Monday, March 13, 2017

Huge 4-3 comeback win over Everett vaults Portland into third in U.S.

While Keegan Iverson is the team captain of the Portland Winterhawks it certainly appears that defenseman Caleb Jones is the heart-and-soul of this team. It was him taking to twitter making a Mark Messier style claim on victory that night as his team was mired in an eight-game losing streak. Fast forward to Sunday night in Portland where, fresh off a tough loss to Seattle, they were down to Everett by two goals with six minutes left. That is a tough thing to come back from against Everett but couple that with a Silvertips' power play and you're looking at an extremely difficult task for a very young team. Jones came through yet again for his squad, netting a short-handed marker and driving his team to a three-goal barrage in the last 5:39 of the game. Portland got a pivotal 4-3 win and overtook Tri-City by one point for third in the U.S. Division, though the Americans have one game in hand. The Winterhawks have been mired in a battle for a wild card spot for the entire 2017 part of the year and only recently clinched a spot. So this recent surge where they've won six of their last eight games, coupled with Tri-City dropping four in a row has set up a tight battle for third. Everett, meanwhile has to feel like they missed out on a key point or two in their battle with Seattle for the top-seed in the U.S. They are one point back of Seattle with one game in hand, but had a golden opportunity to retake the lead before Jones started the rally. Cody Glass had three points for Portland and Keegan Iverson had two in the win. Everett got goals from Brandson Hein, Matt Fonteyne and Eetu Tuulola in the loss.

Everett had the stronger legs early as they outshot Portland 14-9 and broke through on Cole Kehler twice. First, after Ryan Hughes lost the handle coming out of his own zone, he made things worse by trying a desperate pass that was blocked down by Brandson Hein. The fourth-line forward spun around the fired a shot towards the net that surprised and got through Kehler. Then with just over four minutes left in the opening period a pass missed Dominic Zwerger and went deep into the Portland zone. Zwerger was first to it though and fed an all-alone Matt Fonteyne in front of the Hawks' net. Fonteye poked it in for his 17th goal of the year and first since February 25th and second since January 22nd.

The in the second period after some strong pressure on the power play, Portland got a big one from Lane Gilliss. He had not scored since the day after Thanksgiving. Keoni Texeira expertly sent Colton Veloso and Gilliss in on a two-on-one as his pass off the board and into the air was mistimed by Noah Juulsen, who tried to knock it down. Everett got that right back as Sean Rcihards's shot created a rebound and Finnish forward Eetu Tuulola got two whacks at it, beating Kehler and reinstating the two-goal Everett lead.

Jones got the comeback going in the third period after a Brendan De Jong penalty. Colton Veloso dug the puck out of the corner and set up Matt Revel on a breakout short-handed. Revel's shot hit Carter Hart in the right pad, but the puck sprang out hard to the slot where Jones had skated. He hammered it in and gave Portland the leif they needed, cutting the Everett lead down to 3-2. Then Keegan Iverson collected a Brendan De Jong pass and used his big frame to create space before firing a pass across the zone to a parched Cody Glass at the bottom of the left faceoff dot. Glass wired his shot up high and Carter Hart could not get over in time. The night then got a happy ending with just 13 seconds left thanks to the diminutive sniper Skyler McKenzie. The best way to describe the winning goal was just that Portland's top line wanted the puck more. They won a series of 50-50 battles leading to McKenzie collecting a pass from Glass to the left of Hart and beating the confused netminder to the glove-side. All three forwards beat Everett players to pucks or just took it from them in succession. Frankly, it is not something you are used to seeing happen to Everett especially when it's players like Noah Juulsen and Connor Dewar it's happening to.

Cole Kehler came up with some of his biggest saves in the first two periods and turned away a total of 32 of the 35 shots. Everett's carter Hart faced a barrage which totaled 46 shots, stopping 42 of them.

Both teams failed to convert on their power plays. Everett had five while Portland had two.

Game Notes:
-Portland had not come from behind throughout the entire 2016 part of the 2016-17 season, but has now proven they can do it even against one of the better shutdown teams in the league. A big part of that, in my opinion, has been the increased creativity in the offensive zone. Rather than just shoot from the distance they have been attacking and forcing the defense to commit before setting up an open and high quality chance. Also, as was the case on the Jones goal, never being afraid to jump into the play, even when you are down a man. Increased comfort in Mike Johnston's system and confidence have to have played roles in every d-man on this team's tendency to jump up when there's a lane.
-Johnston seems to never want to coach the creativity out of his players and their ability to create breakouts and scoring chances from all over the ice has been a marked change from where they were at last year.
-Matt Revel is starting to be used as a faceoff specialist by the Portland coaches and he has been paying dividends. The overage center also used his smarts on the short-handed break, aiming for the far pad and creating the rebound. His arrival in Portland will be key to their playoff success.
-Caleb Jones has two of his nine goals in the last three games and has a five-game point streak. He has moved up to a tie for fifth overall for points among d-men with 58.
-Cody Glass nears closer to the century mark as he had one goal and two assists for three points and is now at 94. He moves up into a tie for fifth in the WHL in points with Moose Jaw's Jayden Halbgewachs.
-Tuesday's game in Kennewick is suddenly a huge one for Portland as they try to ensure they will not be taking a long bus ride into British Columbia for their first-round playoff series.

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