Thursday, May 9, 2013

Hawks Swoop into Edmonton and Take Commanding Lead of WHL Final

Will this be the year Portland hoists
the Ed Chynoweth Cup?
The Portland Winterhawks have been the the WHL final 3 straight years, but they haven't been in the position they're in now.  The regular season champions can finally hoist the Ed Chynoweth Cup with a win on Friday after escaping Rexall Place with a 2-1 win Wednesday night.

This was easily the best game of the series by the Oil Kings and while Edmonton never led, they came close on several occasions to tying it.

Portland opened the scoring in the first period when Brandon Leipsic was left alone in front of Edmonton's net, and the Winnipeg product shovelled in a Nic Petan rebound.  They almost made it 2-0 on yet another odd man rush, but Laurent Brossoit robbed St. Louis Blues product Ty Rattie with a sliding splits save.  It would later be answered by a Mac Carruth version, which was his toughest save on the night.

Midway through the middle stanza Edmonton product Troy Rutkowski snapped a power play marker blocker side on Brossoit.  He may have been thinking that the defenceman was eying up the top corner, but it was a terrific shot and gives Rutkowski 4 on the post season and 3 more then he had last year.  I chatted with him before the game and we talked about this one maybe being easier to play in, because he's not battling with his best friend Rhett Rachinski like he did last year.

When you think of Portland you don't automatically think of a shut down system.  But the 'Hawks showed another side of their game on Wednesday.  They tested Brossoit just 4 times in each of the final two periods and kept the Oil Kings from completing a comeback.

The visitors stymied Edmonton for 15 minutes until just after a power play - the 28th straight without a goal for Edmonton - Cody Corbett nicely worked his way to the slot and fired a shot that Carruth stopped and Mitch Moroz bunted the puck up and batted it in.  Finally Rexall Place came alive, the 8400 fans might have been smaller then the crowd for game 3, but they at least cheered a little more. Anyone who thinks a crowd can't have an effect on a game needs to get to more arena's, and ask any athlete and he'll tell you they can feed of the atmosphere around them.   A crowd can't win a game, but they can certainly help, or in some cases hurt.

Edmonton had momentum, but time and discipline were more of an enemy then the Winterhawks. Carruth stood his ground and Hernik Samuelsson took a careless high sticking penalty when he, with one hand, whacked Rutkowski in the face.  It handed Portland a power play with just 54 seconds to play and prevented Edmonton from getting Brossoit on the bench and an extra man on the ice.

It was obviously terrible penalty to take and as he came off the ice post game the Coyotes first rounder seemed to have words with his coach, and while Derek Laxdal downplayed it after the game, it was the cherry on top of 2 lacklustre games from Samuelsson. He's looked slow and has been close to taking a few other careless penalties.  Having said that, he has been dominant most of the season and I expect he will have his best game on Friday night.  Samuelsson was Edmonton's steadiest player at last year's Memorial Cup. 

Full marks to a Portland team that seems to have figured out the puzzle. Ty Rattie seems poised to do what Sven Baertschi and Nino Niederreiter couldn't before him and they are getting timely secondary scoring from Oliver Bjorkstrand.   Travis Green hasn't missed a beat in taking over from a suspended Mike Johnston and it's clear that the team has embraced the 'Evil Empire' mentality.

Finally a note about the crowds in this series.  In Portland they have been outstanding from all accounts.  You can see it on the SHAW broadcast and media members have raved about the emotion from the fans.  They are truly into it.  Not only have the crowds been smaller in Edmonton, not even 9,000 for either game compared to nearly 11,000 for game 2 at the Rose Garden.  Is this not a hockey city?  Or is it just an Oilers city?  Do crowds win games?  Not directly, but they can have an impact on giving players a boost.  I've seen Rexall get really loud during the 2006 Stanley Cup Run.  Last year in game 7 vs. Portland, and this year's game 7 with Calgary were examples that the crowd can get loud and large, and the Oil King players that won both of those games fed off their fans, but we have yet to see or hear that in this series.  Game one felt more like a Tuesday in February then a contest for the Ed Chynoweth Cup.

Derek Laxdal ended his post game news conference with a 'See you Sunday'.  It's not a Mark Messier guarantee as the coach was chuckling as he left.  I don't think he was planning a barbeque to thank the media for a great season, but I hope we do see him and both teams for a game 6.  And then a game 7.  These two teams are to good not to go the distance again.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Very diappointed with the crowd size. Oiler fans have 4 draft picks playing in this game. You should of been there supporting them. Both teams had a lot of NHL draft picks in the game. It would of been good to go to. Missed Trevor Cheek and Griffin Reinhart. Them being out hurt. Kevin Richard