After seeing their three-goal lead evaporate, the Portland Winterhawks’ quick-strike offence ensured the race for the MasterCard Memorial Cup title is still wide open.
Derrick Pouliot and Chase De Leo scored 23 seconds apart in the third period Monday as Portland picked up its first win at the tournament with a 6-3 victory over the London Knights.
The result means that all four teams at the Canadian Hockey League showcase now sit with 1-1 records and guarantees a tiebreaker game on Thursday.
The Winterhawks, who were coming off a 7-4 loss to the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League on Saturday in a game that saw Portland blow a 3-1 lead, responded well after surrendering a similar edge against the Knights.
“It was a big win for our team. We needed to respond with a good effort,” said Winterhawks coach Travis Green, whose team led 3-0 midway through the second period before London stormed back. “That’s a real good hockey team we played over there. It was a hard-fought win and I’m happy with how our team played.”
Ty Rattie had two goals and an assist for the Western Hockey League champions, Saskatoon native Taylor Leier had a goal and two assists, and Oliver Bjorkstrand chipped in with a goal and an assist.
“I thought we had a really good start to the game and then we kind of let off the gas a bit, which we’ve done a couple times this post-season,” Portland defenceman Seth Jones said. “We’ve got to stop that. They got back in it but we were able to get a couple more goals and hold the lead.”
Mac Carruth made 25 saves for the Winterhawks after allowing all seven goals in the loss to Halifax.
“Maybe he’d like to have that first game back. We have total confidence in him,” Pouliot said. “It was good to see him play well tonight and we’re going to need that going forward.”
After London tied the game 3-3 early in the third period, Pouliot, a first-round pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2012, ripped a shot off the shoulder of Knights goalie Anthony Stolarz and in on a Portland power play at 6:20. De Leo ended the London netminder’s night at 6:43 by sliding a shot home from the slot.
“We have to contribute every once in a while and do the little things and just do whatever it takes to help the boys win,” said De Leo, who plays on Portland’s checking line. “It felt good to finally get one on the board.”
Bo Horvat and Alex Broadhurst replied with a goal and an assist each for London, while Scott Harrington also scored. Stolarz allowed five goals on 26 shots before being replaced by Jake Patterson.
London will have to regroup quickly with the Knights’ round-robin finale against Halifax set for Tuesday night.
“We had a couple days off and didn’t have our legs under us again in the first period,” Horvat said. “Other than that we really regrouped well.”
Jones, the No. 1 ranked North American skater according to NHL Central Scouting ahead of next month’s draft, finished with a plus-4 rating for a Portland team that breathed a sigh of relief after a disappointing opener.
“We definitely calmed down a bit after this game,” he said. “It’s definitely good to get the first win under the belt.”
Down 3-2 after two periods, the Knights tied it early in the third when London forward Brett Welychka’s attempted deflection in front of Carruth fell to Broadhurst at the side of the Portland goal for an easy tap in.
The Winterhawks netminder kept the score tied with a stop of Josh Anderson on a partial breakaway a couple minutes later before Pouliot and De Leo struck in quick succession and Rattie scored into an empty net.
“They’re a good team over there and they know how to protect a lead. We did a great job battling back and just came up a little bit short at the end,” Knights forward Max Domi said. “We’re not looking to make excuses here. Realistically it’s one loss. It’s a tournament for a reason and we’re ready to battle back against Halifax.”
With Portland leading 1-0 after a sleepy first period, the floodgates opened in the second. Bjorkstrand doubled the Winterhawks’ lead at 2:17 after wheeling out from behind the London net and snapping a shot shortside on Stolarz.
Rattie then stretched the advantage to three with a goal with the teams playing 4-on-4 that was a carbon copy of his effort against Halifax on Saturday night. The St. Louis Blues draft pick moved into the London zone and toe dragged the puck around a Knights defender before slipping a backhand past Stolarz at 10:23 while falling to the ice.
Needing a spark, the Ontario Hockey League champions responded just 15 seconds later as Harrington moved into the high slot and wired a shot into the top corner past Carruth.
Horvat scored the game’s second highlight-reel goal at 12:30 on the power play. The 15th-ranked North American skater ahead of the draft took a slick between-the-legs pass from Domi right in front of Carruth before burying a shot past the Portland goalie.
“I turned my head slightly and saw Domi with his stick between his legs,” Jones said. “The next thing I know Horvat puts it top shelf in the back of the net. I wasn’t able to see the replay ... but I’m betting it will be highlight of the night.”
The crowd of 7,575 at the Credit Union Centre seemed half asleep in the early going and the two teams didn’t do much to help wake them out of their slumber.
Coming off the high of the host Saskatoon Blades’ exciting 5-2 victory over Halifax on Sunday night, the half-empty arena finally came to life at 16:53 of the first period when Leier deflected a shot off the sideboards from Taylor Wotherspoon past Stolarz for the only action of note in a drab opening 20 minutes.
The Winterhawks have a day off before meeting the host Saskatoon Blades on Wednesday night in the round-robin finale.
“Our team doesn’t really get too high or too low, even when we’re winning,” Green said. “We’re a pretty relaxed group that works extremely hard.”
Notes: All four teams hold 1-1 records for the second straight year and for just the second time in history since the four-team format was adopted in 1983. ... De Leo also had an assist for Portland. ... Patterson finished with five saves for London. Knights coach Dale Hunter would not say who will start in goal against Halifax.