Kelowna eliminates Winterhawks
A Portland Winterhawks season that produced plenty of surprises came to an end Friday.
The Kelowna Rockets put away the Winterhawks, riding a big first period and a red-hot power play to a 6-2 Western Hockey League playoff win at Prospera Place in Kelowna, British Columbia.
The Rockets won the best-of-seven series 4-1 and advanced to the Western Conference finals for a rematch with the Seattle Thunderbirds. Seattle completed a sweep of its series with Everett on Friday.
Portland's young team surprised many by winning its first-round series over B.C. Division champions Prince George, but couldn't match the firepower of the Rockets.
On Friday, it was the Kelowna power play that finished off Portland. The Rockets scored three power-play goals in the first period. They finished the night 4 for 9 and converted twice with a five-on-three advantage. Reid Gardiner scored four goals and contributed to all six Rockets goals.
Portland was 0 for 4 on its power-play chances.
Joachim Blichfeld and Matt Revel scored for the Winterhawks goals in a two-minute span of the second period to pull Portland within 3-2.
But the Rockets scored three times in the third period, including a power-play goal and an empty-netter.
After trailing 3-0 at the end of the first period, the Winterhawks made a game of it in the second period with goals from Blichfeld and Revel to close to within 3-2.
Blichfeld's third of the series and fifth of the playoffs at 7:06 of the second period got Portland on the board.
After collecting a pass from Brad Ginnell near the left-wing circle, Blichfeld reversed direction along the wall to spin into the circle and wrist a shot through traffic.
Revel scored his third of these playoffs with a shorthanded goal at 9:04 of the second period. Henri Jokiharju found Revel with a pass, and Revel was able to move around Kelowna defenseman Devante Stevens and score.
Besides the two Portland goals, each team had several quality chances during the second period. Among the best: Winterhawks goalie Cole Kehler made a big save on a shorthanded chance for Calvin Thurkauf. Rockets goalie Michael Herringer denied a one-on-one chance for Caleb Jones.
Gardiner's third goal, with 10:33 left in the game, gave the Rockets a breathing room. It came off some strong offensive-zone play by Kelowna, with Nick Merkely making a nice pass to set up Gardiner.
Gardiner added a five-on-three goal with 3:58 left, and Dilon Dube registered an empty-netter with 2:28 remaining.
The Rockets took advantage of power plays in the first period, converting three times with a man advantage, including a five-on-three.
Gardiner scored two of the goals, the first coming four seconds after a suspect penalty against Colton Veloso for goaltender interference after the Hawks forward was pushed into Kelowna goalie Michael Herringer by the Rockets' Lucas Johansen.
That goal, on a shot through traffic off a clean faceoff win, came 4:54 into the game.
Rodney Southam made the score 2-0, batting home a Gardiner shot that bounced into the air in front of the goal at 8:51 with Jones in the penalty box for holding.
Gardiner then made it 3-0 with the Rockets on a five-on-three power play at 12:41.
The Winterhawks played a solid first period when they were not shorthanded. Portland had multiple good chances around the Kelowna net but missed the target several times and saw Herringer come up big on a couple of others.
Alex Overhardt returned from suspension for Portland, but forward Evan Weinger was suspended for a second game. Skyler McKenzie missed his second consecutive game with a concussion.
Kelowna's Cal Foote also did not play and will be suspended for one more game for the elbow that gave McKenzie the concussion.
The Winterhawks finished the regular season with 40 wins to earn a wild-card playoff berth. They then eliminated Prince George in six games before being eliminated by Kelowna.
Keegan Iverson, Revel and Dosanjh played their final junior hockey game on Friday — for Iverson the end of a lengthy career in Portland that included playing in six different playoff seasons for the Winterhawks.
The Rockets recognized the Winterhawks' 20-year-old players as the three stars of Friday's contest.
Jones almost certainly played his final game with the Winterhawks after two seasons. The 19-year-old Edmonton Oilers prospect figures to begin his professional hockey career next season.
The Winterhawks will have the option to bring back three of their five 19-year-olds as overage players next season. That group includes Kehler in goal, defenseman Keoni Texeira and forwards Overhardt, Weinger and Colton Veloso.