Portland, OR - The Portland Winterhawks threw everything they had at Laurent Brossoit and the Edmonton Oil Kings at the Rose Garden in Portland on Saturday night and it was enough to eke out a hard-fought 3-2 victory and force a seventh and deciding game, which will go Sunday back in Edmonton at Rexall Place.
"It stinks," said Oil Kings head coach Derek Laxdal matter-of-factly after the game. "We had a chance to close (the series) tonight and the guys battle hard. I thought Portland had a great push in the first and second period. We didn't match that urgency until the third period when we were down 2-1."
Laxdal's comments mirrored those of Winterhawks head coach Mike Johnston.
"We created our chances through puck possession -- less off the rush than we usually do," said Johnston. "I thought we had momentum right from the start of the third period, and that was important."
The difference-maker was Oliver Gabriel's second of the night with 2:39 to play in the game, putting the Winterhawks up by a goal. Gabriel's wrister from the top of the right face-off circle beat Brossoit to the blocker side for the winner.
"It was 20 minutes to win a championship," said a disappointed Michael St. Croix, noting the teams were tied 1-1 after 40. "I don't know if we pushed enough in the third period. They gave it to us at the start a little bit."
The two teams played on even terms for most of the night and with the game tied 1-1 near the midway point of the third, Taylor Leier skated into the Oil Kings zone along the left side boards before wristing a shot on goal. On its way to the net, it was redirected by Joe Morrow and beat Brossoit through the five hole to put Portland in front for the first time.
Edmonton came right back less than two-and-a-half minutes later to knot it up at 2-2. Stephane Legault took a cross-crease pass from Martin Gernat and deposited it into the open cage for the equalizer.
"We wanted to end it tonight," St. Croix continued. "A couple bounces here and there and it could have been a different outcome tonight."
Brossoit was there to weather the Winterhawks' storm for most of the night. He stopped 42 of 45 shots, particularly giving his team a chance to win it after the first two periods.
"I was feeling good today. Felt good in the first two periods and thought I gave the team a chance to win," said Brossoit, later adding he was disappointed in how the third turned out.
The Winterhawks started the game out very strong, in front of a rabid sold out crowd of just under 11,000. They peppered shot after shot at Brossoit and carried the play by pinning Edmonton in their own zone.
However, after killing off a delay-of-game penalty to Cody Corbett on the strength of some big stops by Brossoit, the Oil Kings turned the tide and struck for the game's first goal.
Off a face-off in the Portland end, St. Croix picked up the puck and spun in the left face-off circle before wiring a shot top corner to make it 1-0 for the visitors.
Portland carried the play in the early-going and only picked up their intensity after Edmonton opened the scoring. The next few shifts after St. Croix's marker had the Oil Kings trapped in their zone as the Winterhawks cycled looking for an opportunity to get the puck past Brossoit.
With 8:53 to go in the opening frame, Portland finally did get that equalizer. Oliver Gabriel finished off a nice three-way passing play after Brendan Leipsic flipped the puck over to Cam Reid. Reid then found Gabriel streaking towards the net and fed it to him for the tap-in.
So now the best-of-seven series comes down to a best-of-one. The Oil Kings battled all season long, ending with the best record in the WHL and the reward for that is that Game 7 of the Championship will be played on Edmonton's home ice -- Rexall Place Sunday at 6:00 p.m.
"We played all year for this chance for home ice advantage and we got that tomorrow night and we're going to make good use of it," said Laxdal. "It's going to come down to who wants it the most and who battles the most."
St. Croix echoed his coach's thoughts.
"It's disappointing we didn't come out on top tonight but I'm confident we'll come out in Game 7 with a good effort."