PORTLAND, OR- Portland built an early lead and, despite a push by the Oil Kings, downed Edmonton 5-2 in game one of the WHL finals in front of the Winterhawks’ home crowd of close to 11,000.
The Winterhawks wasted no time in putting the pressure on their visitors from the north. Dominic Turgeon fired a long-range shot from the high slot and Tristan Jarry’s pad save rebounded directly to Portland’s Keegan Iverson who buried it past the Oil King goaltender. Josh Hanson earned the second assist on the goal, which was scored at 2:50 of the opening period.
The pressure continued moments later with Portland making Jarry scramble in net to make a few big saves. Eventually, Mitch Moroz would come up with a huge blocked shot as he went down to the ice to deflect a good look from a Winterhawks player. The Oil Kings survived that peppering by Portland.
“I thought Jarry gave us a chance to compete tonight,” Oil Kings Head Coach Derek Laxdal said. “If you look at the three goals we gave up in the first period, we had some missed assignments and we made some mistakes that we uncharacteristically made but you’ve got to give Portland credit for putting us in that pressure situation to force us into those mistakes. We’ll learn from it. They’re a good hockey club and our goal in here now is to try and get that split tomorrow night.”
With 1:53 remaining in the first period, Paul Bittner beat Jarry for the 2-0 lead. Derrick Poulliot lost control of the puck on a rush but Bittner was behind for support and took advantage of that opportunity.
Less than a minute later, Portland took a 3-0 lead. Chase De Leo snuck the puck past Jarry at 19:04. After a delayed reaction and an official review, it was ruled a good goal and the Oil Kings found themselves in a three-goal hole.
The first period might have had a different result for Edmonton had their power play been able to click. Two checking from behind penalties and a goaltender interference call gave the Oil Kings the man advantage three times in the first 20 minutes. However, Portland’s penalty kill was excellent and stifled any opportunities their opponents had with the puck. Coming into the night, Portland’s penalty kill ranked 10th in the league in these playoffs with an 80% success rate. Edmonton finished the game 0-for-4 on the power play.
The second period started differently. Just 20 seconds into the middle frame, Edmonton's Brett Pollock scored on a great shot from the slot, falling to his back as he let the puck fly. The goal would pull the game to within two.
Edmonton scored again at 2:20 of the second to make it a one-goal game. Blake Orban shot the puck from the blue line and a rebound off of goalie Corbin Boes turned into an easy goal by Henrik Sameulsson, in tight on the net. Reid Petryk had the second assist.
“Obviously, it wasn’t the way we wanted to go,” Laxdal said. “If you look at the first period, we had three power plays that we didn’t connect on and then we gave up three goals on some simple breakdowns in our structure in our game and they made us pay dearly. We got back to 3-2 at the start of the second period. We had some play in the first period that we didn’t mind but when we made a mistake they capitalized. Then we got it back to 3-2, we got a little bit away from our game. I thought the emotions got to us a little bit and then they scored a big power play goal to go up 4-2.”
With 37 seconds left in the second Mathew Dumba, the seventh overall pick by the Minnesota Wild in 2012, scored a power-play goal on a one-timer from the face-off dot to give Portland a 4-2 lead heading into the third period. Poulliot and Nicolas Petan recorded the helpers.
Bittner scored at 3:41 of the third period to extend the lead to 5-2.
Jarry made 31 saves on 36 shots in the loss. Laxdal said the problems the Oil Kings had were not goaltending, but rather the play of the team in front of the net. The battles were lost more than won.
“Jarry is fine,” he said. “He gave us a chance tonight, he made some big saves for us. Our guys have got to play a little tighter in front of him. That’s the difference. They’ve got a high-octane offence. They move the puck around well and we track a lot of stats and one of the most concerning stats for me tonight was battles won, battles lost. We lost 35 battles to our 15 wins so that was the difference in the game. Can’t worry about that now, reset the button for tomorrow and get ready to go.”
Edmonton Oilers prospect Mitch Moroz left the game in the second with a leg injury but, after taking a spin on the ice after the period, returned for the third.
The Winterhawks misfired on a few empty-net goal attempts but they wouldn’t need another score to win as Portland took game one. The game ended with some physicality as players from both teams gathered in the corner in a scrum.
Portland leads the best-of-seven series, 1-0. Game two is tomorrow night at 6 p.m. MDT.