PORTLAND — With little margin for error and little creative space to work with, the Portland Winterhawks gritted their way to a critical win on Sunday.
Nic Petan’s first-period goal and a 21 saves from goalie Adin Hill keyed a 3-0 win over the Seattle Thunderbirds in front of 9,119 fans at the Moda Center that evens the best-of-7 Western Hockey League playoff series at 1-1.
“It was a character win,” Petan said. “There’s not many games where you only score one goal in three periods, but it goes to show we can play that kind of (tight checking) game for three periods.”
The first-round series shifts to Kent for games at 7:05 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday at ShoWare Center. Game 5 will be at 6 p.m. Saturday in Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
Petan’s goal 14:23 into the game was the only time the Winterhawks beat Seattle goalie Taran Kozun on Sunday. Empty-net goals from Dominic Turgeon and Oliver Bjorkstrand in the final two minutes secured the win.
Hill, who had two regular-season shutouts, faced only five shots in the third period as the Winterhawks played their strongest 20 minutes of the weekend to complete the victory. The rookie goalie made a big stop at the end of the first period and was strong during a second-period Seattle power play.
“It’s really important for us,” Hill said of the shutout. “The last couple of weeks here we’ve given up a few too many goals if you ask me, or the team. A shutout takes a whole team — it’s not just the goalie. The team really helped out tonight. Hopefully, we can do it some more.”
It will take continued smart positional play.
“I thought we did a real good job in the third period keeping the puck in front of us defensively,” Winterhawks defenseman Adam Henry said. “Whenever we didn’t have a play we just took care of the puck. The puck management was really good. It came down to the last minute like we knew it would.”
Actually, the win was secured with two minutes left. Seattle coach Steve Konowalchuk pulled Kozun for an extra attacker with just over two minutes remaining. Turgeon made a strong play to get across center ice and was able to shoot the puck into the empty net, essentially ending the suspense with 1:55 remaining.
Bjorkstrand, the league’s leading scorer, got his first playoff goal of the season with another empty-netter 12 seconds later.
Petan’s first period goal was a chip shot from point-blank range. Miles Koules tried a wrap-around shot after circling behind the goal and the puck bounced free in the crease. Skyler McKenzie kept possession along the wall and pushed the puck to Koules to start the sequence.
The difference from Saturday’s 4-3 loss to Sunday’s win was the play of Portland’s forwards in the neutral zone and on defense. Three of Seattle’s goals on Saturday came from odd-man rushes for the Thunderbirds top scorers.
“I thought our backside pressure was huge,” Petan said. “When you have that it helps out our (defenseman) turn over their pucks a lot more.”
Winterhawks coach Jamie Kompon said his team learned a hard lesson on Saturday about the price of sloppy neutral zone play in playoff hockey.
“We gave up a little too much last night,” Kompon said. “We learned our lesson and we competed hard every shift.”
Seattle’s one pure odd-man rush on Sunday came in the final seconds of the first period, but Hill turned away a shot and tight-angle rebound from Cory Milette.
“That was a pretty tough save,” Hill said. “Our defenseman did a good job of taking away the pass. I just came out and challenged and got a piece of it with my glove.”
Sunday’s game was the type of competition the Winterhawks expect throughout the series.
“It’s going to be tight checking like this the whole way,” Henry said.