With just six games remaining and two of those at home, Portland has pretty much established itself as the second spot in the US Division following this weekend’s games.
Portland took the first game of the weekend tilt by drubbing Tri-City 7-1 as they built up a four-goal lead by the 16:04 mark. Goals by Jack O Brien, a pair by Gabe Klassen, and a single by Ryder Thompson, where he got his first of the year, slammed the door on any hope for Tri-City.
Portland added a goal by James Stefan and a powerplay marker by Clay Hanus just past the seven-minute mark to make it 6-0. A minute later, Ethan Ernst broke the shutout of Taylor Gauthier, but Luke Schelter added a powerplay goal at 16:31 of the second period to end the scoring and keep Portland’s hopes for catching Everett alive. Portland’s 41-29 shot advantage and 2 for 3 on the powerplay versus 0 for 2 on Tri-Cities gave the Hawks a bit of breathing room on rival Seattle Thunderbirds, who beat Vancouver in a home and home match before defeating Tri-City to cap their weekend.
Portland then traveled to Everett the next night in a battle of the two teams making a splash in the US Division. Everett struck first just over a minute in, with Niko Huutanen capturing his 36th of the year. Portland replied with goals by Gabe Klassen and Clay Hanus being a minute apart. Everett replied five minutes later with a powerplay goal by Jackson Berezowski, which was responded to by Portland’s Tyson Kozak, leading to a goaltending change by Everett. Braden Holt was replaced by Koen MacIness, and it seemed to light a spark under the Tips. Michal Gut scored two minutes later to tie the score, and then a pair of goals in the second and third, including a powerplay goal, put Everett’s lead out of reach. The Hawks outshot Everett 48-38, with Everett gaining two powerplay goals on six tries and Portland unable to convert any of their six chances with the man advantage.
The standings will see a non-hybrid this year where teams in the past saw having to face teams within their Division owing to travel. This year’s top seed 1 will face team 8, team 2 will face 7, etc. The top teams of each Division are automatically seeded first and second and would be reseeded in the next round, and in this case, it doesn’t matter based on points of reseeding as the Divisional leaders are, in fact leading in the Conference too. While there still is hockey left to be played, in the Western Conference, only Portland and Seattle can really be flipped as Everett leads Portland by seven and Seattle by ten, and based on how the teams have been doing, it is unlikely that either team could win out and Everett drop all their remaining games.
There is a three-point difference between Portland and Seattle, with Portland having two games left against Everett, one against Seattle, Vancouver, Kamloops, and Tri-City. Seattle has a pair against Tri-City with singles against Spokane, Everett, Vancouver, and Portland. Seattle has three home games versus three road games, while Portland has just home games and four road games, three of which are makeup games from when COVID prevented those games from being played; of the two, Seattle may have the more manageable schedule, but has to make up three points and at this time of the year, that remains a daunting task.
Based on today’s playoff picture, Everett would tangle with Prince George, Kamloops would face Victoria, Portland would get Vancouver with Seattle and Kelowna colliding. With the bottom half of the Conference, the changes can happen quickly.
Just three points separate three teams, and Victoria gives up a monstrous three games in hand to both Prince George and Vancouver. Spokane is four points from a playoff spot having seven games left, with Tri-City needing a miracle as they remain six points out but have just six games remaining.
Single game playoff tickets have started to sell for teams now, and the playoff fever is getting into high mode now.