The Portland Winterhawks will need to win back-to-back games on Saturday and Sunday to claim the Western Hockey League championship.
A terrific individual effort by defenseman Mark Pysyk on Thursday gave the Edmonton Oil Kings their second consecutive dramatic 4-3 win, moving his team one win away from a title.
Psysk scored the go-ahead goal with 56 seconds left, lifting the host Oil Kings to a 3-2 lead in the best-of-7 WHL finals.
Game 6 is at 6 p.m. on Saturday at the Rose Garden.
If the Winterhawks win that game, the deciding game will be back in Alberta at 5 p.m. on Sunday. Saturday’s game at the Rose Garden is already a sellout.
Sven Bartschi scored the tying goal for Portland early in the third period. Ty Rattie and Marcel Noebels also scored for the Winterhawks, who have lost back-to-back 4-3 games and now must find a way to win two in two days.
Jordan Peddle scored twice and added an assist for Edmonton in Thursday’s back-and-forth contest. But it was Pysyk who made the biggest play.
With a second consecutive overtime game looming, the Edmonton team captain took matters into his own hands. He gloved down a puck at center ice, eluded one Portland player as he skated across the blue line, then wristed the puck and over goalie Mac Carruth’s glove-hand shoulder and just under the crossbar.
“I think (Carruth) was probably expecting a hard shot and I sort of fooled him with a little knuckle puck, I think,” Pysyk said.
The goal sent the crowd of 11,077 at Rexall Place into a frenzy. Portland frantically pushed for a tying goal with Carruth on the bench for the sixth skater. But Pysyk helped run about 10 seconds off the clock in a corner scrum, and Edmonton goalie Laurent Brossoit stood strong in the final three seconds after Portland won an attacking zone faceoff.
“It’s obviously a hard loss, but I thought that was a well played game both ways,” Portland head coach Mike Johnston said. “I thought in the third period we actually did a lot of things we really wanted to do. They had a couple flurries, but I think if we play that way at home (on Saturday), then we’ll be fine.”
Portland got goals from each of its top-line players on Thursday. Noebels scored less than two minutes in off a feed from Bartschi, who was stationed behind the goal line. Rattie’s goal came off a centering pass from Derrick Pouliot with Portland on a second-period power play.
Bartschi continued his spectacular series by getting to the front of the net to blast a feed from Noebels past Edmonton goalie Laurent Brossoit for the tying goal 5:07 into the third period.
The Winterhawks continued to surge but could not steer another shot past Brossoit.
With just less than 12 minutes left, Portland went on the power play for the fourth time. Edmonton’s Micheal St. Croix was penalized for shooting the puck out of play from his defensive zone. But instead of providing Portland a go-ahead goal, the Edmonton penalty kill almost scored one of its own when T.J. Foster broke free. Carruth made that big save, one of his 31 on the night, but the play helped turn momentum back to the home team.
Brossoit made 28 saves, including a big one against Cam Reid in the third period. Noebels also had a dangerous chance sail just high with the score knotted at 3.
The second period featured three goals in a 2:36 span as Edmonton turned a 1-1 tie into a 3-2 lead. A point shot from defenseman Griffin Reinhart gave Edmonton a 2-1 lead at 4:44 of the period. Portland tied it 43 seconds later with Rattie deflecting a Pouliot effort just across the goal line for a power-play goal.
The 2-all tie lasted for 1:53. A strong up-ice rush by Pysyk led to a tap-in rebound goal for Peddle.
Portland had a great chance to tie seconds later, but Brad Ross shot high under pressure at the end of a three-on-one rush.
It was one of those just-miss kind of nights for the Winterhawks. But not for Pysyk and the Oil Kings.
“It was a well placed shot by a good player. That happens,” Johnston said. “Sometimes it goes for you. Sometimes you just miss.”