PORTLAND — Two goals 14 seconds apart early in the third period on Tuesday earned the Portland Winterhawks a significant win in the tight fight for the best record in the Western Hockey League.
Oliver Gabriel scored two goals and Portland beat the visiting Kamloops Blazers 5-2 in front of 7,927 fans at the Rose Garden. The win moves the Winterhawks into first place in the Western Conference, one point ahead of Tri-City and two ahead of Kamloops. Portland (44-15-3-1) and Kamloops (43-16-1-3) have nine games left in the regular season, Tri-City has 10.
The game was tied at 1-1 after two periods. Then Portland turned up the offensive pressure.
Some extended offensive zone pressure helped create the go-ahead goal, a point-blank finish by Sven Bartschi off a feed from Marcel Noebels.
The puck bounced to Noebels after getting away from the Blazers’ Craig Smith, a fortuitous bounce for the home team.
The third goal was cheap. Gabriel sent the puck to the net from the right wing boards that Kamloops goalie Cam Lanigan failed to glove.
Joe Morrow’s slap shot from the top of the right circle produced a power-play goal for a 4-1 lead. Noebels added a late goal.
Each team scored once on transition in the second period.
Gabriel gave Portland a 1-0 lead 1:35 into the period on a goal created by some Taylor Leier hustle. Leier out-raced a Blazer to a loose puck, then skated up the left wing and centered the puck to Gabriel, who calmly finished with a backhand from close range.
Kamloops tied the game on the power play. Tim Bozon scored from the high slot after taking a pass from JC Lipon. That goal came on a counter attack after Portland’s Bartschi made a short-handed rush.
The first period was scoreless, though the Winterhawks thought they had scored as time expired.
Lanigan was sharp through two periods, making a series of close-range saves to keep the Blazers in the contest. He made a big stop on a rebound chance for Ty Rattie with the Winterhawks on a power play to start the third period.
But the rest of the third period belonged to Portland, and so did an important win.