It was a tie game through two, but the Portland Winterhawks got a couple of goals in succession at the start of the third period. Their opponents, the normally defensive and stifling Saskatoon Blades, playing in the MasterCard Memorial Cup despite not having won a WHL playoff game, had to open up their game in an effort to come back.
Guess how that turned out for them.
With 9:44 to go in the third period, Portland's Ty Rattie cut into the zone and beat Blades' goaltender Andrey Makarov with a clean wrist shot. While the Blades held the physical edge through two periods, the Winterhawks were generating more shots and offensive zone opportunities. Early in the third they were able to capitalize and advance to Friday's semi-final. Final score: 4-2.
No. 1 Star - Nicolas Petan, Portland Winterhawks
Nic Petan played well enough to score a goal, even if he didn't, but he did save a puck off of the Portland goal-line after Matej Stransky's shot hit the post and then caromed off of Mac Carruth's back. That was back in the second period, when the Winterhawks were nursing a 1-0 lead, the Blades were pressing and the outcome was still very much in doubt.
But offensively, Petan was no slouch. He didn't score a goal, but he did pick up a pair of assists and was the 'Hawks only multi-point player on the night. The promising prospect is thriving on that Winterhawks' top line with Rattie and Brendan Leipsic, not looking at all out of place alongside two players who will very likely play in the National Hockey League in October.
No. 2 Star - Seth Jones, Portland Winterhawks
A solitary assist for Central Scouting's No. 1-ranked prospect. That did not tell the whole story however. Jones had by far his best game of the tournament, playing more conservatively on the rush and focusing on the defensive side of the game and showing off his passing skills.
Midway through the first period, Jones sprung Paul Bittner for a breakaway chance. A few minutes later, he successfully broke up a dangerous looking 3-on-2 Blades' rush. In a tournament dominated by Jo Drouin and Nathan MacKinnon of the Halifax Mooseheads, Jones showed Wednesday night why he's deserving of top prospect status.
No. 3 Star - Derrick Pouliot, Portland Winterhawks
It was a bit of a softie, but the Pittsburgh Penguins' first rounder opened the scoring from the corner boards. He skated very well Wednesday, jumping up into the rush and generating quite a few chances for his team. He could have had his second after being set up nicely by Oliver Bjorkstrand back when the score was 3-1. Early in the first he drove in over the zone with speed and set up youngster Keegan Iverson with a good chance.
Against Saskatoon's trap, Travis Green activated his defencemen. While Jones stayed back for the most part, Tyler Wotherspoon and Pouliot enjoyed some open ice as the Blades' players focused on the forwards and allowed the defencemen to skate into the zone. Suffice to say, the more open game worked in the Winterhawks' favour.
Game Grade: Very physical game early on with a couple of highlight-reel collisions (although one of them was note-worthy for the wrong reasons). Still, despite the team's playing each other just once this season, there was more passion in this game than any other played so far, even if Saskatoon let the game get away from them at the very end, there. A-.