Thursday, March 27, 2014

Hawks Sweep Giants; Advance to Second Round For 5th Straight Year

2009-10 was a great season for the young Portland Winterhawks. It was the first full season under new Head Coach and General Manager Mike Johnston and it was the Winterhawks first time making it back into the playoffs since 2005-06 under then Head Coach Mike Williamson. The Vancouver Giants mowed through the Hawks in the second round of the playoffs in 2006, on their way to the Memorial Cup. In Portland's triumphant return to the playoffs in 2010, they would take them out in 6 games.

Derrick Pouliot, as a 15 year old played 7 games with the 2009-10 Hawks, notching an assist. Little did he know that the trip to the playoff round would be the start of a juggernaut in the Western Conference and the WHL. Pouliot would be a part of 3 straight Western Conference Championships and last year's WHL Title. This year is almost guaranteed to be his last year with the Hawks, meaning that he will be the quintessential Winterhawk as far as their rebirth as a premier power in the WHL. He added to his legacy last night in taking his Hawks to at least the 2nd round for all 4 of his years in Portland and his assist gave him 47 career playoff points, tying him with Glen Wesley for the most playoff points for a Winterhawks D-man.

Pouliot and the Winterhawks made short work of the Vancouver Giants in this series, closing out the overmatched team with a 6-1 win last night at the Pacific Coliseum.

Predictably in Game 4, the desperate Giants carried play early in the game and tested Portland's Brendan Burke. Burke again was up to the task and should be alleviating a lot of concerns amongst the Hawks coaching staff and among the fans that have questioned him for most of his WHL career.

The one shot he was not in position for came from Vancouver D-man Brett Kulak, who missed an open net opportunity on a crazy play in front of the Hawk's net. At the end of that play Giants forward Trent Lofthouse took a goaltender interference penalty. This set up the potent Portland power play. Brendan Leipsic hammered home a one timer from Oliver Bjorkstrand all but ending any hopes for the Giants to take an early lead.

32 seconds after the Leipsic goal Adam De Champlain deflected home a Paul Bittner shot and the Giants were reeling. Goals from Alex Schoenborn, Keegan Iverson, Oliver Bjorkstrand and Chase De Leo would round out the scoring for the Hawks, while Carter Popoff scored the lone marker for the Giants.

Brendan Burke had an extremely shaky game one but seemingly has improved in every post season game since. He stopped 25 of 28; most notably stoning Ty Ronning and Cain Franson all alone in front in the first. He stopped 85 of 92 total in the series for a .924 Save % and a 1.75 GAA.

Payton Lee had been one of the Giants best player, giving them a chance to win in Game one and keeping them in Games 2 and 3 far longer then they should've been but he was yanked in the first period, 17:05 in after Schoenborn's goal. He stopped 10 of 13 and 119 of 135 in the series for a .881 Save % and a 4.89 GAA. Jared Rathjen came in despite needing stitches to close a wound on his face last Saturday, after taking a puck to the face on the Giants bench. Rathjen stopped 29 of 32 in relief.

Game Notes:
-The 3rd line of Dominic Turgeon, Alex Schoenborn and Keegan Iverson was in fine form for the Hawks Wednesday night. On one play the three of them forced Defensemen Mason Geertsen, Arvin Atwal and Center Thomas Foster right back into their own goalie setting up several scoring chances. This set the tone in the game and led to both Schoenborn and Iverson notching a goal apiece in the game.
-Brendan Leipsic had a goal and an assist meaning that he has 9 points in these playoffs, 2nd in the WHL. Leipsic now has 54 career playoff points, 7th for the Winterhawks all time. He is 2 points behind Todd Robinson for 6th all time.
-Pouliot sits tied for 11th with Wesley and 1 point behind Dan Woodley for 10th.
-Coach Mike Johnston is now 38-22 all time in the playoffs. His win % if .6333, tops amongst Hawk's coaches that have coached at least 2 playoff years.
-Not a single Vancouver player had more than one goal vs. the Hawks in the 4 games. Most notably absent from the score sheet outside of Game 1, was Edmonton Oiler prospect Jackson Houck.
-Portland's defense was much better on Wednesday night, as the mistakes of Tuesday night were not repeated.
-Mason Geertsen had a very forgettable series as he finished -8 in only 4 games and was out there for a majority of Portland's power play goals. He didn't seem capable of playing physical against the likes of Iverson and Turgeon and fast enough to contain Leipsic.
-Cain Franson finished his Vancouver Giants career with an okay series. He scored only one assist but was denied on countless scoring chances by Burke.
-Portland was 2/8 on the power play Wednesday and 6/27 in the series, including 4 for their last 13.
-Vancouver scored their only power play goal of the series after 14 chances.
-Dalton Thrower's absence was very notable in the series as his physical play may've helped limit the 3rd lines influence and his capabilities as the power play quarterback, would've surely faired better then Arvin Atwal running it.

3 Stars:
#3- Brendan Burke- Game one seems all but a distant memory as he has not allowed a cheap goal since that strange bounce resulted in a "goal" for Brett Kulak.

#2- Brendan Leipsic- He obviously loves playing against teams like this that can't get consistent back-check pressure leading to him having room to operate in the other team's zone.

#1- Oliver Bjorkstrand- 1 goal and 2 assists for the Danish sniper, as he is right behind Leipsic in playoff points with 8 (tied for 4th in WHL).

-Spokane was shellacked by Portland's likely second round opponent the Victoria Royals 6-1 behind 3 points apiece by Austin Carroll and Brandon Magee. The Royals look to close out the Chiefs in 4 tonight in Spokane. Mitch Holmberg got his first point in the first 3 games (an assist).
-Kelowna took game 4 from Tri City and the 3-1 series lead behind a 3 point night from Tyson Bailie. Myles Bell left the game and their is little word about if he is ready for Game 5 Friday.

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