Winterhawks 2, Chiefs 1
Series: Best-of-7 tied 1-1. Next games on Wednesday and Friday in Spokane. Game 5 on Saturday at the Rose Garden.
Star of the game: The Winterhawks defensemen. Portland did a good job of cleaning up rebounds, winning puck battles, and making passes to start up-ice rushes. Plus, William Wrenn scored a rare goal.
Turning point: Wrenn’s goal from the high slot tied the game 1-1 just 33 seconds after Spokane took the lead, breathing life into the Winterhawks.
In the East: Kootenay won twice at Medicine Hat over the weekend to lead the Eastern Conference finals 2-0.
PORTLAND — Ever so briefly on Sunday — for 33 seconds, to be exact — it looked like Game 2 of the Western Hockey League Western Conference finals might be a replay of Game 1.
Fortunately, for the Portland Winterhawks, it wasn’t.
Playing solid positionally throughout the game, the Winterhawks emerged with a 2-1 win over the Spokane Chiefs at the Rose Garden that ties this best-of-7 series at one game apiece.
Defenseman William Wrenn scored an important goal in the first period, and Ryan Johansen scored an opportunistic one in the second for Portland. Winterhawks goalie Mac Carruth made 34 saves to help the home team win in front of 6,506 fans.
Game 3 is on Wednesday in Spokane.
Sunday’s first period was similar to Friday’s first game, in that Spokane’s tight-checking style had the Winterhawks on their heels a bit. Spokane took a 1-0 lead 17:49 into the game on an innocent looking Matt Marantz shot off the rush. His wrister from the left circle beat Carruth over the left shoulder.
The building was subdued and the Winterhawks needed a lift.
It came quickly.
On the first shift after the Chiefs took the lead, the Winterhawks had their first sustained possession since early in the game and Wrenn’s slap shot from the high slot found its way past two Chiefs and beat goalie James Reid at 18:22. Ty Rattie had pushed the puck to Wrenn in open space after Portland kept possession along the boards.
Wrenn, 19, scored two goals in 29 regular-season games after joining the Winterhawks from the University of Denver.
“He’s not one of the guys who usually scores. For him to get that goal really put some extra jump in our bench and throughout or lineup,” Johansen said. “Speaking for myself, we felt a lot better after that goal. We just kept sticking to our game plan, getting pucks behind their D and getting pucks to the net, and it was working for us.”
Portland carried momentum into the second period, and that 20 minutes featured a lot of the free-flowing, up-tempo hockey the Winterhawks thrive upon. They outshot the Chiefs 20-8 in the second period, and owned more puck possession than the visitors.
Johansen gave Portland its first lead of the series on a power play 7:38 into the second period. He jumped on a rebound after Brad Ross stepped out from behind the net and tried to stuff the puck through Reid.
That power play was the result of some Sven Bartschi hustle. The Swiss forward chipped the puck from the blue line behind the Spokane net, then made a hit that drew a high sticking infraction against Tanner Mort.
“Ross was able to get to the net and it just sort of squeezed off (Reid’s) pad and was sitting there,” Johansen said. “I had one hand on my stick and just reached as far as I could and kind of tapped it home.”
Ross’ strong move from behind the net made it happen, Portland coach Mike Johnston said.
“Ross made a good play on the power-play goal. He went down in there, walked across the crease and stayed hungry around the net,” Johnston said. And Johansen and Nino (Niederreiter) went in there, and I thought we did a good job with Reid to knock that one home.”
Spokane pushed hard in the third period, outshooting Portland 13-5. There were a few tough saves for Carruth, and a fortuitous bounce or two. But both the goalie and the coach said they felt comfortable during the final 20 minutes.
“As soon as we got the puck it was out of the zone and in their zone deep,” Carruth said. “We didn’t get a lot of scoring chances in the (third) period. They didn’t have too many quality shots. I was battling the puck a little bit tonight and the boys helped me out.”
Johnston said his team’s defense was smart and consistent.
“I thought Mac was good, and I thought our defense was really good,” Johnston said. “Any loose pucks around the net they just punched them to the corner, they moved them up the boards, the wingers were good on the boards. I felt pretty comfortable in the third. I actually enjoyed that. I thought it was a nice 2-1 game.”
NOTE — Game 5 will be played on Saturday at the Rose Garden. Tickets are on sale through Ticketmaster.