There is something to be said for competition driving a goalie to another level. With Michael Bullion putting together a solid performance in a 4-3 Portland win Wednesday after Cole Kehler lost four games in a row, Kehler had to be feeling that Bullion was pressing him more for playing time. Kehler stood on his head Friday night in Kent, leading Portland to a pivotal 2-1 road win over Seattle. Kehler had not allowed one goal or less in a game since November 30th, which he did again Friday. With Portland clinging to a one point advantage for third in the U.S. Division coming in, Kehler picked a good moment to turn things around. Skyler McKenzie provided the game-winning-goal with 4:18 left and now has 25 goals in 39 games this year.The #Winterhawks game at a glance is presented by @Toyota from the 2-1 win over Seattle, ft. 40 saves from @kehler298: pic.twitter.com/KxVFtGcgZo— Portland Winterhawks (@pdxwinterhawks) December 31, 2016
Portland started the scoring on a turnover 8:29 into the game. Seattle's Ethan Bear could not get the puck past the Portland blue line and Keoni Texeira quickly got the play going back the other way. Keegan Iverson walked in on a two-on-one and sniped a shot short side on Seattle goalie Rylan Toth. After Portland carried play for the first nine minutes, the Thunderbirds got things going and tested Kehler consistently. Most impressively for the Hawks' goalie was a glove save he made at the first period buzzer.
Seattle tied the game in the second period and it was a newcomer that provided the big goal. Keegan Kolesar's cross-ice pass on the rush deflected off a Portland stick right to onrushing Seattle d-man Aaron Hyman. The blue liner gathered the puck and beat Kehler to knot the score up at one. Seattle threw 15 more shots on net but Kehler responded well and kept them at bay.
With Portland recovering as the third period grew, the Hawks finally added another goal to their repertoire on the night. Scott Eansort started a rush through the neutral zone but had the puck poked off his stick by Portland defenseman Conor MacEachern right to Skyler McKenzie. Portland's leading scorer put on the after burners and quickly had a three-on-two rush going into the Seattle zone. McKenzie went short side just as Iverson did and provided the Hawks with a very pivotal goal. After McKenzie's big goal, the Hawks held on and headed back to Portland with two big points. The two squads face each other again the Rose City Saturday night.
Portland's Cole Kehler stopped 40 of 41 shots to get the win. This was his third game with 40 or more saves in the month of December. Seattle's Rylan Toth stopped 34 of 36 in the loss.
Portland tightened things up as far as taking penalties. After going short handed nine times Wednesday, they only took two penalties all night Friday. Seattle was 1-2 on the man advantage. Portland did not convert on either of their two chances.
-No Matt Barzal or Alexander True for Seattle and no Caleb Jones or Joachim Blichfeld for Portland. All four are participating in the U20 World Junior Championships.
-Donovan Neuls was snakebitten for Seattle. He had three different prime chances but was either stopped by Kehler or missed the net altogether.
-The Alex Overhardt, Colton Veloso and Brad Ginnell line had another great night. Ginnell showcased his growing talent on one play by faking going one way behind the Seattle net and going on his backhand up the other. He created a great look with the play. The trio turned momentum multiple times by possessing the puck and earning a lot of zone time.
-Ethan Bear had two big turnovers in the game. His first turned into a Portland goal and his second gave Ilijah Colina a chance right in front. Bear was forced to take a penalty to keep Colina from getting in even closer.
-Jake Gricius is becoming shutdown center for Portland. He broke his stick blocking a shot with under a minute to play and still made a play without it. Gricius is earning a lot of big minutes with his smart play in his own zone.
-The annual New Year's Eve game between Portland and Seattle goes Saturday night at the Moda Center. Portland sits in third in the U.S. with 43 points, while Tri-City is second with 45 and Seattle is fourth with 40.