The Edmonton Oil Kings got the jump on the Portland Winterhawks on Thursday.
The Eastern Conference champions scored early in the game and played tough defense late to beat the Winterhawks 3-2 in the opening game of the Western Hockey League championship series.
The biggest question for Portland entering Game 2 on Friday in Edmonton’s Rexall Place is the health of top scorer Ty Rattie. Rattie was knocked into the boards in the third period and did not return.
Portland head coach and general manager Mike Johnston said following the game that Rattie seemed fine in the locker room, but that his status for Game 2 would be determined today.
It took Edmonton just 1:25 on Thursday to get the first goal of Game 1. That helped the home team grab momentum that carried well into the second period.
“I give Edmonton credit for how they started, and how they came at us,” Johnston said, noting that the Oil Kings were able to establish some extended possession. “They hung onto it, they used their defense quite a bit early and spread us out in our zone.”
Key faceoff wins helped Edmonton in the first period. The Oil Kings struck quickly, with Rhett Rachinski deflecting a Mark Pysyk point shot past Mac Carruth only 1:25 into the game.
Defensive zone faceoff wins also helped Edmonton kill off a one-minute five-on-three power play for Portland late in the first period.
The second Edmonton goal came 4:59 into the second period after an extended offensive zone push by the Oil Kings and was scored by defenseman Martin Gernat, who slammed home an open chance rebound created by a strong drive to the net by Mitchell Moroz.
Edmonton seemed to have control of the contest midway through the second period, when it built a 3-0 lead. The Oil Kings were winning a lot of the puck battles, and goalie Laurent Brossoit was making big stops.
But only 12 seconds after a shorthanded shot by Jordan Peddle made it 3-0 for the home team, the Winterhawks scored as Marcel Noebels pounced on a rebound for a power-play tally. Less than two minutes later, Portland was within a goal as Sven Bartschi deflected home a blueline shot by William Wrenn.
But those were the only time the Winterhawks beat goalie Laurent Brossoit, whose steady play has been the foundation of a run that has seen Edmonton win 24 of its last 25 games, including 13 of 14 playoff games.
The Oil Kings netminder made several terrific saves among his 24 stops, including a drive from Bartschi in the closing seconds.
“Everyone know’s he’s an outstanding goalie,” Bartschi said, noting that Brossoit showed his quickness and ability to take away the low half of the net. “We’re going to keep shooting and we’ll score on him for sure.”
Carruth, like his counterpart, was beaten by a deflection and a rebound. But Peddle’s short-handed goal from a sharp angle was one Carruth probably would like another chance at.
Portland was 1 for 3 on the power play, and killed all five Oilers advantages. Edmonton was not cited for a penalty in the third period.
Portland had only eight shots in the third period and were outshot 29-26 for the game.
“You saw the firepower that Portland has. They have that great transition game. A lot of great speed,” Edmonton coach Derek Laxdal said. “I thought we did a great job defending in the third period holding a one-goal lead.”
Johnston said he liked the way Rattie was playing before the injury.
“When he got the puck on his stick you knew something was going to happen. We’ll see how he is. He is a key player. He’s been banged up in the playoffs before. If he wants to move on he knows that in playoff hockey you’ve got to be resilient and you’ve got to fight through it.”
The same can be said for his teammates, who are behind in a playoff series for the first time this season.