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Portland Winterhawks Weekend Woes - Playoff Spaces Down to the Wire

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

 

It was supposed to be a weekend that the Portland Winterhawks would establish a solid grip on the US Division standings and be secure in a third place finish. Their weekend was about as opposite to that as could be. Things started off rough for Portland as they struggled against a Vancouver Giants team that was well back from a playoff spot, but looking to spoil other team's success. Up to the middle of the first period, Vancouver seemed to control the play as the Hawks were appearing to grip their sticks just a bit more than usual and not being the focused team looking for a playoff spot. Adin Hill had to be sharp on the ten shots fired at him during the first period as the Giants hemmed up the Hawks well in their defensive zone. Finally, the Hawks were able to break out and put one past goaltender Ryan Kubic during a powerplay by Dominic Turgeon, but the Giants weren't about to let the Hawks get away easy. Just under two minutes into the second period, Owen Hardy connected on a Ty Ronning feed to put the puck past Adin Hill to tie up the game.

The Hawks sensing some desperation, hit the throttle scoring three goals in six minutes to take a 4-1 lead. Rodrigo Abols, Dominic Turgeon with his second of the game and assisting on the Abols goal, along with Rihards Bukarts gave the Hawks a bit of a cushion. Cody Glass would add to the lead for the Hawks near the midway point of the third period, before Vancouver would close out the scoring on a powerplay goal. The Hawks would keep better control during the remainder of the third period and walk out with a 5-2 win. On that same night, Spokane hammered Tri-City 6-1 and Seattle won a goaltenders duel with a 1-0 win over Everett.

The following night, the action returned to Portland where Seattle Thunderbirds were looking to clinch the US Division title after passing a sagging Everett Silvertips team in the standings. Seattle started fast with a Nolan Vulcan goal just over a minute into the game, but a powerplay goal by captain Dominic Turgeon would tie it up near the midway point of the first period. Seattle continued their barrage of shots into the second outshooting the Hawks 34-22 in the two periods and 47-31 in the game and restored their lead following a Ryan Gropp goal seven minutes into the second. Rodrigo Abols would tie the game just under seven minutes later, but the heartpunch just 30 seconds before the end of the period by Donovan Neuls past Adin Hill, left Hawks fans scratching their heads. The Hawks were not able to rebound despite their five powerplay  chances of which they score once to Seattle's 0-3 on their man advantage. To make matters worse, the Hawks couldn't put any distance between them and Spokane Chiefs who got a 6-1 beating at the hands of the Kelowna Rockets and the Tri-City Americans waltzed past Everett 4-1 to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.

The most brutal of series this season has been the ones where teams play three games in three nights and Portland would have that dubious honor against the Everett Silvertips who had dropped their last two games and were now competing for a better place in the Western Conference due to the hybrid seeding of teams for the playoffs. Portland once again fell back early after Brian King snapped a shot under the blocker of Adin Hill midway through the first period to give Everett the lead. The Silvertips added a second goal after Yon Khomenko was left alone in the slot to put the Tips up by 2 early in the second. The remainder of the period was left to bone crushing checks and solid saves by both Adin Hill for Portland and Mario Petit for Everett. The third period was a much stronger one for the Hawks as they started attacking more in the Everett zone. One such attack saw Rodrigo Abols pick the pocket of Noah Juulsen and fired it past Petit to put the Hawks on the board. Caleb Jones would create some space in the Tips zone which allowed Rihards Bukarts to come in from the left side for the pass, a deking out Petit and stuffed it past the spawling goaltender to tie the game. The Hawks forced alot of pressure only to be denied at every opportunity. Even a flurry at the final seconds of regulation couldn't produce a goal. The overtime was one of frustration for the Hawks as they couldn't get the puck past Petit and then got caught on a line change. As Caleb Jones rushed to cover his man, Noah Juulsen got the drop pass and fired through traffic to send home the Tips with a 3-2 overtime win. To make matters more clouded, the Kelowna Rockets dropped a 6-4 game to Tri-City Americans with just two games left in the American's schedule.

The standings now see Tri-City 2 points behind Spokane Chiefs for the final wildcard spot with the Chiefs having four games left to play all of which are on the road. The Americans final two games which happen next weekend are against Seattle and Spokane. Portland has three games left which will be another grinder of three games in three nights.

In the BC Division, successive losses by Kelowna Rockets have given Victoria Royals a four point advantage with each team having three games remaining. The Royals are the first team this season to reach 100 points in the standings. Kamloops Blazers opened a four point lead on Prince George Cougars with both teams having two games remaining as a home and home series against each other. Kamloops trails Everett by two points in the Western Conference which isn't affected on the first round of the playoffs, but could be a factor in round two. In the Eastern Conference the Brandon Wheat Kings hold the division title and conference lead over Lethbridge Hurricanes. There may be jostling between the Calgary Hitmen and Prince Albert Raiders with both teams tied in points with two games remaining which again won't affect the first round of the playoffs. Still the be secured is the one final wildcard space which is being grasped by the Edmonton Oil Kings just two points up on Medicine Hat Tigers but holding a three versus two games remaining in the season.

Ice Chips:
Remaining games
Portland: (3) vs Spokane, at Seattle, vs Seattle
Spokane (4) at Seattle, at Everett, at Portland, at Tri-City
Tri-City (2) vs Seattle, vs Spokane

Sunday, March 20th will be the annual Portland Winterhawks awards night prior to the start of the game at the Moda Center. Owing to security searches taking extra time, the gates will have a soft opening of about 15 minutes prior to normal doors opening to help alleviate some crowding issues. 

 

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