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Winterhawks leave Prince George with splitting headache

Series now tied 1-1, next three games to be played in Portland

Anyone who watched WHL Western Conference final series opener on Friday knew the Portland Winterhawks were a powderkeg about to explode.

Shut out 5-0 the night before, the Winterhawks detonated that blast Saturday in a 5-3 victory that gave them the series split they were after and left the Prince George Cougars and their sellout CN Centre crowd of 6,016 feeling shell-shocked.

Three ‘Hawks goals in the third period doomed the Cougars to their first home-ice loss in the playoffs and the series is going back to Portland tied 1-1.

The winner came 7:33 into the third on a 'Hawks power play, which had been working at a 40 per cent clip heading into the game. Oilers prospect James Stefan slapped in a one-timer from the face-off circle, 10 seconds after Ondrej Becher began serving his slashing penalty.

Diego Buttazzoni and Marcus Nguyen, into an empty net, put the game out of reach for Prince George. Cougars winger Oren Shtrom scored with 6.6 seconds left.

Mark Lamb called his team’s performance “sluggish” and said too many of his players were not ready to pick up where they left off after their impressive win on Friday.

The Cougars head coach jostled his lines in the second period and put 67-goal scorer Zac Funk on the same line with 80-assist centre Riley Heidt and Koehn Ziemmer and they had their moments of brilliance on the ice but were unable to find that game-breaking magic.

“Right at the start of the game I didn’t think we had it at all, we weren’t connected, it was just a sloppy game for us,” said Lamb. “We didn’t get a forecheck going, we were sloppy with the puck, our first pass wasn’t there, we just had an off night.

“They’re a good hockey team and we knew they were going to come out today, they’re down 1-0 and they didn’t want to go down 2-0. We just didn’t react to it. We had some power plays and we had some looks that we didn’t score on, it was just one of those games, we couldn’t get anything going. We need more from some people in playoffs. We just have to regroup and play like we can.”

After Friday’s whitewash the ‘Hawks needed to establish the tone to start Game 2 and that’s exactly what they did, dictating the play through much of the opening period. But just like he did in the series opener, Ravensbergen was a human eclipse, putting up a shield that continued to frustrate the high-scoring Winterhawks.

The Winterhawks crashed the net much more effectively than the night before, trying to pressure Ravensbergen, and they finally got to him.

“The focus for us was the first 10 minutes, come out hot, try to calm this crowd down, and I thought we did a good job, obviously an even game the whole night, and I thought the first period was really good,” said Portland centre Kyle Chyzowski, who opened the scoring.

“We liked our gameplan a lot, we’re doing a good job, they haven’t scored and we were getting a lot of good looks and we thought, stick with it and see if we can capitalize on a big goal.”

It was a scoreless draw for half the game and it seemed only a matter of time before the two highest-scoring teams in the WHL flexed their offensive might. And did they ever, in a wild two-minute-stretch of the second period that produced four goals.

The Cougars got it going first on their second power play of the game. With Nate Danielson off for slashing, Becher fed a long stretch pass to Funk as he picked up speed crossing into the Portland zone and he made his breakaway shot count, finding the net low to the stick side behind Spunar. That power-play goal came at the 10:40 mark.

The Winterhawks responded right away with a pair of goals, 17 seconds apart, to take their first lead of the series. Buttazzoni didn’t get all of a onetimer attempt from the slot and the puck skipped to Chyzowski, who had an open net while standing just off the post for his sixth goal in the past six playoff games.

The Winterhawks won the ensuing face-off and gained the zone right away and Jack O’Brien spun and fired from close range to score his eighth off the playoffs, 11:24 into the period.

“It was a good bounce-back, that crowd got pretty loud after Funk’s goal and that was a good response goal,” said Chyzowski. “Obviously it was going to take a goal like that, a gritty one, to beat (Ravensbergen). He was hot, so it was nice to bounce back after their first goal.”

Sixty-three seconds after O’Brien’s goal, Shtrom showed great hustle to hold the puck deep in the offensive zone and delivered a pinpoint backhand pass through the goalmouth to Borya Valis, who chipped it in.

The Cougars, who had back-to-back power plays late in the second period carried the momentum into the second intermission but couldn’t buy a goal. At one point earlier in the period they trailed the ‘Hawks 22-9 in shots and by the end of it they were within two shots, down 26-24, and the teams were tied 2-2 heading into the third.

“Prince George is really good at building off momentum,” said Chyzowski. “They did a really good job feeding off their crowd and feeding off their power plays in the second period, so we did a good job to be a little bit desperate and find a way to get out of that period and bounce back in the third.

“We knew we had to get to Ravensbergen to get a big goal. He’s been good and you’re not going to beat him on that first shot, you’ve got to beat him on that rebound or even that third chance.”

Danielson, the ninth-overall pick of the Detroit Red Wings in 2023, had three assists to lead the ‘Hawks offensively. They’re now 9-1 in the playoffs and they got the split they were after coming into Prince George.

The ‘Hawks were missing two key players due to unspecified injuries. Luca Cagnoni, their leading scorer on the blueline with 18 goals and 90 regular-season points, missed his second-straight playoff game. They were also without power forward Josh Davies, who played Friday but missed the fourth and deciding game of the Everett series.

“The way we played the game tonight, our breakouts were cleaner, I thought our forecheck we were on them harder than we were (Friday) night, the two key areas we wanted to focus on heading into the game,” said Winterhawks head coach and general manager Mike Johnston.

“But it was a close game, back and forth – the same as last night. It was a fairly even game right into third period. We get that power-play goal and that’s the difference-maker in the game. I really liked how our first period was, we came out and had the shot advantage and the chance advantage. It gave us a lot of confidence in our game.”

LOOSE PUCKS: The next three games of the series will be played in Portland, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. All three games are sold out in the 10,400-seat Veterans Memorial Arena… Cougar fans will gather for watch parties at CN Centre for all three road games. Admission is $4 each… The loss ended the Cougars six-game home-ice playoff win streak and 10-game win streak at CN Centre that dated back to the regular season. They hadn’t suffered a regulation loss at home since Jan. 21, when the Winterhawks went home with a 2-1 victory… Josh Albinati, a Prince George native who now lives in the Okanagan, drew a plum assignment as one of the referees selected for Saturday’s final four game… The three stars were: 1. Danielson; 2. Spunar; 3. Valis… In Saskatoon in the Eastern Conference final, Fraser Minten scored 13:06 into overtime to give the Saskatoon Blades a 3-2 win over the Moose Jaw Warriors that tied the series 1-1. The Warriors drew first blood Friday, winning 4-3 on Brayden Yager’s OT goal.

WHL Western Conference final

Prince George Cougars vs. Portland Winterhawks

(Best-of-seven series tied 1-1)

Game 2

Friday summary

Winterhawks  5 at Cougars 3

First Period

No scoring.

Penalties – Yaremko Por (roughing), Becher PG (roughing) 12:20, Dumanski PG (tripping) 13:59, Buttazzoni Por (interference) 19:00.

Second Period

1. Prince George, Funk 8 (Becher) 10:40 (pp)

2. Portland, Chyzowski 8 (Buttazzoni, Zakreski) 11:07

3. Portland, O’Brien 3 (Nguyen, Danielson) 11:24

4. Prince George, Valis 6 (Shtrom, Dowhaniuk) 12:27

Penalties – O’Brien Por (roughing) Dezainde PG (roughing) 3:37, Danielson Por (slashing) 10:06, Alscher Por (interference) 13:05, Buttazzoni Por (hooking) 17:12.

Third Period

5. Portland, Stefan 7 (Jugnauth, Danielson) 7:33 (pp)

6. Portland, Buttazzoni 1 ( Zakreski, Sotheran) 14:56

7. Portland, Nguyen 1 (Danielson) 17:56 (en)

8. Prince George, Shtrom 1 (Dumanski) 19:53

Penalty – Becher PG (slashing) 7:23.

Shots on goal by

Portland             15          11          12          -38

Prince George  6            18          8            -32

Goal – Portland, Spunar (W,9-1); Prince George, Ravensbergen (L,8-1)

Power plays – Por: 1-2; PG: 1-3.

Referees  - Josh Albinati, Troy Murray; Linesmen – Dustin Minty, Cody Wanner.

Attendance – 6,016.

Scratches – Portland: F Josh Davies (injured), D Luca Cagnoni (injured), F Braeden Jockims (healthy, D Cole Slobodian (healthy), F Kyle McDonaugh (healthy); Prince George: D Drew Peterson (healthy), F Arjun Bawa (healthy), F Nick McLennan (Healthy), D Carson Carels (healthy), F Lee Shurgot (healthy), F Caden Lemire (healthy), G Brady Holtvogt (healthy), F Evan Groening (healthy), F Patrick Sopiarz (healthy).