Third-period goals have made an unmistakable imprint this postseason for the Portland Winterhawks.
Two games into their Western Hockey League second-round playoff series, the Winterhawks have outscored the Kamloops Blazers 7-1 in the third period. That difference has a lot to do with why the Winterhawks own a 2-0 lead in the best-of-7 series.
But the offensive burst is far from the whole story.
As much as Portland has rode offensive mementum, it needed an effective penalty kill to finish off both games. In each of the first two games, Kamloops has had a two-man advantage (three with the goalie pulled for an attacker). But the Blazers are yet to register a power-play goal in the series on 11 chances.
“Our penalty kill has been phenomenal,” Winterhawks goalie Mac Carruth said after Saturday’s 4-1 win in Game 2. “Troy Rutkowski and Taylor Peters were absollutely incredible throughout the game on the penalty kill. Our guys have been blocking shots and sacrificing their bodies. You can’t ask for anything more.”
The series shifts to Kamloops, British Columbia, for Game 3 today and Game 4 on Wednesday.
It is the first time this millenium that the Blazers’ are playing a second-round playoff series, and the 5,200-seat Interior Savings Center figures to be hopping.
On the ice, part of the intrigue will center around how the Blazers match up against the Winterhawks top line of Marcel Noebels, Ty Rattie and Sven Bartschi.
In Game 2, Rattie was held without a goal for the first time in these playoffs, and the target of some rough play. Part of the Kamloops plan in Game 2 seemed focused on hitting Portland’s defensemen to break up the transition flow.
“In Game 1, our defense was pretty active and pretty in the rush,” Portland defenseman Joe Morrow said. “So they’re definitely going to target you and try to hit you a little more and give you a couple of extra bumps and bruises. It’s part of the game, and you’ve got to deal with it.”
On the flip side, Portland’s defense improved from Game 1 to Game 2 against the Kamloops forecheck and the Blazers’ ability to create offense from behind the net.
“They have a lot of skilled guys down low who can make really nifty plays behind the net,” Carruth said. “I think our defense did a great job (on Saturday) of clearing out the front to let me see shots as well as taking away time and space behind the net.”
Game 3 will be Carruth’s 39th career playoff game for the Winterhawks, who have a clear advantage in playoff experience over the Blazers. The 19-year-old goalie is carrying a 2012 postseason goals-against average of 2.17 and save percentage of 93.2.
The question in goal for Kamloops is if Game 1 starter Cole Cheveldave returns after missing Game 2 apparently because concussion symptoms. Cam Lanigan played Game 2, keeping Portland off the scoreboard until the final minute of the second period.
If Cheveldave cannot play, figure the WHL will extend the suspension of Portland forward Oliver Gabriel, who collided with the Kamloops netminder late in Game 1 and was suspended for Game 2.
• Portland’s Bartschi on Monday was named the WHL Player of the Week for last weekend. Bartschi had three goals and three assists in the two games against Kamloops.
• The Winterhawks on Monday announced that they have signed Paul Bittner, a 15-year-old forward who played varsity hockey as a freshman this year for Crookston (Minn.) High School. Bittner is listed at 6-foot-5 and 185 pounds. He is the sixth American player in the last year to sign with the Winterhawks and, in the process, give up NCAA eligibility.
• Four Winterhawks are in the final NHL Central Scouting Bureau rankings for the June NHL Draft. Defenseman Derrick Pouliot is ranked 12th among North American skaters. Also ranked are defenseman Josh Hanson (102nd), forward Brendan Leipsic (114th) and forward Taylor Leier (131st).
• Several Portland-area sites will be showing the games at Kamloops live. Closest to Clark County is the Kenton Station in north Portland at 8303 N. Denver Ave.