PORTLAND — The path to the Western Conference finals that a couple of days ago seemed obstacle free has become surprisingly tricky for Portland’s Winterhawks.
And it will include one more trip to Kamloops, B.C.
The visiting Blazers scored the first three goals on Saturday and won their second consecutive elimination game, blitzing the Winterhawks 7-2 to the dismay of 10,135 at the Rose Garden.
Game 6 of this best-of-7 Western Hockey League playoff series is on Monday in Kamloops, and if the Blazers win again, this series will be decided by a seventh game on Wednesday in Portland.
In the aftermath of one of their more one-sided losses, the Winterhawks blamed themselves and said that Saturday’s game wasn’t as one-sided as the scoreboard showed.
“We made some mistakes tonight,” Winterhawks head coach and general manager Mike Johnston said. “On the other side, I thought we did a lot of really good things and we missed converting on our chances.”
In fact, the Winterhawks outshot the Blazers 36-34, and that doesn’t count several times when wide-open nets were missed.
Jordan DePape led the charge for the visitors, registering two goals and two assists. And goalie Cam Lanigan played a big game, making 34 saves including several momentum savers for the Blazers.
DePape made his presence felt early, pouncing on a loose puck to set up the game’s first goal, then scoring the first of two break-away goals for the Blazers. Kamloops also scored one power-play goal, another on a penalty shot, and a third seconds after a five-on-three power play expired.
“We’re going to blame this one on us,” said Portland’s Ty Rattie, who played after being knocked out of Game 4 with a neck injury.
The biggest momentum swings included a pair of second-period goals. After some sustained attack-zone pressure from the Winterhawks got the Rose Garden revved up, Ryan Hanes scored a counter-attack goal to make it 3-0 Blazers.
Then, in the final minute of the second period, Brendan Ranford scored a on the power play to give the Blazers a 4-1 lead after a roughing penalty against Portland’s Joe Morrow.
Portland was 0 for 5 on the power play, and missed a big opportunity to shift momentum with back to back Kamloops penalties after Brendan Leipsic scored early in the second period to make the score 3-1.
“Our power play is getting opportunities. We just can’t seem to put the puck in the net right now,” Morrow said. “Their goalie is playing phenomenal.”
Portland’s second goal was a chip in by Marcel Noebels with the game out of reach.
Portland’s Mac Carruth struggled a bit, giving up six goals on 32 shots before he was replaced by Brendan Burke midway through the third period. Johnston said the move wasn’t a reflection of Carruth’s play, but was made to give the goalie a bit more rest.
When the Winterhawks led the series 3-0 and led Game 4 4-0, they might have been looking forward to some rest before continuing into the conference finals. But they have been outscored 12-2 since then, and now face a Kamloops club that has gained confidence.
“They haven’t changed much to their game,” Morrow said of the Blazers. “They’ve been consistent, and consistently getting better, too.”
The Winterhawks boarded their bus back to Canada shortly after Saturday’s game. It’s a trip they very much wanted to avoid.
“Sitting on the bus and feeling sorry for ourselves for the next nine hours isn’t going to do anything,” Morrow said. “We’ll watch some video, see what we did well, and try to gain some confidence from that.”