Here’s a story on Game 1 of the Western Conference final, with thanks to Paul Buker of The Oregonian and Portland freelancer Scott Sepich . . .
PORTLAND — The difference was a penalty shot.
At least, that was the opinion of Kamloops head coach Guy Charron after his Blazers dropped a 4-1 decision to the Portland Winterhawks in Game 1 of the WHL’s Western Conference final on Friday night.
Game 2 in the best-of-seven series will be played here tonight. The teams then will head for Kamloops and games on Tuesday and Wednesday.
“It’s a tough game to over-assess or say what needs to be changed,” Charron said. “After two periods it was a 2-1 game and the difference was a penalty shot, so overall we were playing a good road game.
“We knew the next goal was going to be important in the third period and they got it. They’re an explosive team. They play well with the lead. That’s what we need to do is capitalize and make them play catch-up hockey.”
Across the way, Travis Green, Portland’s GM/head coach, liked what he saw.
“I thought we played pretty good, start to finish,” Green said. “I thought we deserved to win, but we know tomorrow is going to be a tough game.”
Portland veteran Ty Rattie was awarded a penalty shot at 17:16 of the first period. The Winterhawks were killing a penalty when he broke in alone and was hacked from behind by Blazers defenceman Joel Edmundson.
Rattie put a shot over goaltender Cole Cheveldave to give Portland a 2-1 lead.
“You’ve got to have one move in your head. If you have a couple moves stuck in your head it will screw you up,’’ Rattie said. “I know Cole pretty well. I know his tendencies. I had had one thing on my mind and luckily, it worked.’’
That was Rattie’s 12th goal of the these playoffs, which is tops in the WHL.
The Blazers had opened the scoring when centre Joe Kornelsen scored his first goal since Jan. 4 — a span covering 24 regular-season and four playoff games — at 2:10 of the first period.
“We got the first goal, which was a good momentum builder for us,” Charron said, “but as the game went on I think the chances were pretty even.”
Kornelsen’s goal came on Kamloops’ first shot on goaltender Mac Carruth. Who knew the Blazers wouldn’t score again on this night?
“It’s tough when you let in one of your first few shots,” Green said. “The thing about Mac is, he’s matured a lot over the years. Mac from a few years ago, it might have rattled him a little bit.”
Portland pulled even at 15:03 when forward Taylor Leier scored his sixth goal of this spring.
After a scoreless second period, the Winterhawks put it away with third-period goals from defenceman Troy Rutkowski, on the power play, and forward Brendan Leipsic. Rattie drew an assist on each of those goals.
Carruth, who often was verbally involved with opposing players, stopped 33 shots, four fewer than Cheveldave.
“We had opportunities to stay even closer or take a bigger lead but you have to give credit to Carruth,” Charron said. “He played well and made the saves he needed to make.
“We need to be more tenacious at the net. Carruth needs to work more and we need to get pucks into his feet, look for rebounds and that kind of thing.”
Kamloops captain Dylan Willick agreed.
“It starts with traffic at the net,” he said. “We had a lot of shots, but when Carruth can see it all, he’s going to make the saves. He’s a good goaltender. We need to finish some chances. We had a hot start and probably could have made it 2-0 or 3-0 if we just would have beared down and capitalized.
“They’re a team that makes the most of their chances, and they did that against us tonight.”
Things got a little fractious late in the game and Rattie was ejected with a checking-from-behind major for a hit on forward Chase Souto at the Kamloops bench. The Blazers lost forwards JC Lipon and Macklin to misconducts during the scrum.
"I was just going back to the bench,” Rattie said. “I get a stick, and I was trying to protect myself. I pushed (Souto) away and it was unlucky he went into the boards. That's hockey.”
Charron chalked it up to “a little frustration when it’s 4-1.”
“Any time someone takes an advantage it becomes frustrating,” Charron continued, “whether you take liberties or your discipline goes. But that’s playoff hockey. It’s intense, everybody cares and wants to do well. But when a team gets a 4-1 lead on you it gets difficult.”
Willick said the Blazers “didn’t really plan on the way the game ended, but it’s an emotional time of the season. It’s huge for us and we need to tell them that we’re not going away and that’s how we did it.”
It was an emotional game and Carruth found himself involved with Kamloops players, especially forward Kale Kessy, on more than one occasion.
“They kind of left me alone there in the first,” Carruth said, “and I kind of brought it on myself in the second and third. It’s something I’ll probably need to work on in Game 2. Keep my mouth shut and my stick down.”
Carruth said Kessy got him good on one occasion.
“He elbowed me, stuck me in the head, whatever,” Carruth said. “It’s what they’re going to try and do all series. It’s just going to be the way it is.”
Green, meanwhile, said Carruth “played great tonight. I liked his focus. I liked his composure.”
Green also said he wasn’t surprised to see his goaltender involved the way he was.
“We’ve seen that in the past,” Green said. “Stuff after the whistle, and what-not. He’s dealt with it before, and I’m sure he’ll deal with it again.”
Willick said things were perhaps “a little excessive in the scrums, but there's some rivalry going on between these teams and we're trying to set a tone in Game 1.”
Willick added that his guys aren’t about to change their game plan.
“Losing 4-1 isn't the message we wanted to give,” he said. “We need a bit more of an effort whistle to whistle to get going in Game 2.”
The Winterhawks won a seven-game second-round series from the Blazers a year ago and Willick said there is a real rivalry between these teams.
“Even in the regular season this season,” he said, “there's guys trying to establish how it's going to be between us. In the playoffs, guys might do a little bit extra. These guys aren't our friends by any means. We're going to go at them hard and physical every game.”
The Blazers had forwards Colin Smith and Tim Bozon back in their lineup. Smith had missed three games with a suspected concussion, while Bozon sat out seven with a hand injury.
“When you miss games,” Charron said, “there’s an element of timing and conditioning with them. It’s never like playing the games, especially in the playoffs when you have lighter practices.
“Overall, the effort was there. It wasn’t perfect for Tim but we were asking him to play a lot. Hopefully, his timing and his production will come.”
JUST NOTES: Portland was 1-for-3 on the PP; the Blazers were 0-for-5. . . . Carruth tied the WHL record for most games by a goaltender (65). He shares that record, for now, with former Red Deer Rebels G Cam Ward. . . . Lipon was held off the scoresheet for the first time in these playoffs. . . . Rattie now leads the WHL scoring race, with 22 points, one more than Lipon and three more than Kamloops F Brendan Ranford, who also was pointless. . . . Rattie’s goal was his 42nd career playoff score, second in WHL history. He had been tied with former Flin Flon Bombers star Reg Leach. Rattie trails former Medicine Hat Tigers sniper Mark Pederson, who finished his career with 47 playoff goals.
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