Fate has had some strange and dramatic turns for the Portland Winterhawks in the 2018 WHL playoffs. Up by one with 30 seconds left in Game 5 of their first-round series against Spokane and about to eliminate the Chiefs, they had a shot deflect off of their overage center Alex Overhardt and by goalie Cole Kehler. The Chiefs then forced Portland to seven games, before Portland was able to beat them and advance.
Then on Thursday night in Game 4 of their second-round series with the Everett Silvertips another puck bounced off of one of their own and ended up being the deciding marker in Everett’s 3-2 win at the Moda Center, giving the Silvertips a 3-1 advantage in the series.
Everett and Portland now hop on their buses and head up north for Friday night’s Game 5 at Angel of the Winds Arena. The Silvertips are on the verge of advancing to the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2006.
As if the emotional letdown that was their Game 4 loss could not be any worse, the Winterhawks had just climbed the mountain that was beating Everett goalie Carter Hart as the came back from a 1-0 deficit to score twice in the third and take a 2-1 lead with just 2:07 left in regulation when disaster struck.
Everett then came right back down and just nine seconds later tied the game up. Then Wyatte Wylie got the puck out front and it ticked off of Portland d-man Dennis Cholowski’s skate and in. The goal was credited to Wylie and was scored with just 1:12 left.
Everett was able to overcome being out shot 44-26 and out chanced by a large margin as well thanks their award-winning goalie standing tall in their crease and strong team defense around him that did not allow Portland many chances to find the rebounds that Hart did allow.
Portland came out strong in the first period and out shot Everett 16-9 in the first. Not counted among those shots was one by Kieffer Bellows that struck iron in behind Hart.
The game plan coming into this series was for Portland to create traffic in front of Hart and find some rebounds. Those rebounds that were there for Portland in the first, they were not able to get to it because of strong stick-checks by d-men like Ondrej Vala and Kevin Davis and forward Bryce Kindopp among others.
Everett found a way to get a goal to open the scoring in the opening frame off a double deflection. A shot by Garrett Pilon was deflected by Matt Fonteyne, before Connor Dewar got a piece of it and the puck ended up in behind Portland goalie Cole Kehler.
The team to score the game’s first goal has now won all four games in the second round set.
Portland kept the pressure up in the second, out shooting the ‘Tips 12-3. Their top line continued to get quality chances including a Bellows near-breakaway after coming out of the box that Hart closed the five-hole on. Right before the second ended, Cody Glass had a shot stopped by a diving Hart’s stick.
After Bellows got his stick up on Patrick Bajkov in the third, Everett had a long 5-on-3 power play that they called their timeout before to get all of their top scorers rested.
Kehler was at his best during the penalty kill though and Portland was able to escape still trailing 1-0.
Moments after that two-man advantage was killed, Brendan De Jon fired a low shot that deflected off of Everett’s Matt Fonteyne and by Hart. While the goal had not come off a Portland stick, they had finally gotten a goal on the board on their 32nd shot at Hart.
Later in the third, another Portland blue liner scored to give Portland their first lead in the series since Game 1.
Henri Jokiharju expertly used a Skyler McKenzie screen on the power play to beat Hart and Portland was up 2-1 with just over two minutes left.
The 7,312 at the Moda Center were on their feet, where they had a great view of Everett scoring just nine seconds after Portland took their lead, to tie the game back up and sap all the energy in the building.
Dewar’s zone entry shot that appeared harmless, surprised Kehler enough that he blocked the puck out to the high slot where Garrett Pilon was waiting. The Washington Capitals prospect pounced on the loose puck and wired a shot by the unprepared Kehler.
Just 46 seconds after that goal, a shot from Wylie found its way by Kehler to hand Portland a gut-wrenching loss. Friday night’s Game 5 could be their last of the 2017-18 season.
Hart stopped 42 of 44, while Kehler turned away 23 of 26.
Portland got their seventh power play goal of the playoffs on 33 opportunties. They were 1-of-3 in the game. Everett went 0-for-5 and is now 6-for-29.
-Portland’s top three shooters in the playoffs McKenzie, Bellows and Joachim Blichfeld again could not find the mark. They have just two goals in the series and nine total in the playoffs, despite firing a total of 133 shots on goal. That is a combined shooting percentage of 6.8 percent. Bellows led the team with seven shots while Jokiharju and Glass each added six shots.
-Alex Overhardt was 13-of-22 at the face off dot, while Glass was 13-of-19, Jake Gricius went 10-for-11 and McKenzie was 3-for-10.
-The line of Pilon, Dewar and Riley Sutter continues to be productive against the Winterhawks. They now have combined for 15 points through the first four games in the series.
-Hart needs to give up five goals to a team before finding his game I guess. He led Everett to three straight wins in round one after giving up five markers in Game 2 and after allowing a quintet of markers in Game 1 of this series, has now stopped 108 of 112 shots in the last three games – all Everett wins.
-Lane Gilliss continues to be out with an injury, meaning Connor Barley skated in his place yet again. Barley had a strong game and even hit the post. Gilliss being out adds to some depleted depth on the wing as Lukus MacKenzie has yet to play in the playoffs after getting hurt against Everett late in the regular season.