It couldn’t have played out any other way.
With Portland and Spokane reaching the last game of their best-of-7 Western Hockey League playoff series with 19 goals apiece it’s not surprising overtime was needed to decide Game 7.
If there was one advantage it belonged to Portland because the visiting team had won every game up to this point.
And they did it again Wednesday night at the Arena, silencing a spirited crowd of 6,048.
Defenseman Taylor Aronson made a strong rush into the Chiefs end and put the puck on the stick of unmarked rookie Ty Rattie, who got his first playoff goal 17:29 into overtime to give the Winterhawks a 5-4 win.
“I don’t know,” Chiefs coach Hardy Sauter said about the inability to win at home. “I think a combination of some bad bounces, some bad breaks. Tonight I thought they scored a couple of not-great goals. If you give up a bad goal in a close series like this it’s usually going to bite you.
“It’s just too bad. As a group I thought we played well enough to win tonight and didn’t get the result we wanted.”
More maddening – the Chiefs had a 3-0 lead in the opening minutes of the second period and a 4-2 lead with just over 10 minutes left in regulation.
“Quite honestly it’s a heart-wrenching ending, one we didn’t expect, don’t like and really don’t want,” Sauter said. “Tomorrow’s going to be a harder day, I think. The disappointment of the game hits you tonight. Tomorrow it’s the disappointment of losing some guys.”
By winning the series 4-3, Portland goes home to start the second round against Vancouver.
The Chiefs got out to a quick lead, something they failed to do in previous home games.
Brady Brassart fed Tyler Johnson for his third playoff goal just 3:36 in. Then Mitch Wahl got his third at 11:03. The Winterhawks seemed flustered and when Wahl connected again just 3:31 into the second period it appeared an inexplicable season-long jinx – Portland was 4-0 here in the regular season – was over.
“When we got down our frustration came through,” Portland coach Mike Johnston said. “We were taking penalties and we were doing some undisciplined things, which is a little bit uncharacteristic. We did play hard and we did play with emotion.
“In Game 7s, kids with no experience, they just reacted the wrong way. Once we got that goal we started to settle into our game again.”
The goal came from Nino Niederreiter at 7:03 in the second after a nifty drop pass by Brad Ross. Next came a goal credited to Ryan Johansen at 17:07. Spokane goalie James Reid stopped a shot but it dribbled through his arm to the goal line. As he and defenseman Stefan Ulmer went to sweep it away the Winterhawks seemed to push both players and the puck into the net to make it 3-2.
Kyle Beach’s playoff-best seventh goal, on a feed from Wahl restored the two-goal lead at 6:50 of the third period. Shortly after that Wahl sent one off the crossbar.
“At 2-0, we thought that’s the start we needed,” Sauter said. “Even at 3-1 we felt we were still in good shape and had the game under control. We scored to make it 4-2 and have a pretty good hold on things.
“Their third goal, James has it. He has it covered, gets bumped, it spits out and they shoot it into an empty net. From that point, I really think the momentum swayed in their favor and we really couldn’t get it back.”
That goal went to Riley Boychuk at 9:45 and Luke Walker scored at 13:24 to force the overtime.
“I think we were trying to rely too much on our defense,” Johnson said. “We weren’t really pushing the play like we usually do. I think that cost us. When you’re sitting back on your heels, that’s when they can attack you and they did, they played well.”
The Winterhawks outshot the Chiefs 14-6 in the third period and 12-5 in overtime.
“I really thought we had a little longer bench than they did,” Johnston said. “I was hoping that was going to pay off at some point in time.
“They went to Wahl’s line early and they controlled the whole first period. They’re one of the best lines in the league. … I thought their line fatigued as the game went on.”
Sauter said, “We just matched nine forwards to their nine forwards. We spotted in a couple of guys here and there. That’s how we were successful in Portland. We didn’t want to leave anything on the table.”