With 16 wins needed by a WHL team to make it to the Memorial Cup Tournament, the Portland Winterhawks have done what they have had to do to get six of those wins thus far.
After a hard fought quarterfinal series with the Everett Silvertips, the Portland Winterhawks looked to Round 2 and a Western Conference semifinal matchup with the Spokane Chiefs in their quest for a third consecutive Western Conference Championship. Friday, the game took place at Veterans Memorial Coliseum with just over 6,100 in attendance. Both teams showed why they deserved to be in this round with impressive goals in the first period that left the score knotted at 2. However, it was the third period that showed why the Hawks are favored heavily in this round, as Ty Rattie become only the second in Winterhawks history to score a hat trick in a period. The last time was Randy Heath in 1983, the year the Winterhawks won their first Memorial Cup. The second line of Oliver Bjorkstrand, Taylor Leier and Chase DeLeo, which had caused fits for Spokane during the regular season, were well represented with Bjorkstrand getting 2 goals, Leier 2 assists and DeLeo a goal and an assist. As the game was put out of reach for the Chiefs, the physical play took over and numerous skirmishes took place during the late stages of the second and third periods. Several misconducts were handed out, and the Chiefs bench was reduced to about half. Mac Carruth stopped 38 of 40 shots for the win; Eric Williams of Spokane stopped 32 of 39 for the loss as the Hawks won 7-2.
Saturday would be a different type of game and in a different building. Across the way in the Rose Garden with just 600 people shy of a sellout, the Hawks looked to clamp down tighter on the Chiefs. Scoring chances remained high as did the shot total as the two teams combined for 70 shots on net. With a goal in each period, the Hawks took the game 3-0 and with it a 2-0 series lead in the best of 7. Eric Williams for Spokane outright robbed the Hawks on several point blank shots and Mac Carruth for the Winterhawks, while he was at times tested, was able to see all of the chances come his way en route to the shutout. The officials put the whistles away for the majority of the game. After calling over 20 infractions on Friday, just 6 were called in the game, which lent itself to a faster overall game. Though certainly, arguments could have been made on either side of a non-call, the players played and the fans were treated to a display of strong playoff hockey.
The Hawks now embark on a back to back set in Spokane on Tuesday and Wednesday at the Spokane Arena and could wrap up the series there. If a fifth game is needed, it would take place Saturday, April 13 at the Rose Garden Arena.
With the second straight win in the series for Mac Carruth, he first tied, then broke the all-time record for goaltender playoff wins, now standing at 39. The previous record-holder was Cam Ward in 2001-2004 for the Red Deer Rebels. Ward is now the starting goaltender for the Carolina Hurricanes.
The Winterhawks viewing parties will be in full swing Tuesday and Wednesday with Kenton Station, McGillacuddys, Beaverton Sportspage, Brix Tavern, Game Time in Lake Oswego, and the Rock Pizza in Vancouver hosting games on the big screen. Kenton Station, Game Time and The Rock Pizza are all-age venues.
Ice Chips: A depleted Kelowna Rockets lineup was no match for the Kamloops Blazers as they lost 4-2 in game one in the other Western Conference Semifinal. In the first game of Eastern Conference semifinals, Edmonton handled Medicine Hat and Calgary took care of Red Deer. Both series continue at roughly the same time as the West. The conference finals begin Friday, April 19. The Memorial Cup starts on May 17 through May 26 in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.