Edmonton, AB - The Edmonton Oil Kings opened up the 2012 WHL Championship Series with a 3-2 win over the Portland Winterhawks Thursday night at Rexall Place.
The Oil Kings won the only meeting of the season between the two teams back on Oct. 21, 2011 -- a high-scoring 8-4 victory in Edmonton's home rink. With the win Thursday, the Oil Kings improve to 13-1 in the playoffs and now lead the WHL Final 1-0 in the clubs' best-of-seven set.
"We're very happy with the result tonight," Head Coach Derek Laxdal said post-game. "I thought we came out pretty good and obviously established that lead, got a couple big goals to widen the gap. [Portland's] got a great transition game with a lot of speed, but I think we did well.
"It's the way we wanted to start the series, up 1-0. They're a good hockey club, so now we need to re-focus and get ready for Game 2."
The Oil Kings wasted little time in getting on the board. Just 1:25 into the game, captain Mark Pysyk launched a point shot that was redirected by Rhett Rachinski past a stunned Mac Carruth.
"I thought Mark (Pysyk) was outstanding tonight," Laxdal explained.
"Their transition game is second-to-none," Pysyk added. "Every time they get the puck, turn it around or get it on their stick, it seemed like there were three forwards coming at us at full speed. That's tough to gap up on, but our forwards came back and helped us out with that."
The early 1-0 lead was protected by MVP Laurent Brossoit, as he made a sensational stop less than a minute later; Nicolas Petan pounced on an odd board-side hop, but his down-the-middle chance was kicked out by the goalie.
While the home side's power-play struggled all night, it nearly cost them in the opening period when a pair of opportunities were squandered. The Winterhawks were then presented with a 51-second long 5-on-3 chance late as Jordan Peddle and Oilers prospect Kristians Pelss were assessed separate minors, but the PK unit stood tall in allowing only a single shot and preserving the team's one-goal lead through 20 minutes.
Brossoit's heroism continued early in the second when he stoned Philadelphia Flyers prospect Marcel Noebels with another quick kick to the wall. He wasn't as busy as he's usually been, but the 19-year-old was sensational once again.
He came in boasting a 1.62 goals-against average and .962 save percentage. Tonight, he stopped 24 of the Winterhawks' 26 attempts.
"LB was outstanding again tonight," Laxdal said. "One of the most important things is that we kept the shots down tonight. We were giving up a lot of shots against Moose Jaw, and this team can generate a lot of shots, too."
Oilers prospect Martin Gernat got in on the action seconds later when he made it a 2-0 game, scoring his sixth goal of the post-season. Birthday boy Mitch Moroz capitalized on a lazy Portland change, driving wide and placing a low shot on net -- Gernat, up-ice on the attack, stepped in and deposited the puck into the gaping cage at 4:59.
With special teams on both sides still mired in imperfection, the Oil Kings made one count at 14:59. Shorthanded, Peddle raced down the near side and blasted a laser over Carruth's right shoulder to set the score at 3-0.
12 seconds later, Portland ended Brossoit's shutout bid. Noebels made up for his earlier chance by scooping up a crease-side rebound and slamming it over the netminder. At 16:39, the Winterhawks cashed another as Flames prospect Sven Bartschi got a piece of Will Wrenn's long-range point shot.
That was as close as the Winterhawks got. But, late in the third, it got substantially worse. Mitch Moroz pelted leading-scorer Ty Rattie with a vicious (but clean) check along the boards. Rattie was stunned, laying motionless on the ice as his condition was assessed. He was then ushered the locker room with a concerning, unbalanced stride.
Winterhawks Head Coach Mike Johnston gave a preliminary update to his sniper's status post-game as he addressed the media. Rattie will be re-assessed tomorrow but was said to be alert and in good spirits.
The St. Louis pick has scored 17 goals and 29 points in only 15 post-season games.
"It was a clean hit," Laxdal said, bluntly. "Rattie was driving wide, he opened up, and it's unfortunate that he got hurt. But that's part of the game. You never like to see players get hurt. And he's a special player."
"Those are hits I've got to make," added Moroz, who not only chipped in with the hit, but the well-played helper on Gernat's second-period marker, too. "I hope he's OK. It's the way I play and I'm going to continue to do that."
Moroz, who's ranked 72nd overall by NHL Central Scouting, isn't all that concerned with the Winterhawks' sure-to-come attempt at retribution, either.
"They've got to stick up for their guys. It's expected, but I wasn't too worried. I can hold my own. If they want to come at me, then that's OK."
Game 2 goes tomorrow night at Rexall Place. Puck drop is at 7:00pm. -- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com - Follow @ryandittrick