Thursday, March 27, 2014

Giants Ousted by Portland

The Vancouver Giants' season came to an end on Wednesday night as they lost 6-1 to the Portland Winterhawks in Game 4 of their first round series. Carter Popoff had the Giants' lone goal. Payton Lee started the game and allowed three goals on 13 shots before being replaced by Jared Rathjen who stopped 29 of 32 pucks that were thrown at him.

The first period was much like the opening frame of Game 3. The Giants pressured, had chances, but couldn't capitalize. Vancouver nearly opened the scoring on a golden opportunity for Brett Kulak in close, but the Giants defenseman fired the puck over the goal, and Portland went ahead moments later when Brendan Leipsic netted his fifth goal of the series on a power play. It was then that the Winterhawks took over the game. Adam De Champlain made it 2-0 just 32 seconds after Leipsic's marker when a Paul Bittner shot bounced off him and past Lee, and Alex Schoenborn completed an impressive stretch of three goals in 56 seconds when he walked off the left boards, in alone on Lee, and beat him cleanly, ending the Vancouver goaltender's night.

Popoff gave Giants fans a glimmer of hope in the second period when he put Vancouver on the board, hammering a rebound past Winterhawks goalie Brendan Burke at the right post for the Giants' first power play goal of the series, but Oliver Bjorkstrand responded for Portland with a power play marker of his own before the end of the period to restore the three goal lead for the visitors.

The Winterhawks kept pushing to start the third period and put any hopes of a Giant comeback to rest early when Keegan Iverson hammered a hard slap shot past Rathjen from the top of the right circle just 2:50 into the period. Chase De Leo picked up his first of the post-season in the later stages of the period as the Winterhawks closed out the win, completed the sweep and became the second team in the WHL to advance to the second round. (The Edmonton Oil Kings moved on with a win over Prince Albert earlier in the evening.)

The end of the season marks the end of three junior hockey careers as 20-year-olds Cain Franson, Tim Traber and Dalton Thrower, who hadn't played since January due to injury, will not be back next season. Click on each player's name above to see their career WHL stats. They were honoured as the three stars in the building after the game. I said it on Twitter after the game, but I'll say it again. They're all fine young men who have great things ahead of them, and I wish them all the best.

The Winterhawks will now move onto the second round and wait to see who they'll face next. If all the teams that are currently leading in the other series go on to win, then Portland will go up against Victoria.

Game Summary

3 Stars:
1. Dalton Thrower - Vancouver
2. Cain Franson - Vancouver
3. Tim Traber - Vancouver

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