PORTLAND — The Western Hockey League playoffs have now begun in Portland.
Trailing for much of the night on Friday, the Winterhawks surged for four third-period goals to begin their best-of-7 series against the Kamloops Blazers with a stirring 5-3 win.
Brad Ross scored the go-ahead and clinching goals, and Ty Rattie also scored twice as the Winterhawks erased a two-goal deficit and revved up a crowd of 6,109 at Memorial Coliseum.
Game 2 of this second-round series is at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Memorial Coliseum. It will be hard to duplicate the energy of Friday’s third period.
“I thought they couldn’t keep up with us in the last period,” said Sven Bartschi, who had a goal and three assists as Portland’s top line continued its postseason domination. “We showed a lot of heart in the last period, played really hard and got pucks to the net, and that’s how you score goals.”
The third-period revival was a case of Portland’s playoff experience combining with the Winterhawks’ belief in their fitness. The game completely changed over the final 11 minutes, and even a late two-man advantage for Kamloops couldn’t shift the contest back to the visitors.
“We believed, as we do, that we can wear teams down with our speed, we can wear teams down with our tempo,” Portland coach and general manager Mike Johnston said. “I thought midway through the second into the third we really took over the game.”
Portland started playing better in the second period, but the results weren’t there until late in the game.
Kamloops, the B.C. Division champions, took a lead 24 seconds into the game on a goal by Matt Needham, and carried a 3-1 advantage into the third period.
The Blazers’ forecheck gave the Winterhawks fits for quite a while on Friday, and was a factor in each of their goals.
“They put a lot of pucks behind the net, made plays to the front of the net,” Johnston said. “We knew they were going to play that kind of a game, and I thought they were better than us at coverage in the first period, then we got better as the game went along.”
The Blazers still had a two-goal lead as the middle of the final period approached, but seconds after one of Portland’s four penalty kills, Bartschi ripped a shot past Kamloops goalie Cole Cheveldave.
That goal came off a feed from Rattie with just under 11 minutes left and turned around the energy in the old building.
“Our penalty killers did a great job, and then we scored 10 seconds after that,” Rattie said. “That was a big turning point and really got the boys going.”
Just over a minute later, Rattie tied the score at 3-3, slamming home a rebound after some hard work by Bartschi along the right wall allowed Marcel Noelbels to swoop to the front of the crease.
It was Rattie’s second goal of the night and 12th in five playoff games this season. His two assists on Friday give the 18-year-old five of those in these playoffs.
Kamloops had only seven shots in the third period, but had a chance to regain the lead when Tim Bozon shot high with nine minutes to play.
Portland’s go-ahead goal came moments later on some precision power-play execution. Ross finished the play from out front, blasting home a feed that came from Rattie behind the net. The quick combination started with a Bartschi pass from the left-wing boards.
“That’s really what your power play has to do,” Johnston said. “They have to score at important times.”
Portland’s did that on Friday. Kamloops’ couldn’t do it.
A high-sticking penalty on Portland’s Brendan Leipsic with just under three minutes left and a goaltender interference call against Oliver Gabriel with 1:24 to play made for a frenetic finish.
The Blazers had a six-on-three skater advantage after pulling goalie Cheveldave. A breakaway empty-net goal by Ross off a feed from Noebels iced the verdict with 24 seconds left.
“Their defense is big and physical and mobile. It’s not going to be easy all the rest of the series,” Rattie said. “Tonight we were lucky enough to get some bounces and that’s a great Game 1 for us.”