Thursday, April 28, 2011

Leipsic Lifts Hawks to 2-1 Series Lead

Brendan Leipsic's overtime winner last night lifted the Portland Winterhawks to a 3-2 victory over the Spokane Chiefs in Game 3 of the Western Conference Championship Series. Leipsic, a 16 year old forward from Winnipeg, Manitoba, picked up a chip pass by Taylor Peters and carried down the left wing on a 2-on-1 with Peters. Leipsic's patience caused Spokane goaltender James Reid to make the first move, and then Leipsic beat Reid to the nearside post to cause the Hawk bench to pour onto the ice. Peters, who picked up an assist on the play, also scored the Hawks first goal, a shorthanded marker just 66 seconds after the Chiefs took an early 1-0 lead. The goal by Peters was the 9th goal the Hawks have scored in the postseason within 1:10 of clock time after a goal by either team. In fact, the Hawks have outscored their opposition 9-1 in the playoffs in those scenarios and 44-18 in the regular season and playoffs combined.

Last night's contest was very different than the first two games down in Portland from a special teams perspective. While the two teams combined for just 12 powerplays in the two games in the Rose City, there were 11 powerplays last night. And while the powerplays were perfectly even in the first two games combined, last night the Chiefs had 7 more (9-2) than the Hawks did. But, the Portland Winterhawk penalty kill outscored the Chief powerplay 1-0, killing off all 9 opportunities for the top ranked powerplay in the WHL's regular season. Taylor Jordan shut down Jared Cowen at the point, not allowing the Ottawa Senators' first round pick get pucks through to the dangerous areas. Taylor Peters, Ryan Johansen, Craig Cunningham, Brad Ross, and Nino Niederreiter also contributed up front for the Hawks when they were a man down. On the back end, the Winterhawks were led by Taylor Aronson, William Wrenn, and Tyler Wotherspoon, all of whom logged significant minutes on the penalty kill. Aronson, in fact, made a tremendous block on a backdoor play that would have given the Chiefs a 2-1 lead at that point early in the third. But Aronson came sliding across and helped out Mac Carruth, who made 41 saves on 43 shots. Any of about 12 Winterhawk penalty killers could have been in the 3 stars last night.

And now the two teams have a day off here in Spokane before facing off at the Spokane Veterans' Memorial Arena on Friday night in Game 4. The Hawks come into the game proud of incredible work ethic on the penalty kill, timely scoring by Ryan Johansen, who has goals in all 3 games of the series, and knowing that a 6th straight postseason win in Spokane would give them a stranglehold on their first conference title since 2001. The Chiefs on the other hand are looking to rebound from what was clearly a missed opportunity to take another lead in this series and defend home ice in the playoffs, something they haven't done against the Hawks since game 7 of a first round series on April 2, 2003. Tune in on 95.5 The Game with myself, Andy Kemper, and John Kirby bringing the action your way, starting with the pregame show at 6:30 or 6:35.

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