Portland, OR - If the Edmonton Oil Kings were to get back in the WHL Championship Series Monday night, a couple things needed to happen. They needed to match and improve upon their late, third-period surge in Game 3. They needed their veterans to step up, lead and pot a goal or two. Most importantly, Sven Bartschi and the post-season's leading scorer, Ty Rattie, needed to be silenced.
Two out of three isn’t bad, and it was enough as the Oil Kings won 4-3 in overtime at the Rose Garden. 20-year-old Rhett Rachinski picked up the game-winning goal at 9:07 of the extra period.
Just getting to overtime was a victory in itself. The Oil Kings held a 3-1 lead in the third, but saw it evaporate during a 20-minute spectacle of non-stop, fire-wagon hockey.
For a team that hadn’t been challenged in a must-win game all season, coupled with the Winterhawks’ relentless third-period dominance, we learned a lot about how good the Oil Kings are.
They’re very good.
"We have a quote on the board in the dressing room that says, 'Adversity builds character,'" said Head Coach Derek Laxdal.
"What a game to coach. Both teams going at it, back-and-forth like a heavyweight bout. It's good to tie the series 2-2 instead of going back home down 3-1. Now it's a three-game series. It's been a great series so far and I don't expect anything less Thursday night.
"We were one player short with the suspension (to Henrik Samuelsson), and I thought our guys gave it a gutsy effort right from the get go. Even though we let them back in the game at 3-3, I thought our guys hung in there and found some energy. It was an incredible game by both teams."
"It wasn't exactly the way we wanted to win the game, giving up a two-goal lead in the third period," Rachinski added. "But we hung in there -- they brought it pretty hard and we were able to weather the storm.
"[The puck] ended up hitting their D man and it popped right to me. I saw an opportunity to shoot. I didn't even see it go in, but once I saw the reaction from the guys, it was a pretty special feeling."
Cody Corbett made a poor pass that led to a Winterhawks goal in Game 3, so he was relegated to press box duty as a healthy scratch. Ashton Sautner was put back in as a result alongside a struggling Ryan Dech.
Head Coach Derek Laxdal and his right-hand man, Steve Hamilton, ran the bench with authority. Sautner and Dech saw little action -- and when they did, it was quick-and-dirty, paired alongside a veteran.
"We shortened the bench right off the hop," Laxdal said. "We wanted to get guys some more ice time. We tired in the third period, but this is a championship series and you have to give your best players that ice time."
Just 1:41 in, the Winterhawks took a 1-0 lead, displaying the club’s elite-level goal-scoring might. Troy Rutkowski delivered a pinpoint stretch pass to Marcel Noebels in full-flight. The deadline acquisition burst in between Mark Pysyk and Ashton Sautner, wasting little time and snapping a shot over Laurent Brossoit’s glove-side shoulder.
The Flames prospect collected 39 saves in the win.
"We usually pump each other up, 'Happy bus, happy bus,'" he laughed, referencing that the team will charter back to Edmonton late Monday night. "Tonight it’s going to be, 'Happy plane.' It's probably going to be the most enjoyable plane ride I'm ever going to experience. ... so far."
By and large, the Oil Kings controlled the pace in the opening period, rifling 14 first-period shots on Mac Carruth. With 4:10 on the clock and with the teams playing 4-on-4, the visitors cashed to the tie it up.
Portland rearguard and Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Joseph Morrow caught an edge and tumbled, allowing Jordan Peddle to feed Rachinski at the doorstep. With nothing but net to shoot at, he made no mistake in depositing the puck into the open cage.
As strong as Carruth was in thwarting the visitors’ first-period onslaught, Brossoit was equally as solid at the other end. Just seconds after the equalizer and with Martin Gernat trapped deep, Olivier Gabriel connected with a one-timer on a 2-on-1; but LB was there, stunning the sold-out crowd with a thrilling post-to-post stop.
The Oil Kings continued their dominance in the second, putting 16 shots on Carruth and scoring a pair. Not having scored all series, Tyler Maxwell did at 8:16 when he slid a wraparound past the goalie to give his squad a 2-1 lead.
It soon became a 3-1 advantage.
On the club’s 30th shot with 56 seconds to play, Stephane Legault pounced on a Pysyk rebound at the doorstep, spinning and gunning a shot under the bar.
But only 3:49 into the third, the Winterhawks’ sleeping giants were awakened. Striking by scooping a pinballing centering pass, Bartschi slid a shot through Brossoit’s wickets to make it a one-goal game.
Less than six minutes later, Bartschi did it again -- scoring his 13th of the post-season, stretching out and poking the puck past the netminder to tie it up at 9:06.
"He's so good at puck protection and angling, which helps him get to the net," Laxdal said of Bartschi. "He got loose inside us. He knows what spot he needs to be in to pick up a pass and score goals. On the 3-3 goal, I thought we showed some tiredness, he drove hard to the net and got great inside position. That's a solid hockey player; he's going to be an NHLer, he's a great."
Portland continued to press, launching 10 additional attempts on Brossoit, but none were cashed as the game progressed to overtime.