PORTLAND — It was the worst home result of the season. Yet, following Saturday’s 7-2 loss to the Kamloops Blazers at the Rose Garden, the Portland Winterhawks insisted that things are not as bad as they seem.
Starting with this from head coach and general manager Mike Johnston: “We’re up 3-2 in the series. So we’re still in control. We’re still in the driver’s seat.”
Mathematically correct? Sure. Emotionally true? Well, that remains to be seen today when the Winterhawks and Blazers meet for Game 6 of the series at 7 p.m. in Kamloops.
Since leading 4-0 in the first period of Game 4 on Wednesday, the Winterhawks have been outscored 12-2. That included a string of eight consecutive Blazers goals over a span of almost four full periods of hockey.
To turn the momentum back their way, the Winterhawks do not need to change anything drastic, Johnston said. He explained that the power play, which has failed to produce a goal since early in Game 3, is still producing quality scoring chances.
He reminded listeners that his team created plenty of scoring chances on Saturday, but didn’t convert.
His message to the club, he said, was not to panic when the puck is not bouncing Portland’s way.
“We can’t let ourselves get frustrated when we don’t score, or we miss quality scoring chances,” Johnston said, admitting that happened on Saturday. “Some nights you’re going to have to just work for your goals. You’re going to shave to grind it out. You’re going to have to get greasy goals around the crease.”
Johnston also talked about improving defensive coverage, noting that breakaways produced three goals for the Blazers on Saturday. The score was 4-1 in the third period, but Kamloops was able to pull away by countering when Portland started to take more chances in search of needed goals.
Before boarding the bus to Kamloops following Saturday’s game, Johnston said there will be more pressure on the Blazers to win Game 6 at home.
“Now they’re starting to get back in the series. Now the pressure shifts to them a little bit,” Johnston said.
If Kamloops prevails today, the drama will extend to a winner-take-all Game 7 on Wednesday at Memorial Coliseum in Portland.
One boost for the Winterhawks in Game 6 figures to be the return of forward Oliver Gabriel. The 20-year-old was suspended for four games following a collision with Kamloops goalie Cole Cheveldave late in Game 1. Cheveldave has not played since, reportedly because of concussion symptoms.
As of Sunday afternoon, the WHL had not announced the duration of the suspension to Kamloops forward JC Lipon. Lipon was suspended for his Game 4 hit that sent Ty Rattie to the hospital. Rattie played in Game 5.
Johnston said Rattie did some good things, but was not his full-speed self.
Rattie said after Saturday’s game that he felt the usual “playoff pain,” but that the result stung a lot more.
“The good thing is, we can only go up from here,” Rattie said.
The winner of this series will face the winner between Tri-City and Spokane in the Western Conference finals. Tri-City leads that series 3-2 with Game 6 on Monday at Spokane.
The conference finals are expected to begin on Friday or Saturday.
Portland would host Spokane or travel to Tri-City for the first two games of the conference finals.
• Several Portland-area sites are showing playoff road games live. Closest to Clark County is the Kenton Station in north Portland at 8303 N. Denver Ave.