PORTLAND — The Portland Winterhawks’ top-end forwards get a lot of deserved attention. But when Portland is at its best, it is usually the back-end guys standing tall.
That was the case Saturday at the Rose Garden, where a sellout crowd of 10,947 was treated to a complete effort by the home team. The result was a critical 3-0 win over the Edmonton Oil Kings that squares the Western Hockey League championship series at 1-1.
An early power-play goal and two quick markers late in the second period proved to be enough on a night Winterhawks goalie Mac Carruth made 16 saves to earn his eighth career playoff shutout.
Games 3 and 4 are on Tuesday and Wednesday in Edmonton. Game 5 is next Friday at the Rose Garden.
Edmonton managed only three shots on goal in the first period, and only two in the third period as the Winterhawks dominated in all three zones and finished with a 36-16 edge in shots on goal.
“I just thought our energy level and our compete level was real committed all night — and not just offensively,” acting Winterhawks coach Travis Green said. “We were committed to playing on both sides of the puck. And this time of year, when you’re in the finals, you’ve got to play a complete hockey game and we did that tonight.”
Ty Rattie scored a on Portland’s third power play of the first period to give Portland an early lead, and goals 1:25 apart late in the second period provided Portland a welcome three-goal lead.
First, Brendan Leipsic swooped up the left-wing and delivered a wrister that caught the inside of the right post. Next, Bjorkstrand — who was beaten by Edmonton goalie Laurent Brossoit’s left pad on an excellent chance moments earlier — took a nifty pass from Derrick Pouliot and whistled a shot over Brossoit’s glove.
Trailing by three goals, Edmonton could not mount a third-period push.
The Oil Kings managed only two shots on goal in the final period.
“They just played a better game than us,” Edmonton’s Stephane Legault said. “Obviously, we’ve got to get more than five shots combined” in the first and third periods.
Carruth, who extended his franchise record for career shutouts in the playoffs, said Portland’s defense did a better job in Game 2 of keeping Edmonton from blocking his vision.
“I got to see pucks,” Caruth said. “Last night they had a few more bodies in front of our net, but our defense did a good job boxing out tonight.”
What Edmonton coach Derek Laxdal saw was a Portland team on its game.
“I think one of the biggest differences in the game tonight was their passing was sharp and we had a lot of passes that were off,” Laxdal said. “It’s hard to pick up pucks that are in your feet and bouncing when you’re attacking their big defensemen.”
One night after Edmonton frustrated Portland with more than 20 blocked shots, the Winterhawks turned the tables by winning the majority of puck battles.
“You’re work ethic has to be at a high level to play well defensively. You have to manage the puck,” Green said. “I thought we did a good job, not just managing the puck when we had, but getting around the puck when they had it, especially in their end on their breakouts.”
Portland broke through on its third power play of the first period. Nic Petan used speed to drive to the crease and flipped a bouncing puck to Rattie for a slam dunk finish 9:09 into the game.
In a repeat of Game 1, the Winterhawks had a pair of shorthanded breakaways late in the first period that came up empty. Brossoit denied Rattie on the first, while Leipsic drew an Edmonton penalty that forced his shot off target.
Edmonton was most threatening in the second period during a couple of 4-on-4 sequences. But most of the Oil Kings’ 11 second-period shots came from the perimeter and Carruth prevented rebound chances.
Eventually, Leipsic and Bjorkstrand provided goals that broke the tension and assured the series will shift to Edmonton deadlocked.
• Vancouver resident Trevor Cheek did not play. The Oil Kings forward missed his third consecutive game with an undisclosed injury. His status remains listed as day to day.
• Portland was 1 for 7 on the power-play. Edmonton was 0 for 3.
• Rattie now has 16 goals in these playoffs and has scored a goal in all 14 WHL playoff series he has played. His 46 career playoff goals are one behind the all-time WHL record set by Mark Pederson with Medicine Hat (1983-88).
• Edmonton’s Henrik Samuelsson briefly left the game in the second period after a knee-on-knee collision with Portland’s Adam De Champlain. De Champlain was assessed a two-minute penalty and Samuelsson was back before the resulting power play ended, and greeted with boos.