PORTLAND, Ore. — Goaltender Jordon Cooke and the Kelowna Rockets were 5:10 away from stealing Game 3 of the WHL’s Western Conference final against the Portland Winterhawks.
But after Cooke delivered a scintillating performance for 57 minutes Tuesday, the bounces suddenly went against him late as Portland scored twice in the last three minutes of regulation to force overtime, then won on a Taylor Leier shot that caromed in off a jersey 10 minutes into the extra period.
Portland captured a 4-3 decision, and now leads the series 2-1, and the Rockets are left wondering how they can combat a Winterhawks onslaught that brought 65 shots on goal in 70 minutes.
Cooke, an overager in his fourth WHL season, cobbled together several weeks worth of highlight-reel saves in a single night, but unfortunately became the sidenote to the Winterhawks’ series-shifting comeback when all was said and done.
“Jordon was great, if we would have won that game it would’ve been a steal,” said Kelowna coach Ryan Huska. “He played really well and kept us in for as long as he could. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to hold them off toward the end of the third period.”
Ryan Olsen’s goal put the Rockets up 3-1 with 5:10 left in the third, and some fans in the crowd of 9,259 at the Moda Center started to head for the exits. It turned out to be a bad choice.
“When it got to 3-1 most teams would let it get the wind out of their sails,” said Portland’s Brendan Leipsic, who scored the game-tying goal with 1:18 remaining in regulation. “We knew we were going to get our chances and we waited it out.
“We’ve been in this position before with a goalie getting hot on us, but we’re a veteran team and we stuck with it.”
Despite turning in what Portland goalie Corbin Boes called “one of the best performances I’ve ever seen,” Cooke couldn’t hide his disappointment in the aftermath.
“It’s unfortunate, when you’re up 3-1 against them and you eventually lose in overtime,” said Cooke. “It’s deflating and it sucks.”
Oliver Bjorkstrand’s second goal of the game came on the power play with 2:59 left in the third and the net empty for a six-on-four situation. His weak nudge toward the net hit a body and squeezed through Cooke’s pads.
On the winner, Leier wheeled around from about 45 feet out and fired a blind shot through traffic. The puck hit Rockets defenceman Colten Marin in the sleeve and fluttered into the net. A video review was needed to confirm that it hadn’t hit a high stick of a Winterhawk in front, and a delirious celebration resumed after a short break.
“I like how our players handled it when we got down 3-1,” said Winterhawks coach Mike Johnston. “We knew we were getting our chances, and once the first one fell the crowd was so into the game it was a big boost. I almost thought we were going to win in regulation there.”
Here’s more notes from Game 3:
* The Rockets had more jump than Portland from the opening faceoff and mostly controlled play for the first five minutes of the game, and scored on a wrist shot from the high slot by defenceman Riley Stadel just 2:22 into the first period.
“We were moving our feet and getting on the body,” Huska said of his team’s start. “We were physical and getting some turnovers.”
From then on out, the game shifted in Portland’s favour as the Rockets struggled to maintain possession of the puck.
“There’s a few things we have to do better,” said Huska. “We have to finish more of our hits, and through the neutral zone we have to do a better job with our angles so they aren’t able to build up so much speed.
“We’d like our defencemen to stand up more, but a lot of that is due to our forwards not doing their job properly.”
* Boes, an overager like Cooke, got the call in Game 3 after stopping all 15 shots in relief of Brendan Burke in Portland’s 5-3 Game 2 victory. His start wasn’t announced publicly until lineup sheets were distributed about 90 minutes before gametime.
Burke allowed eight goals on 48 shots in Games 1 and 2, and has given up 23 goals on 122 shots in five starts against the Rockets overall this season. Johnston had previously stuck beside Burke through ups and downs, even after acquiring Boes at the trade deadline, but felt the change was necessary.
“When he went in (last game), he had a clean slate,” Johnston said. “I just thought he looked good in there and really comfortable. Sometimes you go with your gut and that’s what I did.”
After being steady but unspectacular through three periods Tuesday, Boes robbed Kelowna’s Nick Merkley with a glove save in overtime, then followed it with two acrobatic stops on Marek Tvrdon to keep the Hawks alive.
“Sometimes you have to worry about your own job when you see a guy on the other end making so many big saves,” Boes said.
Boes played in 14 playoff games in 2011 and 2012 with Brandon, and was exiled in Lethbridge this season before the Winterhawks traded a second-round bantam pick and young forward Steven Alldridge to get him in Portland.
“Being 20, I didn’t know if I’d play another game in this league so I’m definitely going to make the most of this opportunity,” he said.
At this point, it seems to be Boes’ series as long as he continues to peform.
* Cooke said that he’s glad there’s no day of rest between Games 3 and 4, despite the grueling effort he had to put in Tuesady.
“It’s a lot easier playing like that when there’s no day off and you can’t really get rust on you,” Cooke said. “Right now, we’re down 2-1 and it’s unfortunate. Portland came into our barn and took one from us, so tomorrow is going to be a different thing and I’m going to try to do the same thing.”
Huska continued talking to his team in the dressing room long after the game had ended, and tried to downplay the psychological significance of what could be a crushing loss.
“This time of year, a loss is a loss,” he said. “You have to turn the page in a hurry.”
* Portland’s two goals late in regulation both came with Boes on the bench and an extra attacker on the ice. Johnston pulled Boes on a power play with just under four minutes left in regulation to give the Hawks a two-man advantage.
“With a two-goal game, when we get a power play late we’ll do that,” Johnston said. “We had planned for it and worked on our six-on-four. We haven’t had many opportunities to do it, but I had a lot of confidence in the players who were out there.”
* Kelowna’s Martin led the WHL in plus-minus this season at +61, but hadn’t scored a goal in 72 regular-season and 11 playoff games. He broke the drought in the second period, 13 seconds after Bjorkstrand had tied the game 1-1.
Derrick Pouliot’s bad outlet pass found Martin’s stick, and he he blasted a slapshot past Boes to put the Rockets up 2-1, setting off a wild celebration among his teammates who were well aware of his lack of scoring prowess.
It was the sixth goal in 237 WHL games (regular season and playoffs) for Martin, a 19-year-old from Arlington, Texas.