PORTLAND — Sven Bartschi might have been a bit lucky on his goal, and a bit bold on his assist.
But there was a whole lot of heart in the Swiss forward’s effort on Saturday at the Rose Garden.
In the most entertaining game so far in the Western Hockey League Western Conference finals, Bartschi’s energy helped carry the Portland Winterhawks to a 3-2 win over the Spokane Chiefs and within one victory of advancing to the WHL finals.
Bouncing back from an 8-3 loss in Spokane on Friday, and recovering from another early deficit, Portland played with the kind of passion and discipline required of tight playoff series.
Game 6 is on Monday at Spokane. If the Chiefs win there, the series will be decided back at the Rose Garden on Tuesday.
Bartschi, Ty Rattie and Craig Cunningham scored the Portland goals, and Mac Carruth made 39 saves in front of 9,486 fans.
Spokane has scored the first goal in all five games, and needed only 59 seconds to jump ahead on Saturday. Western Conference MVP Tyler Johnson took a pass from Levko Koper, split the Portland defense for a breakaway, and beat Carruth over his right shoulder.
Thanks to strong play from Carruth and counterpart James Reid, that was the only goal until the closing seconds of the second period.
The tying goal came at the end of sustained Portland pressure that started with the Winterhawks on the power play. Reid made several high-difficulty stops during that power play, including one that robbed Bartschi. But he had no chance as Bartschi, stationed atthe right post, deflected a Joe Morrow shot into the goal.
“I was there in front of the net and it hit my stick,” Bartschi said with a smile.
“That might have been the momentum turner in the game,” Portland coach Mike Johnston said.
The penalty that created that momentum-changing power play was a slashing call on Spokane’s Corbin Baldwin. He slashed Portland’s Brad Ross to prevent Ross from a back-hand chance after Ross skated across the crease after breaking free up the left wing.
Late in the first period, Johnston traded the lines for centers Ryan Johansen and Cunningham in an effective adjustment designed to force Spokane to play top defenseman Jared Cowen against either Johansen or Nino Neiderreiter, but not both.
“I think we kind of confused their team,” Johahsen said. “We hit them with a little bit different style and a new line.”
Ty Rattie picked a great time to put the puck behind Reid for the first time in the series.
Rattie’s one-timer from low in the left circle gave Portland a 2-1 lead 5:22 into the third period.
Taylor Aronson’s pass from the right point set up Rattie after some good puck support kept the play in the offensive zone.
“Aronson has great eyes he found me there and luckily it found the five-hole,” Rattie said.
It looked line this win might come without drama when Cunningham scored on a breakaway to make it 3-1 Portland with 8:13 left. Bartschi made a perfect pass from near his own goal line to Cunningham at the attacking blue line.
“The puck came to me and I saw Cunningham,” Bartschi said. “I tried it out. You never know. Sometimes it works, sometimes not, and today it worked pretty well.”
Spokane’s Mitch Holmberg scored one minute later on a shot from the high slot at the end of an individual end to end rush.
And the Chiefs were in the attacking zone for much of the last few minutes. But the Winterhawks were determined not to let in a tying goal. Bartschi was among the players blocking shots with the game on the line.
“To win those games, you have to pay something,” Bartschi said. “I think our whole team did a great job of blocking shots and making it hard for them.”
NOTE — Spokane played without third-line winger Collin Valcourt, who was given a one-game suspension for a hit on Portland’s Tyler Wotherspoon in Game 4. Valcourt had a goal and two assists in Game 4.