PORTLAND – Their difficult task has become harder, but at least the Spokane Chiefs are returning to familiar surroundings.
Mac Carruth stopped 27 shots to become the Western Hockey League’s career leader for playoff wins Saturday night, and the Portland Winterhawks blanked the Spokane Chiefs 3-0 at the Rose Garden to take control of their Western Conference semifinal.
Brendan Leipsic had one goal and one assist for the top-seeded Winterhawks, who lead the best-of-seven series 2-0 heading into games Tuesday and Wednesday at the Arena. Counting the postseason, Portland is 9-2 against the Chiefs this season, with six consecutive wins.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur said.
The fourth-seeded Chiefs haven’t played at home since March 23, Game 2 of their first-round playoff series against the Tri-City Americans.
“We’ve just played five road games,” Nachbaur said. “It doesn’t even feel like we’ve had a home game in the playoffs.”
Not all was negative for the Chiefs, despite being outshot 43-27 and coming up empty as Carruth picked up postseason win No. 39. Spokane stopped the Winterhawks’ four power-play chances, had at least three solid chances at scoring and had seven fewer penalties than during Friday’s 7-2 loss.
But Nachbaur noticed that Portland has had 12 power-play chances in the series to Spokane’s four, including a single opportunity in Game 2. Nachbaur wryly listed Spokane’s one extra-man shot as a “positive” for the game.
“Far too often we had the puck and gave it away to the other team,” Nachbaur said. “Irresponsible with the puck: We’re guilty of that.”
Chiefs goaltender Eric Williams stopped 40 shots and made several saves on point-blank shots.
Portland struck first at 13:17 of the first period on a nifty feed from Taylor Leier. Oliver Bjorkstrand passed to Leier, who found Chase De Leo alone on the right side of the goal for De Leo’s third goal of the postseason.
“I didn’t like one goal – the first goal – at all, but the other two you can’t fault (Williams) on those,” Nachbaur said. “There’s nothing he could do. The ‘D’ has to do a better job sealing off and boxing off the back side.”
Both teams had eight shots on goal midway through the first period, but Portland outshot the Chiefs 12-3 for the final 10 minutes. The Chiefs killed off Portland’s lone power play of the first period, after a Brenden Kichton kneeing penalty.
Portland outshot the Chiefs 13-7 in the second period and took a 2-0 lead at 1:05. Ty Rattie’s shot deflected to Nicolas Petan, who punched in the rebound for his fourth goal of the postseason.
The Chiefs killed off Portland’s second power-play chance after Jackson Playfair was called for high-sticking at 16:43.
Spokane had its lone power-play chance at 3:56 of the third period. Carruth made a keen stop on Blake Gal’s shot right before the 2-minute chance ended.
Portland’s final goal, with 10:58 left, came after Spokane moved toward Carruth on a 3-on-2 chance. Seth Jones stole the puck and got it to Rattie, who fed Leipsic for his fifth postseason goal.
“We had three good chances in the game,” Nachbaur said. “They executed and we didn’t.”