PORTLAND — As the top three scorers in the Western Hockey League during the regular season Nic Petan, Brendan Leipsic and Ty Rattie get a lot of well-deserved attention.
But against the Spokane Chiefs, it was second-liners Oliver Bjorkstrand, Chase De Leo and Taylor Leier who topped the scoring chart this season.
A 16-point night for the linemates against Spokane on Feb. 18 was a big reason they outscored the first line over nine games against the Chiefs. But if Portland is to win the second-round playoff series that begins at 7 p.m. today at Veterans Memorial Coliseum, figure the second line to play a significant role.
Winterhawks vs. Chiefs
Game 1: at Portland (Memorial Coliseum), 7 p.m. today
Game 2: at Portland (Rose Garden), 7 p.m. Saturday
Game 3: at Spokane, 7:05 p.m. Tuesday
Game 4: at Spokane, 7:05 p.m. Wednesday
Game 5 (if necessary): at Portland (Rose Garden), 7 p.m. Saturday, April 13
Game 6 (if necessary): at Spokane, 7:05 p.m. Monday, April 15
Game 7 (if necessary): at Portland (Memorial Coliseum), 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 17
(NOTE: Play-by-play for all games can be heard on AM 860)
The trio should carry some confidence into the series, having accounted for three goals in Portland's 5-1 clinching win on Monday at Everett.
"It felt really good," said Oliver Bjorkstrand, a 17-year-old rookie right winger from Denmark who had two goals and two assists on Monday. "We hadn't scored that many goals in the series and it was good to get a couple of goals and to make some good plays. I feel like that's good for the next series."
Acting Winterhawks coach Travis Green said it was good to see Bjorkstrand, 18-year-old Philadelphia Flyers draft pick Leier (one goal) and 17-year-old center De Leo (three assists) be rewarded with goals in Monday's clinching win at Everett. Each is in a prominent playoff role for the first time in the WHL.
"They were playing well and not getting rewarded (against Everett)," Green said. "That was kind of the story of our team in that series. I felt like we were doing a lot of good things. Playing well defensively. Getting a lot of chances and not getting rewarded."
De Leo, a 17-year-old center, said that despite their youth he and his linemates are well prepared for playoff hockey. Being pushed in practice by skilled teammates, and drilled from the first practice of the season for the playoff push — and learning the ropes two years ago from roommate Ryan Johansen — prepared him for a significant job.
"All year we've been getting ready for this," De Leo said. "I don't have to change anything. Just have fun, stick to the basics and keep it simple."
Green said work rate is a big reason the second line has jelled this season.
"They work hard and they're effective even when they're not scoring. They're hard to play against. They're competitive," Green said. "We're going to need them. Every series you need guys to step up, and we're going to need them the whole way."
• Portland won seven of the nine regular season games against Spokane, with one of the Chiefs' wins coming by shootout.
• Spokane has won 14 of its last 17 games, including dispatching Tri-City in five games in the first playoff round. Swiss 19-year-old forward Alessio Bertaggia, acquired from Brandon in January, had two goals and six assists for Spokane in the first round of the playoffs. Five other Chiefs had five or more points in the five games against Tri-City. Five of the previous nine playoff series between Spokane and Portland have gone the distance.
• Hawks goalie Mac Carruth, with 37 wins, is one win shy of the what is recognized as the WHL record for career playoff wins by a goalie, held by Cam Ward (Red Deer, 2001-04).