Winterhawks push Chiefs to brink
PORTLAND –The Spokane Chiefs and Portland Winterhawks returned to form on Saturday night in the pivotal fifth game of their Western Hockey League series.
Sven Bartschi scored one goal and assisted on two others to lift the Winterhawks to a 3-2 win before 9,486 fans at the Rose Garden.
It was a one-goal game for all but 1 minute and the fourth one-goal game in the Western Conference finals that Portland now leads 3-2.
The Chiefs try to prolong their season with Game 6 at the Arena on Monday.
That was a far cry from the 8-3 romp the Chiefs had in Spokane in Game 4 on Friday, when there were more than 90 minutes of penalties. This game had three power plays.
“I thought we were better. We were more disciplined, for sure,” Portland coach Mike Johnston said. “That was a hell of a hockey game for both teams. These kids traveled all night. You never know what’s going to happen with young kids. From start to finish, both sides, I give lots of credit.”
It was just too wild for the Chiefs, who played without Collin Valcourt, one of the stars in Friday’s romp, because he was suspended for an unpenalized hit early in the third period on Tyler Wotherspoon. The supplemental discipline was requested by the Winterhawks.
“I don’t know if they did anything different,” Spokane coach Don Nachbaur said. “I think we got into a different type of game tonight. It was too end-to-end, run-and-gun. It could have had a little bit to do with us, but it’s not the type of game we wanted to play.”
The Chiefs were outshot (43-41) for the second time in this series, after not allowing the Winterhawks more shots in nine regular-season games.
“It’s a 1-1 game in the third and we made some mistakes in our end,” Nachbaur said. “They’re too skilled to make those kind of mistakes. You can’t give up three breakaways. We got caught flat-footed and watched the puck and didn’t identify guys behind us.”
Bartschi was the star for the Winterhawks, scoring their tying goal late in the second period on a deflection and setting up two third-period goals. He even threw himself into the path of slap shot late in the game.
The winner came when he lasered a precision pass from his own goal line to Craig Cunningham at the Chiefs’ blue line, setting up a breakaway at 11:47. Despite an outstanding game with 40 saves, James Reid couldn’t keep Cunningham from finding the top-right corner of the net as he charged in, making it 3-1.
“He’s a great player,” Johnston said of Bartschi, an 18-year-old from Switzerland expected to be a first-round draft pick. “Sometimes he gives the puck away, but nine times out of 10 he makes that play. He’s a great player.”
Spokane, which hadn’t scored since Levko Koper set up Tyler Johnson for a short breakaway 59 seconds into the game, made it 3-2 exactly a minute later. Mitch Holmberg fired a wrist shot from between the circles that handcuffed Mac Carruth, who had 39 saves.
Blake Gal also had a breakaway midway through the period but couldn’t connect.
“He scores there and we’re talking about a different score,” Nachbaur said.
Spokane may have had a few more chances in the first, but the ice definitely tilted toward Portland in the second. Only some wide shots and sensational saves by Reid kept the Winterhawks at bay.
All three penalties came in the second period. Nachbaur questioned both against the Chiefs, and wondered how Portland went from giving Spokane 19 power plays in two games at the Arena to just one here.
“That’s what concerns me,” Nachbaur said. “You don’t know what’s going to be called. The refs tonight decided to put the whistles away, and unfortunately we were on the short end. That’s playoff hockey.”
The momentum shifted to Portland when Corbin Baldwin was called for slashing late in the period.
“I didn’t like the call at all, but you have to battle through those circumstances,” Nachbaur said. “We got one group that got caught out there too long, ran out of gas, and it ended up in our net.”
The tying goal came just after the penalty expired and with 33 seconds left in the second period. Joe Morrow’s shot from the point deflected off the shaft of Bartschi’s stick.
“That hurt us bad. It was the momentum,” Nachbaur said. “We looked a little sluggish early in that third period. We got better as it went on.”