This past weekend saw the final placings for the playoffs and several meaningless games.
On the Winterhawks front, Portland split the two weekend games with Seattle and, as a result, ended up with 40 wins on the season, a feat that has been accomplished for the sixth time.
The first game saw them slide 7 to 3 at home versus Seattle. They deadlocked at one, concluding the first period. Josh Zaleski for Portland started things off just 2:17 into the contest but saw Seattle tie it up 5 minutes later.
Seattle ramped it up in the second with four goals in 10 minutes before Gabe Klassen stopped the bleeding as the period was coming to a close. And by the third, they piled on two more a couple minutes apart at seven and nine minutes and dashed the hometown crowd’s hope for seeing their team go out with a winning game. Marek Alscher scored four minutes after Seattle’s seventh goal to close out the scoring. Dante Gianuzzi went the distance for Portland, with Thomas Milic for Seattle. Seattle edged Portland 39-38 in shots, but it was the specialty teams of Seattle scoring on three of five powerplays and holding Portland off in four tries.
Portland headed to Seattle for the final game of the regular season.
Kyle Gustafson was behind the bench as coach for both games as Mike Johnston was at his daughter’s wedding.
With the final game as meaningless, Seattle rested a couple of top players but still had some snipers. Portland and Seattle played their “backup goaltenders,” with Jan Spunar for Portland and Scott Ratzlaff for Seattle.
Dylan Guether started things off for Seattle just over four minutes into the game and held that lead into the second period. Portland’s Luke Schelter got things going for Portland at 9:22, with Portland going up one just over three minutes later with Josh Zareski on the powerplay. Portland added the empty net goal with 36 seconds left from Ryan McCleary. Seattle tried to get the equalizers, but Jan Spunar held them at bay, giving Portland a 3-1 win and a 40-win season. Portland went 1 for 6 on their powerplay, and Seattle was shut out on its four tries. Seattle outshot Portland 30-28 in the game.
Connor Bedard won what people could call the WHL’s Triple Crown, leading in goals (71), assists (72), and points (143), all in just 57 games, and blew away the competition with his numbers.
On the standings, Swift Current won their first game against Medicine Hat, hoping to make it into the playoffs. They lost the next night to Medicine Hat, and their playoff hopes were dashed as the Tigers nabbed spot 8. Calgary, which was in danger of falling to 8th, won their game against Edmonton to keep them in the 7th spot. They lost 2-1 to Edmonton the following day, which became a meaningless game.
Out West, Seattle hosts Kelowna, Kamloops host Vancouver, Portland entertains Everett, and Tri-City travels to Prince George to begin their series.
Out East, Winnipeg gets home ice throughout the playoffs and will take on Medicine Hat, Red Deer is home to Calgary, Moose Jaw will host Lethbridge, and the Saskatoon Blades face the Connor Bedard-led Regina Pats.
Mostly, the playoff series look to be nonupset, but this is playoff hockey where anything can and will happen.
It all gets underway on Friday and Saturday, with all teams playing both nights. The question will be how long the series could be. Portland had a decisive advantage against Everett in the regular season. Seattle did the same against Kelowna. The questionable series could be Kamloops and Vancouver. Vancouver is one of those teams which can surprise, but Kamloops also has Don Hay, who has won Memorial Cups with Kamloops. Prince George tries to win a first-round series in years after falling to Portland in previous years.
Out East, Winnipeg has the Tigers but should dispatch them fairly quickly. Red Deer should do similar to Calgary. Moose Jaw and Lethbridge should be an exciting series. Saskatoon looks to shut down Bedard, which they did in their match to end the season with a win.
Get ready, folks. Playoff hockey is about to start!