- We've got a series on our hands here, folks.
Responding the way they needed to on home ice, the Portland Winterhawks blanked the Edmonton Oil Kings 3-0 in Game 2 of the WHL Championship Series Saturday night at the Rose Garden.
Ty Rattie, Brendan Leipsic and Oliver Bjorkstrand each scored, while goaltender Mac Carruth recorded a 16-save shutout -- his fifth of the post-season.
Laurent Brossoit made 33 saves in the losing effort.
"I thought right from the get-go, they took it to us," said Head Coach Derek Laxdal. "The penalties didn't help. We couldn't recover and that carried throughout the night.
"If you look at their passing, they were pretty sharp. We had a lot of passes that were off the mark and it's tough to pick them up when they're in your feet or are bouncing. Their Top 4 guys (Seth Jones and Tyler Wotherspoon, in particular) are great at defending and we didn't get enough pucks in deep on them. When you get pucks in deep, you can get some hits on them and force some turnovers.
"We didn't do that."
On the back of an 11-3 advantage in shots, Portland led 1-0 after one period of play.
The Oil Kings survived an early scare as penalties to Brandon Baddock (slashing) and Curtis Lazar (cross-checking) gave the home side a pair of power-play chances. Brossoit held the Winterhawks off the scoreboard until a third minor penalty proved costly.
With Oilers prospect Travis Ewanyk off serving a charging minor as he crunched Presten Kopeck with a blindside hit at the benches, the Winterhawks scored the all-important icebreaker.
Burning Oilers prospect David Musil wide, Nicolas Petan raced down the wing, cut to the net and put a weak shot on goal. Following up his own rebound and outmuscling Musil and Keegan Lowe in front, Petan backhanded a pass across to Ty Rattie, who easily deposited a shot past Brossoit at the lip of the crease.
"We have to be disciplined," said Laxdal. "If you sit in the penalty box all night, they're going to kill you. That's what happened and discipline was the message tonight."
"We got a little too amped up," added Stephane Legault. "It's hard to keep our lines rolling when we're killing penalties three or four times a period. We can play with them 5-on-5. We've shown that."
Musil and Keegan Lowe played the bulk of the period, largely on the penalty kill while guys like Cody Corbett, Ashton Sautner and Dysin Mayo were used sparingly.
Tired legs couldn't hide.
"It all goes back to penalties," said Laxdal. "Those guys have to kill penalties, they play at even strength and on the power-play. When you're in the box all night, those kids play too much and you can't roll your pairings. That's where we miss Griffin Reinhart because he logs a lot of ice time.
"It's an experience for guys like Dysin Mayo, Cody Corbett and Ashton Sautner to carry some extra minutes. They're the guys we have to go with to help out."
Just as they did in the opening 20 of Game 1 Friday night, the Winterhawks kept pressing.
Following a TV timeout that seemed to settle the troops, top draft-eligible prospect Seth Jones was sprung on a breakaway. Keeping the game within reach, Brossoit made another sensational save.
The Oil Kings recorded their second shot of the game with 3:32 left in the period, at which point the tide could have turned. Petan was assessed a tripping minor shortly thereafter, giving the visitors a chance to even up the score on the power-play.
Once again, it was more of a power outage. Poor entries and bad communication, lazy changes and a determined Winterhawks squad poured it on during the kill, nearly going up by two if it weren't for Brossoit.
The Oil Kings allowed two separate breakaways on the man-advantage, the second of which resulted in a slashing minor to Cody Corbett as he chased Brendan Leipsic.
Edmonton has now failed to score on 24 straight power-plays.
"Portland has the No. 1 penalty kill in the post-season and we were a little out of sync," said Laxdal. "Mike (St. Croix) had a couple chances to score and we didn't bury. We had several opportunities to bury throughout the game and we didn't."
In a second period dominated by penalties early on, the Winterhawks scored a couple late ones to a 3-0 lead after 40 minutes.
First, Leipsic capitalized on a neutral zone turnover, raced in and beamed a wrist shot past Brossoit at 17:20. Just 85 seconds later, the Winterhawks put the game out of reach. On an odd-man rush that saw Lowe and Musil back in below the hash marks, Bjorkstrand swooped into the slot and launched a shot up and over Brossoit's left shoulder on Portland's 22nd shot.
"We had nothing to lose (in the third period)," said Michael St. Croix, who was held off the scoresheet for a second straight night after tearing it up in the Eastern Conference Final vs. Calgary. "We wanted to have a good pushback -- unfortunately they closed the door. In the dressing room, we kept saying, 'We have to keep pushing forward here.' It didn't work out."
The Winterhawks surpassed the 30-shot barrier nine minutes into the third period. Setting up in the slot, Rattie unleashed a wicked wrist shot that was labeled for the corner, but Brossoit came up with an incredible around-the-world glove save to keep the game in a 3-0 score.
But it was a lonesome effort.
The Oil Kings recorded only two shots on goal in the third period.
"It's 1-1 and we're going back to Edmonton. We'll go from there," said Laxdal.
Game 3 goes Tuesday night at 7:00p.m. at Rexall Place.
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick