About ten days ago, the Portland Winterhawks had won three straight games and were holding onto fourth place just a couple of points ahead of the Spokane Chiefs and still a long way back from the third and second place teams and the thought of even making a run for first place was just a pipe dream.
Four games in ten days have given a completely different perspective on things. The Winterhawks picked up wins against the top US Division team in the Everett Silvertips not just once, but twice. The first was a home makeup game from earlier in January against the Tips which they won in overtime 4-3 thanks to a picture-perfect shot by Joachim Blichfeld at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum. The next night, it was the Kamloops Blazers who made another visit to Portland in just over a week, this time as a scheduled, not makeup game and like the last time around, the Blazers found themselves in a hole. Portland racked up three goals in the second period and another in the third to take a 4-2 win and add another win to their streak.
A road trip to Everett was delayed by thirty minutes due to a fatal accident on I-5 as the Winterhawks were approaching Everett, but the delay seemed to affect the goaltenders more than anyone. Eleven goals total with both teams doing well on the power play were part of the craziness that dominated the very chippy game. Everett dealt with goaltending issues in the first half of the game, giving up 3 goals on 11 shots and then after a change in netminders, gave up another 3 on 17 shots. Cole Kehler in the Portland net gave up 5 goals on 39 shots. Portland’s 6-5 win in Everett, set up a showdown in Portland the next night as they battled another team with a strong winning streak.
The Seattle Thunderbirds brought a seven-game winning streak to the Rose City to face off against the now six game winning streak holders, the Portland Winterhawks on a night where more than just hockey players were in attendance. Nearly 50 different costumed individuals showed up, many as mascots for a variety of other sports teams and other commercial companies as they would gather during one of the intermissions to play a little hockey and it seemed to give the Winterhawks a bit of a lift during the game. Portland started strong with Joachim Blichfeld’s 19th goal of the season just under two minutes into the game, however, it was Seattle that would get a pair of goals, one of those just sixteen seconds before the end of the period to take a lead into the dressing room. Colton Veloso got the crowd back into the game just under a minute into the second period, just to see Ryan Gropp counter for Seattle near the midway point of the period. Alex Overhardt would get the Hawks even just over three minutes into the third period and both teams would go fruitless for the remainder of the period. Overtime settled nothing and so to a shootout the teams would go. The teams would combine for fourteen shooters in the shootout before a goal was finally recorded and it was Alex Overhardt with his second of the night that would win it for Portland.
The win extended the winning streak to seven games with the next three games coming up against US Division opponents, two of which will be against the Spokane Chiefs, the other will be against Seattle. The standings have tightened considerable for the top four teams as Everett hold down top spot just five points ahead of second place Seattle after Everett went on a seven-game losing streak. Tri-City is two points back of Seattle, but have played four more games than the Thunderbirds. Portland is four points back of Tri-City with three games in hand and now holds an eleven-point lead on last place Spokane.
Where it gets interesting now for Portland is the “wild card race”. The top three teams in each division are guaranteed playoff spots with the last two spots determined by wild card seeding based on points. Portland has the second wild card spot, but is just one point behind Victoria who hold the first wild card spot. With twenty games left in the schedule things can easily change, but based on current standings, Portland would have to travel to the top conference leader which is Prince George, whereas Victoria would face Everett. Obviously for Portland, points and the possibility of having to avoid such long travel are the big incentive for this rebuilding franchise. With just six of the remaining games being outside the US Division, the Hawks will be pressing hard to capture as many wins over the next month of games.
Ice Chips: The next two Saturday road games against Seattle will be aired on CW 32 as will the last two Saturday games in March. Portland Winterhawks Game Night announcer Sean Norris was surprised at Saturday’s game with his girlfriend Amanda proposing to him during the second period intermission which he immediately accepted. Congrats to “Pipes”! The Portland Winterhawks Booster Club began its annual membership drive to great success and will continue through the playoffs. More information on the Booster Club can be obtained through www.pwhbc.com.