Sunday, March 5, 2017

Kehler backstops Winterhawks to third straight win over Giants: 3-0

Sometimes the schedule gives you a break. However, you actually have to take advantage of that break in order for it to even matter at all. The Winterhawks had to have a goal of six points out of the three straight games with Vancouver this week. They accomplished that goal. The Giants, though proud and packed with some young skill, are reeling and dwelling at the cellar in the Western Conference. After two straight wins where the offense was typically firing on all cylinders, but the defense and goaltending allowed them to creep back into games, Portland's team defense came to play Saturday night. They kept the Giants hemmed in their own zone for much of the night and back-checked to perfection for much of the night in a big 3-0 shut out win. While only being forced to make 12 saves on the night, Kehler still had to make several impressive ones while notching his second career WHL shutout. The three Portland goal-scorers all notched their 27th goals of the season in a strange coincidence. Though coincidental, it does speak to the scoring depth the Hawks have had this season. Keegan Iverson also pitched in two assists for his third straight multi-point game.

While on the power play, Portland opened the scoring on some strong perimeter passing that opened up a passing lane across the middle of the zone. Keegan Iverson whipped a pass through that line right to Cody Glass and he powered a one-timer through Vancouver goalie David Tendeck.

Portland appeared to have extended their lead to 2-0 early in the second period as a Keegan Iverson shot beat Tendeck on the short side. However, the goal was called off as Ryan Hughes made inadvertent contact with Tendeck. Upon review of the replay it appears that Hughes checked into the crease by Vancouver d-man Ryan Jones and then Tendeck actually initiates contact with Hughes before the puck slips past the Giants' goalie. Regardless, the play could not be overturned and Portland was left clinging to a one-goal lead a little while longer. They would finally extend the lead to two with 1:27 left in the second. Alex Overhardt cleanly won a faceoff in the Vancouver zone back to defenseman Brendan De Jong. The lanky blue liner passed over to the right wing where Skyler McKenzie quickly fired a shot on Tendeck. The netminder turned away the shot with a right pad kick save. Unfortunately for him the puck went right out to Joachim Blichfeld, who backhanded home the rebound.

The Winterhawks extended their lead to 3-0 in the third period. Henri Jokiharju fired a shot towards Tendeck that was tipped by Keegan Iverson. Tendeck could not quite handle the puck and had to fall back to make save off the goalie with his glove. Though, he made the stop, he ended up flipping the puck right to Ryan Hughes who quickly fired it past him. The third moved markedly faster than the other two periods until the end, though all three were marred with extracurricular activities after a lot of play stoppages. It was extremely clear that after playing each other three times in four days, the two squads were not exactly gettign along like gangbusters.

It was one of the easier shutouts Cole Kehler will ever have as he faced just 12 shots. However, as it is just his second and he's in his 19-year-old season, I'm sure he will have no qualms about taking it. David Tendeck was stellar for the Giants as he turned away 39 of 42 shots and kept the game from being more one-sided in the box score.

Portland's power play went 1/8 while Vancouver's went 0/4. The Hawks' power play is fourth in the WHL at 25.5 percent.

Game Notes:
-Portland has skated a whole lot of games this season with one or fewer overage players. They had three on the ice Saturday night and they made their presence felt. Keegan Iverson and Shaun Dosanjh threw a multitude of huge checks and thus sent a message to the young Giants. With the playoffs around the corner, those two throwing their weight around may be a huge key for any postseason success.
-With Spokane dropping two in Victoria, the Winterhawks now have a 12 point lead on the Chiefs for the last wild card playoff spot. Portland has seven games left while Spokane has eight. Portland needs to have some combination of four points gained by them or lost by Spokane to clinch a spot. This could happened as soon as Wednesday as Spokane plays Tuesday in Seattle and Wednesday in Everett and the Hawks host Prince George Wednesday night.
-Meanwhile, the Hawks have their sights on Tri-City and Victoria. They sit five points back of the Americans for third in the U.S. Division with a game in hand. They are also five points back of the Royals for the first wild card position.
-Portland likely prefers third in the U.S. as it is up in the air who the top seed in the Western Conference playoffs. Everett has 89 points, Prince George has 89 and Seattle has 88.
-We will likely not know the final playoff positions until the final weekend of the season.
-Mike Johnston continued to strike gold with some line changes. One night after he got three points out of the newly formed Matt Revel, Brad Ginnell and Colton Veloso line, he got two out of another new line. Skyler McKenzie was moved away form Keegan Iverson and Cody Glass for the first time in awhile. He played with Alex Overhardt and Joachim Blichfeld. Johnston, in his previous tenure in Portland was known to change some lines late in the season in order to feel out what other combinations he could use if scoring dried up. This is my guess as to why he split up the Glass-Iverson-McKenzie trio.

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