PORTLAND — Mac Carruth couldn’t help but smile.
With the Rose Garden crowd of 9,742 rising in salute and the big-screen camera focused on the Winterhawks goalie, Carruth couldn’t keep his game face on. He later said he couldn’t remember a Portland crowd ever as loud as it was on Friday.
“Tonight was definitely loud,” Carruth said. “You got chills up your spine toward the end of the game. It was something special.”
Driving the noise on Friday was a 4-1 win over the Kamloops Blazers that earned Carruth and the Winterhawks a third consecutive Western Hockey Leagued Western Conference championship.
“It’s special, for sure,” acting coach Travis Green said. “But there’s still some work to be done.”
By winning this series 4-1, the Winterhawks earn one more shot at the league championship series — the place where they have come up short the previous two seasons.
The WHL final series — Edmonton leads Calgary 3-2 in the Eastern Conference finals — will begin with games next Friday and Saturday at the Rose Garden.
Though Portland carried much of the play, it didn’t finish off the Blazers until the third period. That the decisive blow was a shorthanded goal from Ty Rattie seemed appropriate.
With the Winterhawks leading 2-1, an errant pass from Kamloops’ Brendan Ranford sent Rattie on a breakaway that he buried.
Rattie was named MVP of the series after posting four goals and eight assists in the five games. He has 15 goals in this playoff season, and the 19-year-old’s 45 career playoff goals move him within two of the all-time WHL record. But he said none were more thrilling than this one.
“That ranks No. 1 for the most exciting goal I’ve ever scored,” Rattie said. “When that puck goes in and you hear 10,000 fans cheering, it’s a feeling I can’t describe.”
If the Blazers were left feeling frustrated, credit that to Portland’s domination on the penalty kill — Kamloops scored once on 21 power plays in the five-game series.
“You have to be a smart player to be a good penalty killer,” Green said, pointing to the experience of his team. “And you’ve got to be brave. You’ve got to block shots, you’ve got to pay a price. They were real good this series.”
Rattie later assisted on Nic Petan’s rebound power play goal, which erased any doubt and turned the final six minutes of the game into a celebration in the stands.
Though Portland outshot Kamloops 30-15 through two periods, the lead was only one goal. It might not have been a lead if not for another strong game from Carruth.
“I thought we had our way tonight,” said Taylor Leier, who scored the go-ahead goal and set the screen to help Seth Jones give Portland an early 1-0 lead. “We really stuck to our game plan. We chipped pucks in deep, got on the forecheck and made them turn over pucks, and we got our chances and we buried them.”
Leier made it 2-1 Portland 4:23 into the second period, beating goalie Cole Cheveldave stick-side to convert a two-on-one chance. Oliver Bjorkstrand passed right to left to set up Leier after taking a pass from Chase De Leo to trigger the odd-man rush.
At that point, Portland had 24 shots on goal to seven for Kamloops.
Jones gave Portland a 1-0 lead 7:53 into the game, taking advantage of an early power play for the third game in a row. Jones’ third slap shot of his shift found the net with Leier providing an effective screen in front of Cheveldave.
Portland kept up the pressure. But Kamloops tied it 1-1 with 36.2 seconds left in the first period. JC Lipon was the only player to see a puck that slithered through the crease after Matt Needham circled behind the goal and threw the puck in front.
But that was the only good fortune for the visitors, who simply couldn’t keep pace with the Winterhawks.
“Our speed is unbelievable,” Rattie said. “Three teams in these playoffs couldn’t handle our speed. We wore them down with our speed.”
• Trevor Cheek, the Vancouver resident who plays for Edmonton, left Friday’s Oil Kings game with an injury. Cheek had an assist on the first goal in a 5-1 Edmonton win that puts the Oil Kings ahead 3-2 in the Eastern Conference final. According to Trevor’s father, Brian Cheek, he is day-to-day with a lower body injury. Game 6 is Sunday in Calgary; Game 7 would be Tuesday in Edmonton.
• The Winterhawks are the first team to win three straight WHL conference titles since Red Deer in 2001-03.