PORTLAND — A much anticipated Western Hockey League showdown is officially set.
The Portland Winterhawks and Kelowna Rockets, two of the top teams in all of major junior hockey, will battle for the Western Conference championship. The Winterhawks closed the deal on Thursday by closing out the Victoria Royals.
The Winterhawks beat the Royals 5-1 as 8,083 watched at the Moda Center, taking the best-of-7 series 4-1. Chase De Leo scored two third-period goals to finish it off. Taylor Leier, Adam de Champlain and Oliver Bjorkstrand also scored for Portland and Brendan Burke made 31 saves against an aggressive and desperate team of Royals.
But by the end, the goals were secondary to the rough stuff in a game that featured two line brawls, five game misconduct penalties and an injury to Portland forward Nick Petan during a late-game melee.
Petan, a top-line forward for Portland, lay on the ice for several minutes after a fight with 4:50 left that started with Victoria’s Brandon McGee cross checking Petan to the head. When Brendan Leipsic came to the defense of Petan, the second line-brawl of the night was on. After it ended, Petan had to be helped off the ice by teammates.
Portland head coach Mike Johnston said after the game that Petan told him his leg was fine.
“It’ll probably be three, four or five days before we get a real evaluation of where he’s at,” Johnston said.
“I thought (Petan) took a lot of punishment in this series,” Johnston said. “I thought he played really hard. I have a lot of respect for him and how he’s played and how he’s helped carry our team over the last couple of years.”
Johnston said he thought the officials handled the game well, all the action considered.
“You like the emotion of playoff hockey, you like the intensity of playoff hockey, but you don’t like when guys take advantage of other players and when guys intentionally try to injure other players,” Johnston said.
“That’s playoff hockey for you I guess. Emotions boiled over a little bit,” Portland’s Brendan Leipsic said.
Leipsic said McGee’s cross check to Petan’s head crossed the line, though.
“You just don’t do that when you’re it’s 4-1 in a game and you’re moving on,” Leipsic said. “That’s not the way you do it. That’s why we’re moving on, I guess.”
Portland is moving on because it did a better job of back checking in Game 5 than it did in two games in Victoria.
“We didn’t give up anything on the rush,” Johnston said. “For me, if you can eliminate rush chances it takes away a lot from a team.”
The teams traded goals in the second period. Oliver Bjorkstrand scored from the slot 10:31 into the period to make it 3-1 Portland. Victoria goalie Patrik Polivka seemed to be distracted by a glove on the ice and Bjorkstrand converted on his 19th birthday.
Steven Hodges scored with a one-timer with the Royals on a four-on-three power play to bring Victoria within two goals with 4:49 left in the second period.
The second period ended with a line brawl that took away a Victoria power play and earned two Royals game misconduct penalties. Hodges instigated the brawl, and the Royals Joe Hicketts also got game misconducts.
Portland’s Derrick Pouliot, who leveled Hicketts with a punch at the end of the melee, also was dismissed from the game.
It was a strange time for Hodges to initiate trouble. At the start of a two-minute power play, a Royals goal would have set the stage for a tight finish.
“I thought that was a huge turning point,” Johnston said.
The first period was evenly played, but Portland took a 2-0 lead on one textbook goal and an unorthodox one.
Taylor Leier’s power-play goal opened the scoring 13:44 into the game, but it was Adam de Champlain’s goal 34.6 seconds from the end of the period that provided early separation.
De Champlain collected a rebound off the endboards and banked the puck off of Victoria goalie Patrik Polivka for his second playoff goal. Dominck Turgeon’s spinning backhand try from the slot sent the puck wide where de Champlain to put home.
All five skaters handled the puck on Leier’s opening goal, which came on Portland’s first power play of the night. Petan passed the puck from the left boards to Derrick Pouliot who passed to Brendan Leipsic near the right circle. Leipsic hit Bjorkstrand in the slot, and when Bjorkstrand’s shot bounced off Polivka, Leier was there for the finish.
The Western Conference finals will open with two games at Kelowna, likely on April 18-19, though the official schedule was not announced on Thursday. Kelowna, the top-ranked team in junior hockey, won all four regular-season games between the teams.