PORTLAND — Winners of 34 of their last 35 games, including all six so far in the playoffs, the Portland Winterhawks are looking scary good.
But after Saturday’s solid 6-3 win over the Victoria Royals, Oliver Bjorkstrand said there might be better days ahead.
“I feel like we’re playing good,” Bjorkstrand said after contributing two goals and one assist to the win that gives Portland a 2-0 lead in this best-of-7 Western Hockey League series.
“Whether it’s our best hockey, I don’t know,” Bjorkstrand said. “I feel like we can play better than this even though we won the games. We’re just going to try to keep improving our game.”
Victoria was much better on Saturday than in Friday’s first game. The Royals scored first, had two power-play goals in the first period, and led 3-2 in the second period. But Bjorkstrand and Derrick Pouliot scored power-play goals midway through the second period, and each scored again in the third period to finish off Portland’s 13th consecutive win.
Games 3 and 4 of this WHL Western Conference semifinal series are Monday and Tuesday in Victoria.
Portland outshot Victoria 44-25. Brendan Leipsic had three assists and Winterhawks goalie Brendan Burke made 22 saves in front of a sellout crowd of 10,947 at the Moda Center.
Victoria took a 3-2 lead on the Royals first even-strength goal of the game 7:38 into the second period, as Steven Hodges beat Burke. Brett Cote led the rush and his pass deflected off Matt Dumba’s skate to Hodges.
But Portland’s power-play struck twice midway through the period. First, Pouliot scored with a slap shot on a dominating Portland shift. Bjorkstrand hit a wide-open net for the go-ahead goal 11:45 into the second period when a shot by Brendan Leipsic came to him.
“The power play’s clicking, and when it can click over and over again that always helps,” Pouliot said.
Those two goals came on power plays where the Hawks kept the heat on with puck and player movement.
“I feel like every guy (on the power play) is playing good and moving the puck well,” said Bjorkstrand, who has eight goals and six assists in six playoff games.
With a one-goal lead entering the third period, the Winterhawks played their best hockey of the night. While adding two goals, their best work was denying the Royals much hope.
“We minimized the chances that they had. We only had them for one scoring chance in the third period, which is really remarkable considering they were pressing a lot,” Winterhawks coach Mike Johnston said. “I thought our defensive game was solid in the third.”
After falling behind 1-0 two minutes into the game, Portland scored twice within 17 seconds to lead 2-1. Just 4:12 into the game. Nic Petan scooped up a loose puck and scored from close range for the first goal, and defenseman Anton Cederholm found a loose puck on the rush and beat Patrik Polivka for his first playoff goal.
Victoria’s first-period goals both came on power play, and both were deflections of perimeter shots by Travis Brown that came directly from faceoff wins. Hodges redirected one from the high slot, and Austin Carroll deflected the second from in close.