PORTLAND — If Wednesday was the last time Trevor Cheek plays against the Portland Winterhawks, the Vancouver native made his third period count.
Cheek scored the tying goal early in the third period, sparking a dominating finish as his Edmonton Oil Kings beat Portland 4-3 in a game between the two best teams in the Western Hockey League.
“It was awesome,” Cheek said. “It was a pretty big goal for us, to tie it up and give us some confidence, and I thought we did awesome after that.”
Michael St. Croix set up Cheek’s tying goal by stealing the puck on the forecheck, He scored the winner on a power-play deflection with just more than a minute to play.
“It was a great play by Michael St. Croix, stealing the puck behind the net,” Cheek said of his goal 1:23 into the third period. Cheek got himself to the front of the net and the former Camas High School baseball player did not miss.
“I was just trying to get it off quick,” Cheek said. “It was obviously a great feeling to score in front of my family and friends.”
The Winterhawks, who lead the WHL at 51-11-1-2, couldn’t feel good about losing a 3-1 lead and letting the Edmonton team that beat Portland in the league finals a season ago get the win.
Dylan Wruck scored the goal of the game, scoring while surrounded by defenders with three seconds left in the second period.
“A devastating mood,” Nic Petan said, describing the Portland locker room. “In tight games like that it comes down to whoever is working harder and they came out and worked harder in the third period.”
Edmonton used its aggressive forecheck to keep Portland’s transition game bottled up in the third period, when the Oil Kings outshot the Wiinterhawks 17-6 to end up with a 42-29 shots advantage.
“They just pushed up on us and were really aggressive,” Petan said. “We didn’t have our push back tonight. We’re going to be better when we play them next.”
If these teams play again, it will be in the league finals. Edmonton (45-15-2-3) leads the Eastern Conference.
“Playing against those guys, from last year there’s some hatred between our two teams,” Portland’s Brendan Leipsic said. “This is what the game’s all about.”
Each team scored twice in the second period.
Portland’s second period goals were a laser from just inside the blueline from Troy Rutkowski for a power-play tally, and a bank shot by Taylor Leier just as another Winterhawks advantage expired.
Petan’s 44th goal of the season put Portland up 1-0 at the seven minute mark.
Near the end of the game’s first power play, Rattie entered the attacking zone with speed and flipped a backhand pass that found Petan on the doorstep.
The game got feisty fast. And late in the first period, Edmonton’s Henrik Samuelson drew a major penalty and game misconduct for spearing Portland’s Ty Rattie.
The Winterhawks were 2 for 6 on the powerplay. But it was Edmonton’s lone power play goal that decided the game, and the Oil King’s ability to dictate play five on five that helped tell the story.
“They hemmed us in a lot of the second half of the game and we really didn’t have much of a push back,” Leipsic said. “When it comes down to it, we just didn’t execute. We had some chances. We hit a couple of posts. But they were the better team tonight and they deserved to win.”