(Kent, WA) The I-5 rivalry sure is a fun one eh?
Maybe the primary care providers for the 5,705 fans in attendance won’t be happy with what the edge of the seat action was doing to blood pressures in Kent on Saturday night, but the thrilling game had about everything someone seeking sports entertainment could hope to want..
As is usually the case in games between the Portland Winterhawks (35-6-2-3) and Seattle Thunderbirds (18-23-3-2), leads were deemed about as safe as swimming in the Puget Sound without a life jacket.
The Winterhawks ended up taking the game by a 6-5 score but boy was it an adventure getting there.
Seattle took an early 2-0 lead, only to see Portland score five straight. Then the Thunderbirds rattled off three straight in the second period to tie the game at five.
“I thought there was a lot of ups and downs in the game,” Portland head coach and general manager Mike Johnston said.
“There was a little bit of adversity for our team to have to handle. Things got away from us a bit in the last 10 minutes of the second period but I really liked our third. I liked how we battled and generated chances. Games with Seattle all year have been tough.”
Both teams then had late power plays, but goalies Joel Hofer and Roddy Ross saved their best for last sending the game deadlocked and then to the shootout.
Cross Hanas had the lone goal in the circus giving Portland the 6-5 win.
Payton Mount had three points for Seattle. He has three games this season with three points or more and two of them have come against Portland.
Seth Jarvis had two goals and two assists for Portland and has nine points in his last two games. Johnny Ludvig had three assists from the backend.
“He’s a good player,” Johnston relayed.
“He had five points in the first period of last night and three points in the first tonight. Back to back first periods – eight points. That is amazing. I thought him and Dureau have really good chemistry. They know where to find each other.”
The Thunderbirds stormed out on early lead on their rivals.
Andrej Kukuca floated a puck towards Portland goalie Joel Hofer and the puck ended up careening off of Matthew Rempe’s skate and in. The goal was reviewed but it was determined that since he was outside the crease the goal stood. Conner Bruggen-Cate got the secondary assist on the marker and notched his 100th career WHL point.
The Thunderbirds then doubled their lead off a turnover in the Winterhawks zone. Max Patterson had a quality one-timer stopped by Hofer but he then set up Mount in alone, who shelved his 10th of the season.
After the media break of the first period, Portland started applying more pressure. The line of Jarvis, Jack O’Brien and Jaydon Dureau had extended zone time and this seemed to flip momentum a bit. Shortly thereafter, Portland flew into the zone and a shot from Simon Knak was blocked and sent to Hanas with a wide open cage to look at. The Texan fired home his 14th of the season.
Portland then tied the game up while they were down a man. Jarvis found Dureau in behind the defense and the speedy winger tied the game up with his first career shorthanded goal.
After they killed off the penalty, Portland got a power play of their own. Knak stepped up on Seattle’s Cade McNelly after the latter had lined up a nice check on Tyson Kozak. McNelly dropped his gloves, meaning he got called for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Just 15 seconds into the power play, Ludvig set up Jarvis for a one-timer from the faceoff dot and the Winnipeg native blew it by Ross.
That was not his most impressive goal of the period though. As the period was growing old, he took a feed from O’Brien and cut around a Seattle defender before roofing a shot by Ross.
— Ben Dooley (@BenTDooley) January 26, 2020
That highlight reel goal meant that in his last four period of hockey, he had eight points. Over the last two games, his line has combined for 18 points.
“We’ve been been good the past couple of games,” Jarvis said.
“Tonight was just another example of that. We play with speed and we play with skill. Anytime we can get the puck into each other’s hands down low we can exploit other teams.”
He quickly added a ninth point in the last 24 hours in the early going of the second.
On the power play, Jarvis, Jake Gricius and Reece Newkirk all had looks but it was Newkirk poking home the loose puck by Ross for his 23rd of the season and a commanding 5-2 lead.
Leads in Portland-Seattle games though never seem safe and that was no different tonight.
Off the rush, Portland was scrambling and the puck ended up on McNelly’s stick in the slot. He blew a shot by Hofer for his second of the season.
Then consecutive power plays for Seattle helped them get even closer. On the second man advantage in a 3:27 span, Mount netted his second of the game as Hofer could not corral a loose puck in the crease.
Mount relayed that his team has confidence even when facing deficits like tonight.
“All of us are maturing as players and as a team we know we are not out of it no matter the score. We have to stick to our formula. We know we can stick with them. We know we can knock any team off,” he said.
The comeback was completed on a bizarre goal late in the second. A long and soft shot from Keltie Jeri-Leon was stopped by Hofer, but he looked to play the puck and Simon Kubicek got his stick in between Clay Hanus and Hofer. The puck ended up going in and Kubicek got credit for the strange goal.
No matter, a three-goal deficit was undone in a hurry.
“We dug deep and scratched and clawed our way back,” Seattle head coach Matt O’Dette said.
“It’s definitely not easy to do against that team. They are on the streak that they are for a reason. It shows our character. The last couple games we have our formula for a big chunk of the game but then we stray from it for 10 to 15% of the game and against these good teams that is enough.”
Ross and Hofer were tested in the third but both stood tall. The Winterhawks then got a power-play opportunity with 2:46 left in regulation but Seattle blocked shots and got sticks in passing lanes, getting a late penalty kill and forcing overtime.
“When you take one (a penalty) with 2:46 left in the game it can slip away which can leave a pretty bad taste. We dug in there. We bent but didn’t break. Guys were doing everything they could to kill that penalty.
Seattle got a key power play as well, but theirs came in overtime after Ludvig lost the puck at the Thunderbirds blueline and tripped down Seattle’s Henrik Rybinski.
Lane Gilliss, Gricius and Matthew Quigley made some big plays and Hofer had several big stops while shorthanded and they helped their team survive to the shootout.
“I liked the blocked shots,” Johnston said.
“Anytime you’re on a late kill where you are 3-on-4 or 3-on-5, you need to block shots and have your goalie make saves and Joel did that. I thought the three players on the ice had some key blocks as well.”
Then Hanas sent the visiting team on their way with a seventh straight win and extended their point streak to 21 games. They have not lost in regulation since November 30th.
Hofer stopped 31-of-36 and all three shootout attempts. Ross turned away 36-of-41 attempts and two of three in the circus.
Hofer stopped the last 13 shots he faced and then all of Seattle’s shootout attempts but gave up five goals in the first two periods before settling in.
“I thought it was much like our team. We had a rough second period,” Johnston said.
“That first shot, Joel steered it to the side and it just happened to go in. Then there were two in the crease there. Unusually goals for him and our team, but I do like how he bounced back in the third. He just locked in and it was going to be really hard to beat him.”
Portland went 2-for-4 on the power play, while Seattle was 1-of-4.
The Winterhawks do not play until next Friday in Everett against the Silvertips. Seattle hosts the Tri-City Americans on Tuesday. They extended their lead for the final playoff spot to eight points with the shootout loss. Tri-City has two games in hand.
They also have the Vancouver Giants in their sights. The reigning Western Conference champions hold a one point lead for the first wild card spot with two games in hand. They lost in overtime to Kelowna.
Portland extended their lead over Everett for first in the U.S. Division to 11 points. The Silvertips have a game in hand that they will use tomorrow when they host Spokane.