Friday, March 21, 2014

Winterhawks Edge Giants in Thrilling Opening Game

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Oliver Bjorkstrand scored with 1:37 remaining in the third period to lift the Portland Winterhawks to a 4-3 victory over the Vancouver Giants in the opening game of their best-of-seven Western Conference Quarter-Final series. Vancouver got goals from Jackson Houck, Thomas Foster and Brett Kulak in the losing cause while Payton Lee stopped 41 shots in his first post-season start.

The G-Men started the game with enthusiasm and pressured the Winterhawks in the opening minutes of the contest. Houck opened the scoring for Vancouver with a nice net drive after a good pass out of the left corner from Carter Popoff. Brendan Leipsic pulled the Portland club back into a tie later in the frame when he shovelled home a rebound after a Derrick Pouliot point shot. The 'Hawks then used the momentum to their advantage and took the lead 43 seconds later when Bjorkstrand tallied his first of the evening. The first period then ended prematurely because of a broken gate at the Vancouver bench, and the teams were sent to the dressing rooms for the intermission with 2:52 remaining on the clock in the opening stanza. After the break, the teams finished the first period, and Foster pulled the Giants back onto level terms within moments of the restart, scoring up high on Portland net minder Brendan Burke after a nice centring pass from Cain Franson.

The G-Men had a couple of golden opportunities to go ahead in the second period. Franson was able to get around the Portland defence and in on a breakaway during a Vancouver penalty kill, but he bobbled the puck and the last minute and missed wide of the right post on the back-hand. Moments later, Tyler Morrison, who had been in the penalty box, stepped back onto the ice and received a stretch pass from Franson, sending him in alone on Burke, but the Winterhawks goalie came up with the save to keep the game knotted at 2-2. Leipsic would find the back of the net again late in the period to restore the Portland lead, completing a nice give-and-go play with Nic Petan by scoring on a one-timer.

Vancouver sustained some more heavy pressure from the Winterhawks early in the third, but Lee made a couple of big stops, including an impressive glove save on Taylor Leier, to keep Vancouver within one goal. Kulak would tie the game for the Giants on one of the strangest goals you'll ever see. The Vancouver defenseman carried the puck across centre and send a hard dump in off the end boards. However, the puck bounced off the back wall, ricocheted back in front, hit the back of Burke's right skate and trickled across the goal line. After the equalizer, it looked like the game might be headed for overtime, but the Winterhawks came up with another late goal as Bjorkstrand picked up a loose puck at the top of the crease and tucked it into the net to make it 4-3. The Giants were given a late power play in the final minute and pulled the goalie as well hoping to tie the game, but they were unable to get the puck to the net, and Portland took the opening game of the series.

Neither team scored on the power play with the Vancouver penalty kill going a perfect 5-for-5 while also failing to score on their three opportunities with the man advantage. The Winterhawks had the heavy advantage on the shot clock -- 45-16.

The two teams will meet again on Saturday night at the Moda Center for Game 2. Catch the action on TEAM 1040 and The Pre-Game Show begins at 6:00pm, followed by the face-off at 7 o'clock.

3 Stars:
1. Brendan Leipsic - Portland
2. Oliver Bjorkstrand - Portland
3. Payton Lee - Vancouver

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