The Portland Winterhawks made the most of their 730 plus mile trip to Prince George with a pair of wins that catapulted them to be the first to complete their playoff series.
Getting there wasn’t the easiest route to go. Prince George played a gritty, tough battle in an effort to stop the juggernaut that has been Portland in the matches this year. With four wins during the regular season with solid goal margins, the Hawks looked to keep that trend up. However, Prince George wasn’t going down without a fight.
Game three was a defensive battle with a great deal of chippy play carried over from the games om Portland. The scoreless first period saw a deadlocked shot total at 12 each and quality chances at both ends,
Gabe Klassen finally broke the stalemate when he received a behind-the-back pass from James Stefan and shot from the slot past Tyler Brennan to give the visitors the lead early in the second period.
Klassen doubled his total as Luke Schelter fired the initial shot and rang off the post, but Klassen gobbled up the puck and again fired in front of Brennan to put the Hawks up 2-0.
Though the Cougars outshot Portland in the third period, Taylor Gauthier stopped everything coming his way and took the shutout over his old team leading to him being named first star of the game. Portland outshot the Cougars 36-28.
The next night was game four with the Hawks up 3-0 in the series. Portland outshot Prince George, and neither team scored on the powerplay, with Portland having three chances and Prince George with two.
James Stefan sored after Gabe Klassen faked a shot and passed to an open Stefan, who fired on Tyler Brennan into the net. Luke Schelter tipped in a Jonah Bevington shot three minutes later to put the Hawks up by a pair in the first period/
Jonny Hooker finally got one past Gauthier in the second period, but despite both teams pressuring the netminders at either end, no more scoring took place.
Prince George had the only powerplays in the game but failed to score on any of the three they had; Portland had no powerplays. Portland outshot Prince George 42-30.
The Hawks will now await the winner of the Kamloops vs. Spokane series as it looks to start in Kamloops on May 6 and 7, unless Spokane can erase a 3-0 series deficit,
Edmonton has become the second team to advance with a sweep over the Lethbridge Hurricanes. The other series will play at least a game and possibly two to settle things over the weekend.
In the final Kia Top Ten Rankings, Portland is listed in ninth place, with Winnipeg and Edmonton capturing the two top spots. The Winterhawks weren’t even listed in the rankings during the first half of the season but made a massive play in the second half. Much can be attributed to the acquisition of Tayler Gauthier as the backstop just before New Year’s. It will be interesting to see just how far this team can go. After the sweep of the Cougars, things could get interesting against Kamloops. The Hawks had mixed results against the Blazers but had a strong showing against them at the end of the season.