The Portland Winterhawks are returning to the Western Hockey League Finals.
Portland claimed the Western Conference championship on Friday with a 7-3 win over the Kelowna Rockets in Game 5 at Prospera Place in British Columbia.
The 4-1 series victory gave the Winterhawks their fourth consecutive conference title.
The Winterhawks become just the fourth team in WHL history to appear in four consecutive championship series, joining the Flin Flon Bombers (1968-71), the original Edmonton Oil Kings (1969-72), and the New Westminster Bruins (1975-78).
The Winterhawks now await the winner of the Eastern Conference Championship series, with Edmonton leading Medicine Hat 3-1. Game 5 of that series is today.
Regardless of who the opponent is for the final series, Portland will have home-ice advantage, beginning with games at 7 p.m. on May 3 and 5 p.m. on May 4 at the Moda Center.
“I think we did have some big-game players that rose up at certain moments, and made a difference in the game,” Portland head coach Mike Johnston said. “I think the guys in our room would say they’re banged up, they’re bruised and that was a hell of a series. We’re thankful it didn’t go six.”
Brendan Leipsic, with two goals, Dominic Turgeon, Taylor Leier, Matt Dumba, Chase De Leo and Keegan Iverson scored for Portland, which led 2-0 and 3-2 at the period breaks.
Portland’s backbreaking goal came early in the third period, Dumba with his third of the playoffs just 59 seconds into the period.
From there, it became a rout, with Kelowna’s sails sagging and Portland skating like it had the wind at its back.
Leipsic added a power-play goal from at the 2:56 mark as the Hawks jumped out to a 5-2 advantage.
At game’s end, Leier lifted the Western Conference trophy, with his teammates soon mobbing him and touching the trophy as well.
Corbin Boes made 34 saves in goal for the Winterhawks.
Leier and Oliver Bjorkstrand each had three points in the win.
“We expected that,” Kelowna goalie Jordon Cooke said of Portland’s high-octane offense, which attacked Kelowna in waves and proved unstoppable. “It’s never easy to win the fourth game and they really kind of took it to us at the end.”
Nic Petan, who had two assists on Friday and 11 points in the five games, was named MVP of the series.