Monday, November 21, 2016

Visiting 'Canes storm through Portland for a 6-5 overtime win

One night after getting treated to a back-and-forth U.S. Division overtime game, the Portland faithful got one involving teams that only see each other once a year. Lethbridge has struggled in the early going this year, leading to the trading of their top scorer. They were badly in need of an emotional win and their captain, Tyler Wong delivered just that Sunday night. He buried a shot just 18 seconds into overtime, sending the Hawks to their first extra-time loss this year. Wong was a catalyst all night for the Canes, scoring twice, drawing a power play and throwing a high, first period hit on Portland forward Jake Gricius that knocked him out of the game. Despite the hit, seemingly making contact with Gricius' head, Wong was given just a two-minute penalty for charging, instead of a five-minute major that would've seen him exit the game.

Portland and Lethbridge traded a total of five goals in the first period, with both teams capitalizing on their chances. The Hurricanes drew first blood when import forward Egor Babenko got right around Keoni Texeira on some slick stick handling and he got a shot on Portland goalie Michael Bullion. Ryley Lindgren was first to the rebound and he poked it home. Portland responded just 50 seconds later as defenseman Caleb Jones drove the right wing and dropped a pass to Ryan Hughes at the blue line. Hughes then fired a shot on Lethbridge goalie Stuart Skinner and Evan Weinger buried the rebound. The Hawks then grabbed their first lead of the night when Skyler McKenzie in a one-on-one, drove straight at Brenndan Menell, using him as a screen as he fired a deceptive shot through Skinner's five-hole. The goal was McKenzie's 13 of the year. The Hurricanes tied the game at two when Lindgren drove around the Portland net and snuck a pass by Conor MacEachern and right to Zane Franklin. The 17-year-old forward buried the chance for his second goal of the year.

After receiving a late power play, the Hawks took a 3-2 lead on some amazing puck movement. Joachim Blichfeld received a cross-ice pass from Keegan Iverson, sniping a shot past Skinner, ending the goalie's night. Skinner stopped four of seven shots in only 14:34 of game action. Former Seattle Thunderbird Ryan Gilchrist came on in relief.

Portland took a two-goal lead in the second period, while the teams were skating four aside. After Keegan Iverson failed to convert on both a breakaway and a back door play, he found an onrushing Caleb Jones with a deft backhand pass. The blue liner buried his shot past Gilchrist. The goal was Jones' second in three games, after going 10 games without one. The Hurricanes would not go away as Colton Kroeker drove the left wing and centered a pass in front of the net. Tyler Wong out-muscled Ty Kolle for the puck, deflecting it up high over Bullion's left pad. Then Portland got what appeared to be an insurance goal as Ryan Hughes cut to the middle, drove to the net and flipped a backhand pass to Evan Weinger at the right post. Weinger finished off what appeared to be a designed play for his second goal of the game. This was Weinger's first multi-goal game of the year.

The Hurricanes were expected to be the more tired team, as this was their third game in as many nights. However, they looked to be the team with more energy. Colton Kroeker helped cut the lead to one, as he slipped past Henri Jokiharju and drove the net. He was not able to score, but Ryley Lindgren got to the rebound, sliding it through Bullion's right pad. This only inspired the 'Canes more and the ice was heavily tilted in their favor the rest of the period. After Bronson Sharp took a penalty after the whistle, Lethbridge pulled Gilchrist for a six-on-four advantage. Bullion made several big saves, but could not get over in time for a Giorgio Estephan one-timer from the left face off dot with 2:15 left in the game.

Lethbridge then finished off the comeback as Jordy Bellerive drove past Skyler McKenzie along the right wing and slid a perfect pass to Wong. The overage forward sniped it past Bullion, giving the 'Canes the extra point.

Bullion struggled in covering rebounds, but did well in battling through adversity after taking an inadvertent stick to the neck from Bellerive in the third period. He saved a total of 25 of the 31 shots he faced. Gilchrist was impressive in relief, turning away 28 of 30 shots.

Portland had seven power plays for the second night in a row, converting on just one of them. Lethbridge went 2/5 on their man-advantage opportunities.

Game Notes:
-With an assist in the game, Glass has 33 points, good for third overall in the WHL.
-Iverson had three assists and has eight points in his last four games. He could be in the running for WHL player of the week.
-As hot as Iverson is, Hughes is right behind him with six points in his last three games.
-McKenzie had a goal and an assist and is now tied for ninth overall in WHL-scoring with 28 points.
-Jones had three points and has seven points in his last three games. He is now up to 10th in WHL scoring with 18 points.
-Portland seemed to over think their two different, lengthy five-on-three power plays in the game. Instead of having Joachim Blichfeld run one of the point positions, like normal, they used defenseman Henri Jokiharju. The puck movement was not as smooth without Blichfeld and both d-men seemed too content to just set each other up for one-timers, rather than drive at the defense and make them over-commit. I'm never a fan of a team using a different two-man advantage unit and Portland's inability to convert on these two chances, seems to back up my belief.
-Bronson Sharp got more penalty killing time with Alex Overhardt scratched and did well with this opportunity. The late penalty, will not do him any favors with the coaching staff.
-Hughes was moved to center for the first time this year to start the game. This was a decision, likely made after his great puck-possession play the previous night out.
-While it remains to be seen if Wong will get a suspension for his hit on Gricius, the hit is something the league has been cracking down on. Gricius not returning to the game will likely have an impact on the league's decision, as will Wong's history. He has been suspended five games over three incidents in his career.  The injury is really unfortunate for Gricius, as he was playing his best hockey and had gained some time on the penalty kill with improved play in his own zone.
-Next game for the Hawks is Wednesday night vs. the Edmonton Oil Kings.

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