PORTLAND — An energetic start from the Portland Winterhawks had the Rose Garden hopping on Friday. But it was the Edmonton Oil Kings who got the jump they wanted in the first game of the Western Hockey League championship series.
Opportunistic on offense and stubbornly solid on defense, the Oil Kings beat the Winterhawks 4-1 to strike first in their championship rematch.
Henrik Samuelsson scored twice and Laurent Brossoit made 35 saves to disappoint 10,097 fans. Game 2 of the best-of-7 series is at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Rose Garden.
“We didn’t think we were going to sweep Edmonton,” acting Winterhawks coach Travis Green said. “We’ve said it all year: It’s one game. There’s no since dwelling on it too much, getting emotionally revved up because you lost a game. And if you would’ve won the game it would be the same.”
Friday’s game might have been decided early, if Portland had found its finishing touch. The Winterhawks pressured the Oil Kings defense right from the first shift, keeping the puck in the attacking zone for nearly two minutes. But when the Oil Kings finally broke out of their own zone, they broke through. Travis Ewanyk carried the puck deep and sent it in front for Dylan Wruck to back-hand over the shoulder of Portland goalie Mac Carruth 2:03 into the game.
That, however, wasn’t the crushing goal. The goal that took the steam out of the home team came early in the third period.
Only 47 seconds after Taylor Leier put Portland on the board to pull the Hawks within a goal, Samuelsson whipped home his second goal of the game from the high slot. Portland couldn’t gain possession and Edmonton’s Stephane Legault couldn’t get a shot. But with the puck sitting between the circles, Samuelsson found it.
“It was hard work from my line that gave me the chance to get shots like that,” Samuelsson said. “I just tried to get pucks on net and get rewarded.”
Curtis Lazar made it 4-1 midway through the third when a shot bounced hard off the end boards for him to deposit into an unguarded goal.
Edmonton’s second goal came after Legault collected a Portland turnover and passed to Samuelsson, who had time, space and traffic in his favor and whistled a shot past Carruth 11:17 into the second period.
Portland, which hasn’t been shut out all season, trailed 2-0 after two periods. Leier broke through three minutes into the third period by poking a rebound between Brossoit’s pads after Case De Leo came off the wall and put a shot on target.
Other than that, the Winterhawks couldn’t solve the Oil Kings’ goalie. Portland outshot Edmonton 16-6 in a high-energy first period, and the Winterhawks had three odd-man rushes but couldn’t beat Brossoit. The one puck that did enter the Edmonton goal during the first period, on another odd-man rush, was ruled to be kicked in with Brendan Leipsic’s skate.
If there were game turning saves, they came on breakaway chances late in the first period. Both times, Brossoit’s quick pads along the ice denied Ty Rattie from in close.
“I can’t take all the credit at all,” Brossoit said. “They did get their odd-man rushes, but I thought our defense and even our forwards back-checked hard and made sure they didn’t have a lot of time and space even when they did get some odd-man rushes to make sure I could make a little bit easier of a save.”
Rattie said he knows Brossoit is quick along the ice and will do better next time.
“I’d be more worried if I wasn’t getting chances, or if my line wasn’t getting chances,” Rattie said. “(Saturday), it’s just a matter of putting the puck in the net.”
The way Friday’s game started, it seemed unlikely Portland would be limited to a single goal.
“I thought we had an outstanding first period,” Green said. “We probably could have had three, four, five goals in the first period. I liked our pace and our energy.”
Edmonton coach Derek Laxdal also praised Portland’s start, but said his team adjusted well after the first-period onslaught.
He got no argument from the Winterhawks.
“They’re a big group of D-men,” Leier said. “I thought they collapsed a lot on (defense) and we had a little bit of trouble with that tonight. (Saturday) we’re going to have to focus on going to the dirty areas a little more and getting to Brossoit a little more I think that will help a lot.”
• Vancouver resident Trevor Cheek did not play. He did contribute an intermission interview for Edmonton radio between the second and third periods.
• Among the former players and other notable spectators recognized during Friday’s game was Sven Bartschi. The top scorer in last season’s WHL finals, Bartschi just completed his rookie season with the Calgary Flames.