PORTLAND — Give this one to the defense.
With defensemen scoring three goals, and limiting Everett to a franchise-tying record for shots on goal from an opponent, the Portland Winterhawks beat the Silvertips 4-1 on Saturday in front of a sellout crowd of 10,947 at the Rose Garden.
The result evened the best-of-7 Western Hockey League playoff series at 1-1. Games 3 and 4 are on Wednesday and Friday at Everett. Game 5 will be next Saturday at Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
Portland’s high-scoring top line hasn’t shined yet. But, after an unexpected Game 1 loss, the Winterhawks responded with a dominating performance, one built on fundamentals.
Everett managed only 11 shots on goal — and had only five midway through the third period. That number was evidence of how well Portland played positionally.
“Eliminating turnovers and odd-man rushes, that’s key,” defenseman Troy Rutkowski said, explaining what changed from Friday night’s 4-3 loss.
“Defense is a five-man game. I thought our forwards did their part and the defense did, too.”
The defense also provided the offense that turned Portland’s territorial domination into an important win. Rutkowski had the game’s first goal and set up another, and fellow defensemen Shaun MacPherson and Derrick Pouliot also found the net.
MacPherson’s goal, at 8:04 of the second period, might have been the biggest. And not only because it was the first playoff goal for the 18-year-old who joined the team in January. With Paul Bittner setting a screen in front of the goal, MacPherson took a cross-ice pass from Taylor Peters, skated the puck to the top of the circle, and gave the Hawks a bit of breathing room with a 2-0 lead.
“That goal doesn’t go in without the screeners,” MacPherson said. “That was a good job by Bittner and (Keegan) Iverson.”
The play was an example of the complete effort the Winterhawks turned in, according to acting head coach Travis Green, part of which was getting traffic in front of Austin Lotz after the Everett goalie who stopped 55 shots on Friday.
“I thought we played a 60-minute game where we weren’t worried about the score. We were just focused on the process of getting to the end,” Green said.
Patience was needed. Despite dominating territorially through two periods and having eight minutes of power-play time in the first period, Portland’s lead was only 1-0 midway through the game.
“Our team is used to scoring goals. So for young guys who want to score a lot, sometimes they get a little antsy a little impatient when things aren’t going their way,” Green said.
“I like that we didn’t get impatient tonight. I thought last night we got a little impatient and it cost us a few turnovers.”
The one goal the Winterhawks did poke past Lotz in the first period came from an end-to-end rush that began after the Silvertips’ Joshua Winquist fanned on a shot with an open net staring at him. Brendan Leipsic raced up the left boards. One-touch passes between Nic Petan and Ty Rattie produced a chance in front and Rutkowski crashed the crease and put the rebound home 6:34 into the game.
Rutkowski said he was just following the play and fortunate to have the rebound find his stick. But there was nothing lucky about Saturday’s win for his Winterhawks.
Despite being down a game in a playoff series they are expected to dominate, Rutkowski said the team was its calm self on Saturday.
“Our mood was the same as after any regular season game we lose,” he said. “We want to bounce back and get our jump back and play the way we play.”
The way they play often features plenty of scoring. Saturday’s script was all about defense.