PORTLAND -- An opportunistic overtime goal from Rhett Rachinski rescued the Edmonton Oil Kings from a difficult defeat on Tuesday and turned the Western Hockey League championship series into a best-of-3 showdown.
The winning goal came 9:04 into overtime, giving the visiting Oil Kings a 4-3 win over the Portland Winterhawks at the Rose Garden that tied the series at 2-2.
It was the fourth opportunistic goal of the game for the Oil Kings, who won despite watching the Winterhawks rally from a 3-1 deficit in the third period in front of a sellout crowd of 10,947.
Game 5 is on Thursday at Edmonton. Game 6 is at the Rose Garden on Saturday. If needed, Game 7 is on Sunday back at Edmonton.
The winning goal came after Portland had possession in its defensive zone. But an attempted Portland pass bounced off the skate of Oliver Gabriel and Rachinski pounced. The 20-year-old snapped home a shot through traffic for his second goal of the game.
“It was kind of a weird play,” Rachinski said. “It ended up hitting (Gabriel) and bounced right to me. I just came off the wall there and saw an opportunity to shoot. Honestly, I didn’t see it go in.”
Neither did Portland goalie Mac Carruth, who was screened on the play.
“Our defensemen retreated to the net to try to box out, but it created a double screen on Mac. Certainly it was an unfortunate bounce,” Portland head coach Mike Johnston said.
Johnston said the ice surface was awful throughout the game and was a factor on the overtime goal.
“The puck came out to the blue line and bounced on Gabriel,” Johnston said. “He tried to control it. It bounced a couple of times and he tried to settle it down.”
As disappointing as the overtime loss was, Tuesday’s game would have felt a lot worse had it ended after two periods, Johnston said. Edmonton led 3-1 through two and was carrying much of the play.
Sven Bartschi came to life in the third period, scoring goals at 3:49 and 9:06 of the third period to tie the game.
The first of those woke up the Rose Garden crowd.
The second came off a strong move to the goal by Portland defenseman Derrick Pouliot and had the visitors scrambling to regain their balance.
“In the third period, I was really happy with our game,” Johnston said. “I was happy with our resolve to come back in the game.”
Portland pressed hard for the go-ahead goal, creating several more chances. The best of those was for Cam Reid, whose centering pass bounced back to him, leaving Edmonton goalie Laurent Brossoit off balance.
“All I could do was throw a leg out, and fortunately, he hit it,” Brossoit said.
It was that kind of night for Edmonton, which bounced back into this series with a big effort.
Portland’s Marcel Noebels scored on a breakaway 1:21 into the game, but the Oil Kings owned the first two periods.
Edmonton got some luck on its first three goals, but its lead was earned by consistent play in the attacking zone.
Rachinski tied the game at 1-1 when both teams had four skaters. Portland’s Joe Morrow fell on the play, allowing Jordan Peddle to make a pass to Rachinski alone in front.
The go-ahead goal came 8:17 into the second period. Tyler Maxwell scored a wrap-around goal when Carruth anticipated the puck would go side to side along the boards, leaving a wide open net when Maxwell stepped from behind the goal.
The third Edmonton goal came after an offensive zone faceoff win for the Oil Kings. A shot from the right point bounced off traffic and right to Stephane Legault.
“What a hockey game to coach. Both teams going back and forth like a heavyweight fight,” Edmonton head coach Derek Laxdal said. “I thought our guys gave it a gutsy effort right from the get-go. Even though we let them back in the game at 3-3, I thought our guys hung in there and found some energy in overtime to score the game winner. It was an incredible game by both teams.”