PORTLAND — The Portland Winterhawks are a team that thrives on the attack. On Saturday at the Memorial Coliseum they showed they can be gritty, too.
With goalie Mac Carruth stopping all 20 shots he faced, the opportunistic Winterhawks beat the Kelowna Rockets 4-0 and took a 2-0 lead in their Western Hockey League first-round playoff series.
Games 3 and 4 are in Kelowna on Tuesday and Thursday. Game 5, if needed, would be next Saturday at the Coliseum.
“The guys did a really good job of clearing guys out in front and letting me see pucks and letting me do my job,” Carruth said.
The Winterhawks also did a reasonably good job of not losing their heads in a contest that at times turned nasty in front of a crowd of 5,885.
Kelowna took out its frustration to the tune of 53 penalty minutes, 23 of them assessed to talented winger Brett Bulmer who was penalized three times for kneeing.
“That’s part of playoffs. Especially with teams that are less talented than us, which is most teams in our league,” Carruth said. “They’re going to get chippy. They’re going to try to get us off our game. I think our guys did a really good job of staying together tonight.”
Taking penalties isn’t the way to get the best of the Winterhawks.
All four goals came with one team having a man advantage. Portland scored two power-play goals, another with a delayed Kelowna penalty coming, and one while shorthanded.
“Our special teams have been key for us all year,” Portland head coach Mike Johnston said. “Our penalty killers were outstanding and then our power play scored when it had to.”
The second period was not great for the Winterhawks. They were shorthanded four times, twice for retaliating as the Rockets worked to disrupt Portland’s focus. After getting 20 shots on goal in a scoreless first period, Portland generated only eight shots in the second period.
And the Winterhawks scored twice in the period to claim a 2-0 lead.
The first goal was a power-play tally for defenseman Troy Rutkowski, who was alone in the high slot to convert after some hard work by Marcel Noebels along the left-wing boards.
Late in the period, Brad Ross converted a shorthanded breakaway, skating free with a clearing pass from Taylor Peters for a momentum shifting goal. The Winterhawks had another breakaway chance moments later, but Kelowna goalie Adam Brown denied Ty Rattie.
But Rattie beat Brown up high for a power-play goal 2:07 into the third period. And Tyler Wotherspoon found an open net with a delayed penalty midway through the period.
And four goals were plenty to beat a frustrated Rockets team.
“I think it’s big for our forwards confidence to know that if it’s not going their way in the first period, not to get frustrated because we don’t need to score six goals,” Carruth said. “We can get one or two and win one- or two-goal games as well.”