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Portland Winterhawks' Notebook: Playoff Certainty is Almost There

With a successful trip through the Eastern Conference's Central Division, Portland is nearing clinching a playoff birth.

Portland celebrates one of six wins over the past few weeks
Portland celebrates one of six wins over the past few weeks
Ben Nelms/Getty Images

Portland utilized a 6-3-2 record over their last 11 games to currently hold the third seed in the U.S. Division bracket, with one point more than Spokane, who sits in fourth. They are also five points clear of the ninth placed (and just outside the playoffs) Tri-City Americans, with seven games left to play for Portland and six to play for the Americans. That means that clinching a playoff birth is just seven points away for Portland. Three or more wins over their last seven games would ensure that Portland sees the playoffs for the seventh straight year.

2/12: Portland 3 vs. Everett 2:

The Winterhawks continued their strong play against the, at the time, first-place Silvertips with another tight win. The Hawks jumped out to an early lead behind a strong play by Colton Veloso. The right-wing out-muscled Everett defenseman and first-round Montreal Canadiens' draft pick Noah Juulsen to a loose puck. He then threw it towards the Everett net, where Overhardt poked it home. Everett tied the game in the second period as converted d-man Jake Christiansen beat an out of position HIll, after he gave up a rebound. The Winterhawks very quickly bounced back, behind a goal each from Rodrigo Abols and Keoni Texeira. Abols scored his on a nice wraparound, while he was still behind the net. Texeira scored the eventual game-winner off a clean face off win from Overhardt. He used a screen to beat Carter Hart. The star, Everett goalie was chased from the net, as Mario Petit came in to start the third period.

Everett cut the lead to one, after they pulled their goalie for an extra attacker. Carson Stadnyk scored the goal, tipping a Brycen Martin point shot past Adin HIll. It would not be nearly enough for the 'Tips as they ran out of time and space against a strong defensive effort from Portland.

It was a great second game back from being healthy-scratched by coach Jamie Kompon. It has been a pretty inconsistent season so far for the second-year forward, who has been relied upon as the third-line center this season. Overhardt was the first star in the game, as he had a goal and big assist in the win.

2/13: Portland 5 @Seattle 6 (OT):

It was one of the craziest games of the year in Kent on February 13th. Portland held two different two-goal leads, but could not put the Thunderbirds away. They then scored an overtime winner by Caleb Jones, but had it taken back, due to him, apparently pushing the puck in with his left glove.Seattle then won the game with only 0.8 seconds left in overtime as Scott Eansor found a loose puck and put it past a hapless Adin Hill.

Evan Weinger, who himself had been healthy-scratched in the Everett game, opened the scoring as Rodrigo Abols fought off Seattle d-man Jerret Smith to feed the trailing Weinger, who ripped it past Logan Flodell. Abols then kept it going as he dove and extended his 6'5" frame to find the rebound of a Brendan De Jong shot, to slide the puck past Flodell.

Matt Barzal helped Seattle back into the game by expertly feeding the puck to Ryan Gropp right in the slot from behind the net. The N.Y. Rangers' draft pick beat Hill and it was 2-1 early in the second period. Seattle then scored their first of many power play goals, on a fantastic tic-tac-toe goal that Alexander True finished off. Portland jumped out to another lead as  Alex Schoenborn speedily got to a loose puck and then backhanded a nice pass to Keoni Texeira. The blue-liner sniped a shot over Flodell's glove for his eighth goal of the year. Texeira then set up the next goal as his stretch pass found Skyler McKenzie in space and the 17-year-old winger fed Alex Overhardt on a breakaway. The center quickly beat Flodell and Portland carried a 4-2 lead into the game's "final" frame.

Portland's Jack Doguherty awkwardly took a penalty early in the third period as Seattle import forward Andreas Schumacher missed a check on him and Dougherty's stick caught him in the face. Seattle's dangerous power play took advantage as Donovan Neuls used a screen in front of Adin Hill to snipe a shot from the right face off dot past Hill. Alex Schoenborn then collided with Flodell and Seattle was able to pull their goalie for an extra attacker. They took advantage of having more players on the ice than Portland again as Nolan Volcan fed Jerret Smith on the rush and right-handed d-man beat Hill to tie the game at four. Portland again recovered as they took a 5-4 lead off a screened shot from Schoenborn that Flodell never saw. Seattle would not go away, though as they scored their third power play goal with under nine minutes to play in the game to tie the score again.

Then in overtime, Seattle took advantage of a very controversial dis-allowed goal scored by Jones and survived a two-minute four-on-three Portland power play, in order to enjoy Eansor's overtime heroics. Four of Seattle's six goals in the game were scored while Portland had less skaters on the ice, as the Hawks continued to shoot themselves in the foot, by taking penalties.

2/15: Portland 2 vs. Victoria 1 (OT):

Portland held their last home game before a six-game, Central Division swing and were able to quiet the recently red-hot Victoria Royals. They withstood an early onslaught of 12 first period shots from Victoria, only allowing one goal, before getting into the swing of the game and tying it before getting an overtime winner that counted from Caleb Jones.

Victoria opened the scoring as they controlled most of the possession the game's opening frame. They took advantage of winning a loose puck behind Adin Hill's net and getting a pass into his feet. Ryan Peckford poked the puck home to give the Royals the 1-0 lead.

Portland tied the game in the second period as Evan Weinger picked off a Ryan Gagnon outlet pass and got a pass to Dominic Turgeon in front of Victoria goalie Griffen Outhouse. The Hawks' captain got two chances in tight, putting the second chance in for his 28th goal of the year.

Portland got the game to overtime behind some strong play by Adin Hill, who saved all 18 shots he faced in the game's last two periods. Caleb Jones scored the game-winner after Jack Dougherty won  a battle in the corner in his own zone and got the puck out to Turgeon, who in turn found Caleb Jones. The rookie d-man raced in on Outhouse and beat him for his second overtime winner of the year (third if the one in Seattle had not been taken away).

2/19: Portland 4 @Lethbridge 2:

The Winterhawks opened their Central Division road trip with a big win over a team that has spent a lot of the year in the top three of the WHL. They utilized a solid effort from Adin Hill and two goals apiece from Alex SChoenborn and Rodrigo Abols in the win.

Abols opened the scoring the game's first period as Abols found the rebound of an Evan Weinger shot and beat Lethbridge goalie Stuart Skinner. It was the Latvian's 16th goal in his first season in the WHL.

The Hurricanes tied the game in the second period as former Seattle Thundebrird Cory Millette scored on a rebound, directly after they had a five-minute power play. They were granted the power play after Portland's Keegan Iverson was given a kneeing major penalty and ejected from the game. Iverson would end up getting a two-game suspension for sticking out his knee, while attempting to throw an open ice check on Colton Kroeker. The Winterhawks retook the lead later in the period as Schoenborn found the net off a great neutral zone play by Skyler McKenzie sprung him.

In the game's third period, Portland extended their lead to 3-1 behind Schoenborn's second goal, which was scored on a three-on-two rush. They then made it 4-1 on another odd-man rush, with Abols calling on himself to bury his second of the game. The Hurricanes cut the lead to two very late in the game as consecutive penalties allowed them to skate the rare six-on-three advantage. It was not nearly enough as Portland won their opening game on their trip.

2/20: Portland 8 @Medicine Hat 1:

Portland blew out the hapless Medicine Hat Tigers in their most lopsided game of the season. They utilized, recently, healthy scratched forwards Evan Weinger and Alex Overhardt to get their second straight win. Overhardt had a goal and three assists and Weinger had two goals and an assist in the blowout win.

The Hawks opened the scoring as Keoni Texeira sent Alex Schoenborn in alone and the overage forward beat Medicine Hat goalie Nick Schneider for the 1-0 lead. They added two more goal in the first as Conor MacEachern converted a great pass from Overhardt for his second career WHL goal and Alex Schoenbron poked home a rebound on the power play. It was the red-heads fourth goal in just three periods of WHL action.

Portland scored three more goal in the second period, while only allowing one from the Tigers. Dominic Turgeon faked going one way behind the net and then went the other sneaking the puck past Schneider on the power play. Overhardt then won a big face off right back to Weinger, who picked a corner on Schneider. The Tigers got their lone goal of the game on a great individual effort from Texan Max Gerlach, who won a board battle and wired a shot past Hill. The "comeback" was short-lived though as Overhardt won a board battle of his own and beat Schneider in tight, ending the night early for Medicine Hat's back-stopper.

Mack Shields would fare no better than Schneider as Weinger scored on the rebound of an Overhardt shot and McKenzie scored on the rebound of a Schoenborn shot to close out the 8-1 score.

2/23: Portland 2 @Calgary 6:

The road trip, which had started out great with two straight wins, hit a major bump in Calgary. The Hitmen stormed out to a 4-0 lead on their way to a 6-2 win that was the start of the low point on the trip for Portland.

Calgary opened the scoring as Jack Doguherty could not keep the puck in the Calgary zone, while on the power play and Taylor Sanheim flew in shorthanded and beat Hill. They would add to their lead on great work from their top-two d-men.  Jake Bean took a nice pass from Trevor Sanheim (Taylor's brother) and fired a shot towards Hill. Jordy Stallard got his stick on the shot, tipping it past Hill for the 2-0 lead.

In the second period, Calgary scored another shorthanded goal, after another miscue by a Portland d-man. Caleb Jones' drop pass in the Calgary zone helped Radel Fazleev lead a two-on-one break the other way, during which he faked a pass and beat Hill in tight. Fazleev scored again before the period was over as he stick handled around 16-year-old center Cody Glass and scored his second of the game.

Portland, after giving up two goals while on the power play, scored on one in the third period, as Jack Dougherty wired a one-timer past Calgary goalie Nik Amundrud. This cut the lead to three and gave Portland hope. That was quickly dashed though as Pavel Karnaukhov used a nice move to set up a clean shot, that he beat Hill with, while on the rush. The Hitmen added another goal as Jakob Stukel finished off beautiful power play movement, giving them a 6-1 lead. Caleb Jones beat Amundrud on a point shot, to close out the 6-2 score.

It was known that Portland would not have their best stuff at least once on the trip and this was the start to their worst work in Alberta.

2/24: Portland 1 @Edmonton 5:

The Winterhawks played better the following night in Edmonton, but could not get the bounces to go their way, as they fell to the team they played three straight WHL Finals against recently.

Edmonton opened the scoring on the power play as Aaron Irving fired a shot on the power play that Adin Hill never saw, as he was screened expertly. Portland tied the game on a rare turnover by Arizona Coyotes' draft-pick Dysin Mayo. The d-man lost the puck directly in front of his own net and Rihards Bukarts, who was pressuring him, swiftly corralled the puck and beat Edmonton goalie  Patrick Dea, who was dead to rights on the play. The tie was short-lived though as rookie d-man Jordan Dawson fired a screen shot from the point that Hill, yet again, did not appear to see, giving the Oil Kings another one-goal lead.

The Oil Kings then added to their lead n the second period as they got goals from Colton Kehler and Kole Gable. This put the game somewhat out of reach and in the third, they put it away with a  power play goal from Gable, after Ryan Hughes took a slashing penalty.

This game was yet another example, this season of Portland not learning enough from their previous loss and piling on with another loss. In this game, Edmonton controlled a majority of possession and fired 49 shots on Adin Hill.

Portland 3 @Red Deer 4 (OT):

Portland played much better in their fifth game on the trip, but were undone by two former U.S. Division forwards. Former Spokane Chief winger Adam Helewka made a nice move to get away from Portland's defense in the game's extra period and found former Everett Silvertip center-man Ivan Nikolishin, all alone on the back post. The Russian forward, who is normally known for his set up skills, made no mistake and gave the 2016 Memorial Cup hosts the win.

Portland got the scoring going on yet another great play by Rihards Bukarts. The undersized forward stole the puck away in his own zone and raced in the other direction. He then found an onrushing Blake Heinrich. The overage d-man wired it home, starting a crazy goal scoring streak for a guy who is far from being known as a sniper.

Haydn Fleury tied the game in the second period off a really juicy rebound that goalie Adin Hill was not able to corral. The Winterhawks then took the lead as Blake Heinrich perfectly read a Fleury cross-ice pass and beat Rebels' goalie Trevor Martin. The Rebels then tied the score again as Jack Dougherty had the puck accidentally kicked away from him by teammate Brett Clayton, giving Adam Helewka a clean breakaway. The San Jose Sharks' draft pick capitalized and the game was 2-2 after two.

In the game's final frame, the Rebels showed incentive and took a 3-2 lead on a controversial goal. Grayson Pawlenchuk just barely sneaked a shot through Adin Hill's right arm and the red light shone as the puck appeared to have crossed the goal line. Portland's Alex Overhardt swatted the biscuit away, but was it in time? From multiple views, it became apparent that there was no real way to overrule the initial ruling as the camera views did not show enough to overturn the call.  Rodrigo Abols then found Dominic Turgeon some room and the Hawks' captain tied the game in the period's latter half, forcing an extra frame.

Red Deer took the game from the Winterhawks as Helewka and Nikolishin controlled possession and wore down the tired defense, allowing a clear passing lane and a remarkable finish.

Portland 4 @ Kootenay 3 (OT):

The next night in Cranbrook, British Columbia, Portland turned the tables in overtime and got an overtime winner from Rihards Bukarts, helping end their trip through the Central Division with a 3-2-1 record.

The last-place in the WHL Ice were up to the challenge this night as they gave Portland everything they had.

Portland opened the scoring in the first period on a great play from Alex Schoenborn. The overage right-winger split the Ice defense and beat goalie Wyatt Hoflin for his 25th goal of the year. Kootenay tied the game late in the first on a strange play. Zak Zobrosky fanned on a shot and the puck slid right to a waiting Jesse Zaharichuk. The former Kamloops Blazer beat Adin Hill. Zborosky then gave the Ice the lead as he caught a beautiful outlet pass and outraced Jack Dougherty to the net, beating Adin Hill on the near side.

They extended their lead to two in the game's second frame, on a freak play in front of their own net. Keoni Texeira appeared to hit a soft spot in the ice and lost the puck right to a forechecking Luke Philp. Keegan Iverson then cut into the lead as he fired a shot towards Hoflin that Alex Schoenborn deflected home for his second of the game. The comeback was complete in the second period as Blake Heinrich scored another goal off a great pass from Rodrigo Abols.

After Jason Wenzel was stoned by Hill in overtime, Schoenborn fired an outlet pass to Rihards Bukarts, who was able to pick a corner on Hoflin with just 56 seconds before a shoot out would have been necessary.

Portland 5 vs. Tri-City 3:

Portland won their seventh of 10 vs. Tri-City this season, this time gutting one out against a team scratching and clawing to overtake them in the standings and get into the playoffs. It was Portland's first home game in 18 days and they relished the opportunity to play in the friendly confines of Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

Portland's disappointing second-unit power play got a rare goal to start the scoring as Keegan Iverson found the loose puck in front of Evan Sarthou, scoring just his 10th goal of the year. This season has been underwhelming for Iverson, who has been trying to earn an entry-level contract with the N.Y. Rangers, before he becomes a free agent this June. Dominic Turgeon then played soccer player as he kicked the puck around Tri-City d-man Dylan Coghlan and picked a corner on Sarthou for a 2-0 lead. Michael Rasmussen cut the lead to one on an acrobatic play as he swatted a rebound home, as he was falling on top of Adin Hill.

Cody Glass then scored on a rebound in the second period, giving Portland another two-goal lead. The goal was set up by a powerful play by Keegan Iverson, who just shrugged off a huge check that Parker Wotherspoon was trying to throw on him. Possible MVP candidate Parker Bowles helped Tri-City get closer as he lobbed a beauty of a pass right to Tyler Sandhu at the back door. The former Winterhawk slammed a shot home, getting the Americans close again. Rodrigo Abols got that goal right back as he mesmerized the Tri-City defenders in a one-on-two play, before dropping a nice pass right to a charging Blake Heinrich. The d-man swooped in, faking a shot and athletically tucking a backhand shot around the down Sarthou for the eventual game-winner.

In the third, Tri-City got closer as Vladislav Lukin scored, but Blake Heinrich netted a goal with Sarthou pulled and the game was put on ice, possibly along with the Americans' playoff hopes. Heinrich scored five goals in three games, by far the hottest stretch of his WHL career.

Portland 1 @Seattle 2:

The Winterhawks followed up their big win over a division rival, with a great effort against another one, which just fell short. The Winterhawks had countless chances in the third period, in order to force overtime and get a big point, but fell short in Kent, 2-1 to the Thunderbirds. Their best chance came when 16-year-old center Ryan Hughes rung a shot off the inside of the right post and out.

Seattle opened the scoring in the first period as Keoni Texeira was called for a high-sticking penalty and the potent Seattle power play went to work. Ryan Gropp and Matt Barzal set up an Ethan Bear one-timer that Adin Hill had no chance on. If anyone has an NHL=ready one-timer in the WHL right now it is Bear.

Bear's defensive lapses were on display in the second period though as Rihards Bukarts blew past him and raced in one his goalie., patiently waiting for him to go down, before sliding a shot past his left hand. Seattle quickly answered as Scott Eansor won a draw right back to Donovan Neuls, who fed Nolan Volcan, on what has to be a designed play. Volcon fired a shot over Hill's right shoulder and the Hawks would end up losing by one on the night.

Winterhawks' News:

-Portland signed three prospects recently:

1)Matthew Quigley- a 1999 born defenseman out of Chestermere, Alberta. He played 34 games with the Lethbridge Hurricanes Midget AAA team this seaosn, logging three goals and 10 assists for 13 points. He is the third 1999 born signed d-man for the Hawks.

2)Ilijah Colina- a 2000 born forward out of North Delta, British Columbia. He is currently second in scoring on the Valley West Hawks of the B.C. Minor Midget league. Colina was drafted in the eighth round of the 2015 WHL Bantam Draft by the Winterhawks.

3)Bradley Ginnell- a 2000 born forward from Calgary, Alberta. Ginnell has 80 points in just 35 games this year while playing in Alberta's minor midget league with the Calgary Royals AA Blue team. His point total in the regular season was a franchise record.

Three Former Hawks Named to 2016 Hockey World Cup Rosters:

- Jannik Hansen- Named to Team Europe after registering 32 points already in 57 games with the Vancouver Canucks this year. Hansen is a native of Rodovre, Denmark and will play on the mishmash team of players born in European countries not named the Czech Republic, Finland, Russia and Sweden.

-Marian Hossa- Was also named to Team Europe and is one of the biggest names on the roster. Hossa has had an injury plagued season, but is still providing some offensive pop with 10 goals and 18 assists, for 28 points so far in 54 games with the Chicago Blackhawks. Hossa is four goals away from recording 500 career NHL goals. He will be relied upon to help provide some needed offense during the eight-team tournament this summer in Toronto.

-Seth Jones- Was listed on the preliminary roster for Team North America. This is another mixed team of players born in North America, under the age of 23. Jones will likely be a top-four d-man for the team and is one of the more successful players on the team at the international level as he won a U-20 World Junior Championship with Team USA in 2013.

Winterhawks' Video of the Week:

One of the oddest interviews you will ever see as Portland d-man Keoni Texeira chatted with a bicyclist reporter.