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WHL US Division - Portland Winterhawks' Notebook: Surging Hawks Take Four of Last Five

Portland, now looks like possible buyers at the deadline after taking four of their last five games, all within the U.S. Division.

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Down and nearly out of the playoffs a few weeks ago, the Portland Winterhawks had their fans thinking that they were going to starting dealing some of their assets at the trade deadline. Now, after winning three straight games within the division, Portland is only five points back of the U.S. Division leading Everett Silvertips.

Portland has been a team in recent memory that has gone on runs in January and February and with the way they have come together recently, they could be doing the same thing this year.

The games:

Portland 5 Tri-City 4 (OT):

--In a home game that had Portland out-shooting the Tri-City Americans 4, the visitors from Kennewick, nearly stole one. Portland and Tri-City started the game by scoring two each in the first period, in what has become typical for Portland games recently. Alex Schoenborn started the scoring by netting a power play goal, before Tri-City got one of their own PP goals from Parker Bowles. The Americans tacked on a goal from a point shot by Jeff Rayman and looked to be taking a one-goal lead into the second. Latvian overage forward Rihards Bukarts had other things to say as he netted a goal with only seconds left in the period.

The Morgan Geekie-Tyler Sandhu line continued to do well against Portland in the second period, as they both scored a goal and gave the Americans a 4-2 lead. The resurgent Winterhawks were not done though, as they got a late second period, power play marker from Rodrigo Abols and cut the lead to one.

Then Evan Weinger netted his fourth on the year with just over five minutes to play and the game was tied. Portland completely controlled possession prior to Weinger's goal and would have tied the game much earlier, were Tri-City goalie Evan Sarthou stopping everything they threw at him.

The stage was set for, yet another OT session for Portland, who was playing in their third straight. This one had a unique finish though. Caleb Jones, the Edmonton Oilers' draft pick sneaked in behind the Tri-City defense and took a brilliant feed that looked to be sending him in on a breakaway. Instead, Tri-City defenseman Dylan Coghlan hooked him to the ice and Jones was awarded an overtime penalty shot. He made no mistake streaking in on Sarthou and beating him easily, giving Portland the OT win.

Tri-City 5 Portland 1:

-OT was definitely not needed two nights later in Kennewick. The Winterhawks self-destructed, to the point where they took 37 penalty minutes and gave up three power play goals, on a season-high 10 penalty kills. The game also saw Blake Heinrich earn himself a one-game suspension for jumping agitator Maxwell James and instigating a fight with less than five minutes to play. The lone bright spot for the Winterhawks was a goal in three consecutive games for Evan Weinger, which is a career high.

Tri-City opened the scoring with a power play marker from Beau McCue, only to be tied up after a great play off the rush by Weinger. The game looked to be another, characteristically tight U.S. Division contest, until the third period rolled around.

The Americans scored four times in the third, twice on the two-man advantage and once right after the penalty expired.

The game was a real low point in the season for the Winterhawks, at a point where they needed to start getting consistent.

Portland 4 Seattle 1:

-Fortunately for Portland, they got right back on track two nights later, with a big win over their interstate rival: the Seattle Thunderbirds. Who cares if Seattle was without their top three center-men: Alexander True, Mathew Barzal and Scott Eansor? The New Year's Eve game is a traditionally big game for Portland and is usually one where they are missing several key pieces at the World Junior Championships. This time the shoe was on the other foot and Portland took full advantage.

After a back and forth first period, Portland jumped on Seattle in the second, pumping 23 shots on goalie Logan Flodell. They controlled a majority of possession and took advantage, netting three goals in the period. First, off a great play short-handed by Dominic Turgeon sent Caleb Jones and Colton Veloso in on an odd-man rush, Veloso cleaned up the rebound of a Jones shot and netted his first career short-handed goal. Then, Jack Dougherty pulled his best Tim Duncan impression, showing his inner "Big Fundamental" and banking consecutive shots off of Seattle players and giving Portland a big 3-0 lead. Dougherty's first goal, was a point shot that deflected off of Turner Ottenbreit's stick and past Flodell and his second he banked off of Flodell from down below the goal line.

In the third, the Hawks withstood a Seattle rally that had them get within two on a power play goal from d-man Jerret Smith. Ultimately, Portland pulled out their first win over Seattle this year, as Jones added an empty net marker, sending the celebrating fans off into the New Year the right way.

Portland 6 Spokane 5 (SO):

-After exacting some much-needed revenge on a rival, Portland then treated the home crowd to a crazy game on Saturday night.

Spokane got an early goal from, recently traded for forward Wyatt Johnson, but Portland came right back with three straight in the first period. First, Alex Overhardt potted his seventh of the year, then Rihards Bukarts sniped his 20th on the season. Lastly, Portland got a goal from their second power play unit, when Blake Heinrich found twine. This gave them, what you would hope would be a commanding 3-1 lead, but such is not the case in Spokane-Portland games this year.

To close out crazy first period, Spokane got a power play goal of their own from Dominic Zwerger, who has had a knack for scoring goals against the Hawks over the last two years. The crazy game would keep going in the second frame with Keegan Iverson giving Portland a two-goal lead before Kailer Yamamoto cut it back to 4-3.

Then, what will likely by one of the top-10 highlights of the year occurred in the third period. A point shot from a Spokane rearguard was deflected into the air by a Portland forward. While below his blue line and with the puck still in the air, Rodrigo Abols booted it about 40 feet down the ice with his skate to a wide open Keegan Iverson. Iverson made no mistake in beating replacement net minder Tyson Verhlest on the glove side for the 5-3 lead.

Unfortunately for Portland, Spokane would mount another comeback on them in the third period. Keanu Yamamoto scored with under nine minutes to play and then Evan Fiala knotted the game up with under three minutes to play.

For the fourth time this year, a Spokane-Portland game was going to over time.

This one would not be settled in OT though, despite the Chiefs getting a two-minute dour-on-three man advantage in the extra frame.

Portland decided that backhand was the way to go and both Dominic Turgeon and Jack Dougherty found the net, while Adin Hill made two crazy, acrobatic saves to get the win.

Portland 5 Spokane 1:

-The next night's game would not be as thrilling, as Portland got solid goaltending from Adin HIll and scored three power play goals to get the win and go 4-0-1 vs. Spokane through five of the two team's eight games this year.

Spokane opened the scoring on a PP marker from Dominic Zwerger, who made a nifty move in waiting out the big Portland goalie. This goal was Zwerger's fourth over the past two seasons vs. Portland.

The Winterhawks took over, not too long after with a power play goal, when 16-year-old rookie Ryan Hughes split the defense and beat Tyson Verhlest. They got another goal 39 seconds later, when Skyler McKenzie picked the glove side corner on Verhlest, after receiving a great pass from Caleb Jones. Alex Schoenborn added his 13th of the year on the power play and Portland had another 3-1 lead on Spokane.

Unlike the previous night, Portland played a much tighter defensive game and relied upon Hill to make the key stops. The Hawks added another power play goal (this one form Dominic Turgeon) and then sealed it with a short-handed goal in the third from Turgeon.

The two straight wins on the weekend over Spoken, allowed Portland to crawl within two points of the Chiefs for third in the U.S. Division.

Other Notes:

-Portland now has two players just outside of the top 20 in WHL scoring. Dominic Turgeon is 26th with 41 points in 38 games, while Rihards Bukarts currently sits 26th overall with 39 in 34 games.

-In NHL news, two former Winterhawks were traded for each other. The Nashville Predators traded, former fourth overall pick; defenseman Seth Jones to Columbus for former third overall pick; center Ryan Johansen. This is not the first time in recent memory that former Hawks have been dealt for one another as Dallas traded Brenden Morrow to Pittsburgh for Joe Morrow and more in 2013. In both cases, neither set of former Hawks actually played together in Portland.

Video of the Week:

-It cannot be anything else but the amazing Abols boot heard around North America.