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Down to the Wire, Where do the Portland Winterhawks End the Season?

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

 

The Portland Winterhawks continue to chew up a bit of real estate in their quest to be a part of the 2015/16 playoff picture. Only seven games remain and the race in the US Division is tighter than ever. Unless both the Everett Silvertips and Seattle Thunderbirds tank in their remaining games, Portland at best, will be able to place no higher than third overall in the division.

The Hawks remain one point above the Spokane Chiefs after this past weekend's action. All teams that are vying for the final two spots in the US Division and Western Conference wildcard split their games this weekend. In Portland, the Winterhawks battled a determined Tri-City Americans team which is desperately seeking the final slot at Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Portland never trailed in the game, but found the competition as tough as it gets. Portland took a 2-0 lead with goals by Keegan Iverson on the powerplay and Dominic Turgeon late into the first period, but Tri-City answered with a goal of their own just seconds after the Turgeon marker. Cody Glass would restore the lead to two, but again, seconds later, Tyler Sandhu, a former Winterhawks prospect, would cut the lead to one.

Near the midway point of the second period, Blake Heinrich, who has been on a bit of a clip, fired a rocket past Evan Sathou in the Americans net to give Portland its cushion back. Like so many leads though, it was a one goal game just two minutes later when Vadislav Lukin connected on a Jusso Valamakin pass and the race was on. Tri-City poured on the pressure forcing Adin Hill to come up with heroics to preserve the lead.

With about two minutes remaining in the game, the Americans pulled their goaltender for an extra attacker and try as they might, could not find a way to the back of the net. On a defected pass, Blake Heinrich steamrolled up ice to the American's zone and with flailing bodies desperate to block his progress, Heinrich was able to navigate enough to backhand the puck over them for the decisive goal. In the Hawks 5-3 win, Portland outshot Tri-City 33-30 and scored once on four powerplay chances while the Americans were blanked on two opportunities. On the same night, Spokane Chiefs defeated Prince George Cougars 3-2 and Seattle took a 2-1 shootout win over Everett Silvertips. Factoring into the mix was Kamloops Blazers 3-2 win over the Kelowna Rockets which blurred the wildcard race even further.

The next night, Portland was in a playoff-type battle with the Seattle Thunderbirds, who were looking to regain top spot in the US Division. The pace was tight early as both teams sought out mistakes to take advantage of. Seattle would take advantage on a powerplay, the result of an errant high stick by Keoni Texeira to Matt Barzal. Ethan Bear followed up on a Barzal pass near the right faceoff dot and wired in past Adin Hill just under six minutes into the game. Portland would counter less than three minutes later when Rihards Bukarts connected on a Cody Glass feed to tuck the puck past Landon Bow to knot the game at one. The Hawks were guilty of an icing call allowing the faceoff to take place in the Hawks zone. Seattle's Scott Eansor won the faceoff, which was picked up by Donovan Nuels and a quick blink of an eye wrist shot by Nolan Vulcan, got past Adin Hill to restore the Seattle lead.

Physical play took over as both sides, frustrated in their inability to break the tie, spilled over into hard checks and extracurricular activities post whistle. The Thunderbirds had glorious opportunities to increase their lead with spectacular saves by Hill, a couple goal line stances and a post or two. Portland kept crashing the Thunderbirds zone with continuous pressure in what looked like a precursor to this season's postseason play. In the end, despite pulling Adin Hill for the extra attacker, the Hawks weren't able to generate that tying goal and fell 2-1 to the Thunderbirds. Shots were tied at 33 with Seattle one out of three on the powerplay while Portland was blanked on two chances.  The Tri-City Americans pulled up from the previous night's loss to Portland and defeated the Everett Silvertips 5-3, while Spokane dropped a 4-1 decision to Prince George Cougars. Kamloops Blazers picked up their second straight win over Kelowna Rockets by a 3-2 score and Victoria Royals thumped Vancouver Giants for the second night in a row.

The Western Conference standings are for the BC Division, Victoria on top, Kelowna second, and Prince George Cougars holding down the third guaranteed playoff spot (just three points up on Kamloops Blazers). In the US Division, Seattle holds a four point advantage over Everett following Sunday's 4-0 win over Tri-City Americans, while Portland (70 points) sits third just a point up on Spokane. Wildcard spots have Kamloops (73points) ahead of Spokane (69points) as they battle to keep ahead of the Tri-City with 65 points. The top three teams in each division are guaranteed a playoff spot while the remaining teams battle for the remaining two spots, hence the reason why Kamloops which has more points than Portland, but less than third place Prince George and is in wildcard contention.

Ice Chips:

Remaining games:
Portland (7) at Everett, at Vancouver, vs Seattle, vs Everett, vs Spokane, at Seattle, vs Seattle
Spokane (7) vs Kamloops, vs Tri-City, vs Kelowna, at Seattle, at Everett, at Portland, at Tri-City
Kamloops (6) at Tri-City, at Spokane, at Kelowna, vs Vancouver, vs Prince George at Prince George
Tri-City (6) vs Kamloops, at Spokane, vs Everett, vs Kelowna, vs Seattle, vs Spokane

Spokane gets the tougher schedule with top teams to end the season plus their last four games are on the road, Tri-City has a tough schedule and has one less game than the higher up divisional opponents, but their last four games will be at home. Portland plays a few I-5 games with the balance of the schedule at home. Kamloops has two tough US Division wildcard battles and a tough home and home series with the Cougars to end the season. Victoria has played two more games than Kelowna, but holds a five point advantage into the final stretch. Seattle and Everett will battle for the top two positions within the US Division and while mathematically possible, it is highly unlikely, any other US Division team will catch either top team for the division banner.

 

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