes rushes toward Prince George's Colby McAuley in Game 6 of the first-round series against the Cougars at  Memorial Coliseum on Monday. The Portland Winterhawks' resurgence continued Monday night.

The Hawks beat Prince George 4-2 to finish off the Cougars in Game 6 of their Western Hockey League first-round playoff series at Memorial Coliseum.

A year after being swept by Everett, and after undergoing what could be deemed a rebuilding job under Mike Johnston, the Hawks won the series 4-2 and advanced to the Western Conference semifinals against Kelowna.

That series starts Friday and Saturday at Kelowna, British Columbia. The third and fourth games will be next Tuesday and Wednesday at Memorial Coliseum.

The Hawks scored three goals in a 6:23 span of the second period to lead 3-0 on Monday.

Then, after a Prince George goal made things tighter in the third period, Cody Glass won a puck in the corner and flipped it to Skyler McKenzie, who fed Keegan Iverson for a quick goal to make the score 4-1.

"That was our game plan the whole game," McKenzie said. "It was forecheck, forecheck, forecheck. Get the pucks behind their D and go to work from there. that's what Cody did there, got the puck out loose to me and I mad a pretty good pass to (Iverson) and he finished it with a nice shot."

Johnston, who led the Hawks to great heights before jumping to the Pittsburgh Penguins, returned from the NHL ranks and led the Hawks to a 40-28-1-3 regular-season record  — even with a nine-game losing streak early in the season — and now a first-round upset of the older Cougars.

This season, Glass rose to probable first-round NHL draft pick status, McKenzie had a big scoring year, two Europeans players (Henri Jokiharju, Joachim Blichfeld) excelled and young players developed under the guidance of leaders such as Iverson and Caleb Jones. And, first-year goalie Cole Kehler turned into a steady netminder.

After struggling in losses in Games 2 and 3, Kehler was a big reason the Hawks won three in a row to close out Prince George.

"After those two games I felt like I was working hard so I told myself to stick with it and it sure paid off," Kehler said.

He stopped 35 of 37 shots on Monday against a desperate PG team. Over the final two games of the series, Kehler faced 88 shots and stopped 83 of them. His 48 saves on Saturday at Prince George won Game 5 for the Hawks.

The Cougars, a top-10 ranked Canadian Hockey League team to start the season, had trouble contending with the Winterhawks' speed and tenacity.

For a long stretch, the Winterhawks dominated Game 6. Prince George put a bunch of shots on Kehler early, but the Hawks responded with much more pressure and lead 33-18 in shots after two periods.

Colton Veloso broke the scoreless tie at 5:35 of the second period, a goal that wasn't allowed until officials stopped play and replays showed the puck had rocketed into the net.

Less than two minutes later, Ryan Hughes beat Prince George goalie Ty Edmonds from a tough side angle to make the score 2-0.

Then, at 11:58, Alex Overhardt scored from the side of Edmonds on the power play.

Prince George kicked up the intensity in the third period and, after the Hawks killed a penalty, the Cougars scored on Kody McDonald's wrist shot.

But the Glass-Iverson-McKenzie line struck back to make it a three-goal margin again.

The cushion was enough, even as Prince George scored with 1:01 left on Colby McAuley's goal.

For the Hawks, it was a third consecutive victory, after losing Games 2 and 3 by a combined 11-2.

"I was really happy with our game. From start to finish we played pretty consistent," a happy Johnston said. "Cole (Kehler) was good in goal when he had to be. I thought we played with more speed tonight, more pace to the game. We didn't deserve (Game 5), but I thought we definitely deserved tonight's win."

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