All in. That the Portland Winterhawks are using a gambling term as their playoff motto this spring isn’t by coincidence.
On Thursday night, the Winterhawks were all over the place with their royal-flush offence. The end result? A predictable win, albeit hard-fought, over Kelowna, earning the Winterhawks a 4-0 sweep in their Western Conference first-round playoff series with the Rockets. Now Portland is one step closer to its goal of earning a seat at the final table, that being the Memorial Cup in Shawinigan, Que., in May.
“That was Kelowna’s best game (of the series),” said Portland forward Ty Rattie, who scored four goals in the Hawks’ 5-3 victory at Prospera Place. “They pushed back and came back from every goal, and they had a lot of jump tonight. We were lucky enough to get some bounces and we’re happy to close off the series.”
Said Portland general manager and head coach Mike Johnston: “That was a hard series, a real hard-fought series. They battled, they pushed us, and, really, when you look at a first-round matchup, Kelowna was a tough opponent, a real tough opponent. They were more like a No. 4 or 5 seed, and not No. 6. We knew tonight we had our hands full, and I thought they cranked it up.”
Taylor Leier, with what proved to be the game-winning goal at 13:05 of the third period, also scored for Portland, which never trailed in the contest. Rattie iced the win with an insurance marker, an empty-net goal with 35 seconds remaining in the contest. His linemates, Marcel Noebels and Sven Baertschi, also reached the scoresheet, with one and two assists, respectively.
“We played hard. Again,” said Rockets head coach Ryan Huska. “It’s that one line of theirs; we didn’t have answer for them all series. Portland is a very good hockey team; they’re deep on the back-end, they got good goaltending and they have a good group of forwards. And that one line (of Baertschi, Rattie and Noebels) that they do have is one that kind of . . . I feel it puts them over the edge right now.”
“Our big line was important in every game,” said Johnston. “They were the game breakers in every game, and you want your big guys to come up at the right time. Rattie, Baertschi and Noebels were really good.”
Madison Bowey, Brett Bulmer and Myles Bell replied for Kelowna, which lost to Portland in the playoffs for the second time in as many years. Last spring, the Winterhawks ousted the Rockets in six games in the second round. Further, Portland was the last team to sweep the Rockets from the post-season, that being in 1994 when the franchise was located in Tacoma, Wash.
Mac Carruth made 29 saves for Portland, while Adam Brown made 30 saves for Kelowna.
For Kelowna, well, this series really wasn’t about them. The Rockets entered as massive underdogs, and, with their Jekyll-and-Hyde season in the background, the end result proved a fitting end to a sub-par campaign. For proof, look at Game 3, in which the Rockets lost 6-3: Kelowna, for the most part, played OK, yet still lost by three goals. Or Game 4, Kelowna’s best effort of the series, and yet the home team still came up short.
Simply put, the Rockets didn’t have the horses, character or drive to compete with the Winterhawks. That’s not a knock on Kelowna, but rather just how good Portland is.
“It’s not the way you want to end (your season) on a loss, but the last two games, I thought we showed some resilience in our group,” said Huska. “I was proud of the group, that they didn’t roll over in tonight’s situation. We made a couple of mistakes, and as we’ve talked about this whole series, they make you pay. They get a lot of chances, but they do capitalize on the bad mistakes we make. I think our back-end will be better for it, for sure. I guess the one line they had to play against is a line that’s probably going to be in the NHL sooner than later. It will be a learning experience for them; they’re disappointed now, but they’ll get better later on.”
Concerning the Winterhawks, one scout summed it up this way: “Every team has its time in the sun. This is Portland’s time.”
How long will Portland’s time be? Looking at the Hawks’ roster, not long. In the constantly revolving door that is junior hockey, Portland will likely lose several players to the pro game next season, with Sven Baertschi (Calgary Flames), Joe Morrow (Pittsburgh Penguins) and Marcel Noebels (Philadelphia Flyers) being three very good examples. Thus the all-in motto on their black t-shirts, emblazoned over a silhouette of the Memorial Cup.
“We’re going to lose all of our (19-year-olds),” said Johnston. “Almost all of them are signed, so they’re all going to be gone. We’re going to make a lot of changes for next season.”
ICE CHIPS: Game scratches — Kelowna: D Mitchell Chapman (upper-body injury), C Spencer Main (concussion), RW Austin Ferguson, RW Filip Vasko and D Riley Stadel. Portland: D Ben Betker, C Presten Kopeck, C Keegan Iverson, D Cody Castro, RW Alex Schoenborn, C Jason Trott and D Layne Viveiros.