PORTLAND — The Portland Winterhawks got the jump on the Edmonton Oil Kings for the second consecutive game, scoring twice in the first 3:14 of Game 2 of the Western Hockey League championship series.
That early push and another strong game from goalie Corbin Boes has Portland up 2-0 in the best-of-7 championship series — and two wins away from a second consecutive league title.
Chase De Leo and Brendan Leipsic scored the early goals, Paul Bittner scored for the second night in a row, and the Winterhawks held off the Oil Kings in the third period for a 3-1 win in front of 10,646 fans on Sunday at the Moda Center.
Edmonton is going home for Games 3 and 4 on Tuesday and Wednesday knowing it needs four wins in five games to emerge as champions.
First on the Oil Kings’ to-do list will be playing well from the start of Game 3.
“Portland’s a heck of a hockey club. They’ve got some high octane offense, and if you want to turn pucks over and play a track meet game, they’re going to make you pay,” Edmonton coach Derek Laxdal said. “We turned the puck over early in the game.”
Portland’s energy and puck pursuit created turnovers in the offensive zone that De Leo and Leipsic made count.
De Leo scored from the high slot just 2:12 into the game after Oliver Bjorkstrand intercepted a pass and dropped the puck to De Leo. With Taylor Leier driving to the front of the net, De Leo took a wrist shot that eluded Edmonton goalie Tristan Jarry.
A minute later it was 2-0. Leipsic — who was suspended for Saturday’s Game 1 — scored after Matt Dumba hustled to a loose puck after his shot was blocked. Dumba’s short pass found Leipsic with time and space to beat the Edmonton goalie.
“We got behind the eight ball there early, and you can’t play catch-up hockey against a team like Portland,” Edmonton forward Curtis Lazar said.
When Bittner scored off the rush 4:32 into the second period with a shot that deflected off an Edmonton defender, Portland led 3-0. Jarry, who made 29 saves, denied Leier in close and a Leipsic breakaway to keep the margin 3-0.
But the Winterhawks seemed in control of the game until two penalties late gave Edmonton a five-on-three power play for the final 56 seconds of the second period.
“I thought tonight the big swing in the game might have been that five-on-three kill at the end of the second period, because if you can escape that, then it just gives your team some momentum,” Portland coach Mike Johnston said.
The Hawks did kill off that Edmonton power play. It was not until Henrik Samuelsson scored a power-play goal with 6:32 left in the game that the Oil Kings got a puck past Boes.
Perhaps the best of Boes’ 28 saves Sunday came on a point-blank chance for Tyler Robertson with 12:20 left in the game.
“Our defensemen are doing a great job of boxing out, and we’re really limiting their rush opportunities,” Boes said. “The forwards are doing a great job on the back-check. It’s evident if you’re watching the game from my perspective (that) those rush chances are killed by the blue line and it’s just a lot of outside shots for me that help build my confidence throughout the game.”
Edmonton played with more desperation and had more of the more territorial play in the third period. Still, the Oil Kings managed only eight shots on goal in the final 20 minutes.
“I thought our first two periods were really good,” Leipsic said. “I thought our forecheck was good. The third period I thought we could have managed the puck a little bit better, getting it deep and going after them instead of sitting back a little bit. But they came with a good push.”