With only 2 weeks to go in the regular season, teams in the WHL are getting either ready for the playoffs or fighting for the 8th and final spot in their respective conferences. For the Portland Winterhawks, a playoff spot looks very likely, but their final resting place is still not set. With games against Everett (1), Seattle (3), Spokane (1), and Vancouver (1), Portland controls their own destiny as to what seed they will end up heading into the playoffs. Currently, the Winterhawks are in 6th place in the Western Conference and 3rd in the US Division. Getting as many points as possible in the remaining 6 games is key to staying in the 6th position, as 1 point separates Portland either staying in the 6th position or dropping to the 8th position. Although they are 5 points ahead of the Tri-City Americans, who sit outside the 8th and final spot with 65 Points, nothing is set in stone. If Portland doesn't at least win 3 out of their last 6 games or get three more losses out Tri-City, their playoffs hopes are in jeopardy, unless they get help. Fortunately for Portland, getting help will be easy as the Americans need to ‘win out' to even have a shot at stealing a playoff spot. Getting wins against Spokane and against the red hot Seattle Thunderbirds will be key to solidifying a spot in the 2016 WHL Playoffs.
Winning in overtime - picture by Jimmy Budinski
Here are the updates on the past games:
Tri-City Americans (3) vs Portland Winterhawks (5)
Portland needed a win against their division rivals to ensure that the Americans stay outside playoff contention. The Hawks did just that as they never trailed against the Americans who were coming off of a beat down in Seattle losing 7-2 in the ShoWare Center. There was no scoring until the 14:27 mark of the first period when Portland's Keegan Iverson notched his 10th goal of the season past American Goaltender Evan Sarthou. Portland would score again in the first period at the 18:25 mark when ‘The Captain' Dominic Turgeon made a sweet play getting around Tri-City Defenseman Dylan Coghlan to get his team leading 31st goal of the season and extending the lead to 2-0. Tri-City would strike back just 31 seconds later with a goal off of a rebound from American Forward Michael Rasmussen to shorten the lead 2-1. Portland would extend their lead to 3-1 with a rebound goal from Cody Glass (9th goal of the season) after Sarthou made a remarkable save off of Keegan Iverson's shot. But the Americans would not go away when forward Jordan Topping made a pretty centering pass to a waiting Tyler Sandhu and redirected the puck into an open net and cutting the Hawk lead to one (3-2). However; Portland would not allow their lead to go away as Hawk forward Blake Heinrich extended it back to two with a backhanded goal to bring his goal total for the season to nine. The tenacious Americans would not give up as Vladislav Lukin redirected a shot by Valimaki to bring the Americans within one yet again. Portland would eventually dash Tri-City's hopes of getting two points when Blake Heinrich gets his second goal of the game by shooting at the empty four by six net. Portland would get the two points with the win 5-3.
Portland Winterhawks (1) vs Seattle Thunderbirds (2)
Portland traveled three hours north to Kent, Washington to face the red hot Seattle Thunderbirds in this US Division clash. Seattle, winning their last six games looked to extend it to seven with a win against their division foes. Seattle would start the scoring as they get a goal from Ethan Bear on the powerplay getting an assist from Mathew Barzel who extended his point streak to 13 games with his ‘helper'. Portland would tie it up with a pretty goal from Rahards Bukarts as he got Bow on the ice and sent it far post behind the helpless Seattle Goaltender. Seattle would add another goal which would be the eventual game winner when Nolan Volcan fired a whistler past Portland net minder Adin Hill right off of an offensive zone faceoff in a ‘bang, bang' play. Portland would fire shot after shot at Seattle back stopper Landon Bow, but Bow was stellar in net to get the win for the Thunderbirds. The Winterhawks would fire 20 more shots, but Bow either denied them with dynamic saves or the shots rang off the post. Hill was great in net as well as he stopped 31 of 33 shots from the Seattle side. Seattle would get the win 2-1, clinching a playoff spot and taking over the US Division lead.
Portland Winterhawks (2) vs Everett Silvertips (3)
Portland came into Everett hoping to capitalize on the struggling Silvertips, but started out going in a different direction. Everett scored twice in the first period with goals from Yan Khomenko and Patrick Bajkov to take an early 2-0 lead for the Silvertips. Everett would add another goal just 4:34 into the second period by Carson Stadnyk to push the lead to three. Can history repeat itself? On December 9th, earlier this season, Portland was three goals down (5-2) going into the third period when they erupted with five goals in the final stanza to win 7-5 in the Xfinity Arena. This night would not turn out the same, but the Winterhawks did get two goals, both on the powerplay, from Rihards Bukarts and Alex Schoenborn to bring the Hawks within one goal. However; Silvertips goaltender Carter Hart would not allow another meltdown as he stopped 9 of 11 shots to hold the lead and eventually getting the win 3-2.
Portland's magic number is now at three with just six games to go. A combination of either Tri-City losses and/or Winterhawk wins will clinch a spot in the playoffs for Portland. The Hawks (33-29-4-0 70 Points) are hoping for Spokane to lose considering the Chiefs are just one point behind Portland and can send the Hawks down to the 8th and final spot in the playoffs with a win. Here are the scenarios for the Winterhawks and where they can possibly end up in the playoffs:
Scenario #1-Securing a spot-To get into the playoffs, the Hawks need 3 wins or 3 losses from the Tri-City Americans (both a Hawks win and a American loss counts as two) to secure a spot.
Scenario #2-6th position-To stay in the 6th position, which they are currently in, Portland, would need to beat Spokane on March 18th at home and hope that they get help from other teams by beating the Chiefs. Spokane has games against very tough opponents which are; Kamloops, Kelowna, Seattle, and Everett. The Chiefs do have a game against their hated rivals Tri-City on 03/11 which can be helpful or harmful to the Hawks chances of the 6th position. If Spokane wins, it can hurt Portland in the standings, but if Tri-City wins, it could prolong the "magic number" in securing a spot in the playoffs.
Scenario #3-2nd in the US division-This scenario is an extreme outside chance, unfortunately, with Portland losing to Everett on Tuesday, made it less probable for this to happen. Portland can take second place away from Everett if Everett losses the remainder of their games and Portland wins out. Like I said, as good as Everett is and considering that Portland has to face Seattle three more times, this is very unlikely to happen.
Portland has games coming up against Vancouver, which should be a probable win, and it gets tough from there. Seattle three more times, Everett, and Spokane, which are all games Portland needs to play well and either get a point, or win. Doing so, will help their chances and get a better draw in 2016 WHL Playoffs.
If you are a Portland Winterhawk fan and cannot attend, watch, or listen to the game, then ask to join my Facebook "play-by-play" page to catch all of the action during the Winterhawk's playoff run. https://www.facebook.com/groups/946672248691074/
Goal celebration - picture by Jimmy Budinski