PORTLAND, OR- After dropping the first two games of the WHL final, the Edmonton Oil Kings have won three straight and took their first lead of the series with a 3-2 win in game five over the Winterhawks in Portland.
“Gutsy effort by our guys coming in this building here and grinding a solid road game out,” Edmonton Head Coach Derek Laxdal said. “We gave up the first goal and we tied it up and I thought we had a real good second period and got the lead and did a good job containing in the third. Tristan Jarry and our big players were outstanding tonight. In a nutshell, it was just a good, solid road win that we grinded out.”
The home team would draw first blood but their lead would not be long-lived. Paul Bittner put a shot past goaltender Tristan Jarry at 15:28 of the first period and was assisted by Chase De Leo and Taylor Leier..
A minute later, Jarry would make a huge stop to prevent Bittner from scoring his second goal of the night. Bittner shot the puck in the face of the goalie, who made the save but watched as the puck trickled towards the net. Jarry kicked the puck away to deny Portland the two-goal lead. Jarry was dynamic for Edmonton, making 37 saves in the win.
Brendan Leipsic picked up where he left off for the Winterhawks in game four, when he recorded three minor penalties including charging, checking from behind and high-sticking calls. Luckily for the Portland Winterhawks the Oil Kings’ power play failed to find success in game four. In game five it was a different story as Leipsic took a charging penalty at 17:13 of the opening period and the Oil Kings pounced on the opportunity.
“We missed an opportunity to score in the first period on a 4-on-3 and the 5-on-3 and we got a couple of good looks,” Laxdal said. “It was important for us to score one of those power-play goals and it was a huge goal to tie the game up. It doesn’t matter who takes the penalty or when it happens or what happened on the play. Our intensity has to rise a little bit. We liked our movement on the power plays in the first period and it was just a matter of time before we got one. It was huge for us. Again, it doesn’t matter who takes the penalty. We’ve just got to make sure we’re ready to respond.”
Edmonton’s Brett Pollock fired the puck on net from the slot and the rebound kicked right back out. Edgars Kulda threw it right back on net, burying the equalizer at 18:27. After going 0-for-7 on the man advantage in game four the Oil Kings got some special teams help with that power-play goal. They’d finish the game going 1-for-5.
The Oil Kings jumped on another opportunity early in the second period. With Portland’s Keoni Texeira losing his stick just outside the blue line Edmonton was able to get some offensive zone time and eventually find the back of the net. Captain Griffin Reinhart scored on goaltender Corbin Boes at 2:11 of the middle frame to give Edmonton the 2-1 lead. Reinhart was assisted by Mads Eller and Curtis Lazar.
Edmonton continued to roll at 7:39 of the second as a turnover led to an odd-man rush, resulting in their third-straight goal. Henrik Samuelsson and Mitch Moroz entered the zone on a 2-on-1 rush when Samuelsson rifled a shot top shelf past the glove of Boes. That goal was Samuelsson’s fourth of the series.
The tension mounted at the Moda Center as Portland drew within one as the game was winding down. With 1:45 left in the third period, Mathew Dumba’s one-timer from the point hit Reinhart and went in behind Jarry.
The battle continued to rage until the last tick of the clock but the Oil Kings pinned Portland in their own end to close out the final seconds.
“The mindset coming into this series was we had to win one on the road, we knew that and it was a good effort by us tonight,” Reinhart said. “We’ve been comfortable playing like that in close games all year and we were able to close this out and now it’s just taking it one game at a time.”
Having lost three-straight games after such a promising start to the series, Portland is not concerned with changing the mindset of their team. They still have the mentality that they can win despite the adversity.
“Our guys have been through that,” Portland Head Coach Mike Johnston said. “I think that’s where experience comes in. Sometimes if you’re an inexperienced player you’ll get nervous in these situations and you’ll be thinking about what if, what if. I don’t think our group is like that. They’ve been in lots of different situations. As you saw late in the game today, we were still believing we were going to win so I don’t think that’s really going to enter the minds of our players.”
The Oil Kings lead 3-2 in the best-of-seven series and head home for game six on Sunday with a chance to close it out with a win on home ice. Edmonton began the series down 2-0 after the Winterhawks won the first two games at home.
The Oil Kings have since won three-straight games and handed Portland their first loss on home ice in the 2014 playoffs (9-1-0-0). The win also snapped Portland’s 25-game home winning streak, dating back to the regular season.
“We knew we were going to have to come in here and get a greasy road win and that’s exactly what we did,” Samuelsson said. “We battled from the start to the finish and that’s what it’s going to take to win against this high-octane offensive team.”
The series heads back to Rexall Place in Edmonton where the Oil Kings are undefeated this post-season with a record of 10-0-0-0.