The Portland Winterhawks played a three-in-three this week as they faced a trio of US Division opponents. Portland outshot all opponents as they looked to keep pace with a couple of teams in a year that they weren’t expected to do so well.
The Winterhawks went to Kennewick to face the Tri-City Americans, a team that just hasn’t hit this year. Expected to at least contend for a healthy playoff spot, the team has sputtered and looks to be the first team in the Western Conference to lead the way in goals against. Taryn Boyko played a red-hot game for the Americans; though they lost 3-1, Boyko was lights out in his 34 save performance as Dante Giannuzzi gave up one goal on 24 saves in the one-two stars of the night. Portland was blanked on their four chances on the powerplay with Tri-City cashing in once on five attempts. The teams were scoreless in the first with Seth Jarvis starting things off for the Hawks late in the second frame. Mason Mannek tallied a shorthanded goal midway through the third period before Tri-City was able to score one on the powerplay late in the game. As Boyko was getting to the bench, Seth Jarvis intercepted a Tri-City pass and gave it to Jaydon Dureau for the empty-net tally and a tough 3-1 win. A scary moment in the game occurred with John Ludvig near the Tri-City bench. Ludvig looked like he may have been tripped, although no call was made of the play. Ludvig slid heavily into the boards and collapsed for several minutes. He was taken off the ice by teammates and then bench staff but appeared to have issues with weight-bearing. He did not play the next two nights, and with playoffs around the corner, information surrounding his health will be sparse, though it looked like he had concussion issues on replays.
The next night, Portland traveled to Kent to face the Thunderbirds. A week ago, Seattle was able to get the win, but not this time. Seth Jarvis scored in each of the three periods including the empty-net goal as the Hawks doubled up on Seattle 6-3. Lane Gilliss on the powerplay, Kishaun Gervais and Robbie Fromm-Delorme also added markers as Blake Lyda wasn’t able to stop all 31 shots his way and Joel Hofer gave up three on the 24 shots he faced. Portland went 1 for 3 on the man advantage and blanked Seattle on their 2 tries.
Portland finished the weekend in Everett against the Silvertips, who demolished the Hawks in their last meeting. Everett was certain in their home barn, where Portland wasn’t, and it led to a 4-1 win for Everett. Jake Gricius was the only Hawk to put one past Dustin Wolfe in the game but had salt poured to the wound when former Hawk Ty Kolle finished serving a penalty and immediately got free for a score on Hofer with the final goal. Despite the Hawks pulling Hofer with four minutes left in the game, no one scored. The 16-shot barrage in the third period propelled the Hawks to a 39-24 shots-on-goal advantage. Portland went 1 for 6 on the man advantage while giving up powerplay goals on both occasions to the Tips.
The Hawks will again play three games this week, but they will only play two over the weekend with one mid-week game, the last one of the season.
Portland and Everett are a point apart with Edmonton from the East tied with Everett atop the league standings
With the regular season winding down to fewer than ten games, the playoff picture is fairly bright. Most teams have asserted their postseason play with few exceptions. Most of the teams yet to be fully announced are strictly on mathematical odds, not reality. With eleven points and nine games remaining, the Prince George Cougars are the last holdout in the Western Conference to fall from the playoffs. Seattle Thunderbirds hold the lead and sit seven points back of Kelowna as the two teams in the wildcard race. Kelowna can’t be caught by the Cougars and unless they completely fall apart, they look to be in seventh place with Seattle holding eighth.
The hybrid playoff format will work like this. Unless Everett and Portland have a meltdown, they would be battling for the top spot in the US Division and hold the advantage over Kamloops in the BC Division. The number one seed in the Western Conference would face the eighth overall seed; the number two seed would face the seventh seed. Teams two and three would play interdivisional matches. Based on the play over the weekend, Everett would face Seattle and Portland would face Spokane in the US Division. Kamloops would face Kelowna, Vancouver and Victoria would battle. The teams then reseed according to points. In the East, Edmonton would face Saskatoon, Prince Albert would face Calgary with Lethbridge tangling with the Medicine Hat Tigers and Brandon Wheat Kings would rekindle the rivalry with Winnipeg Ice. Over the next short bit, there may be a few changes as there are a couple of teams in the East that could switch spots and change the travel schedule, but for the most part, the postseason teams have been set.