KENNEWICK, Wash. — At first glance, it seemed like a brilliant coaching move by Portland's Mike Johnston to put Ty Rattie in the penalty box when Mac Carruth was caught handling the puck outside the trapezoid 5:36 into an overtime that was being dominated by the Tri-City Americans.
But, alas, there was no grand plan by Johnston.
"By rule, I had to put someone in the box who was on the ice when the penalty happened," said Johnston.
He wasn't going to put one of his defensemen in the box, so it came down to a choice among the forwards on his top line: Sven Baertschi, Marcel Noebels and Rattie.
"I just thought I'd put Rattie in so he could jump out and play with whoever was on the ice when he got out," Johnston said.
After the Winterhawks fended off a number of high-quality chances by the Americans, Rattie helped create the winning goal by linemate Marcel Noebels at the 7:52 mark of overtime. Portland won 5-4 to take Game 1 of the WHL's Western Conference final.
Rattie nearly got to leave the box and skate off the ice on the losing end of the game, but the Americans were denied on three key opportunities during the power play. Justin Feser glanced the crossbar with a shot from the slot, then Carruth made two big glove saves on Brendan Shinnimin.
With the penalty running down, Tri-City coach Jim Hiller called a timeout to keep his top power play unit on the ice. It worked to the benefit of the Winterhawks, who scored 16 seconds after the penalty ended.
"I was able to put Baertschi back on the ice after the timeout," Johnston noted. "That led to the opportunity."
After Rattie came out of the box, he and Baertschi bore down on Americans defenseman Derek Ryckman, who turned the puck over. Baertschi collected it and sent it across the ice to Noebels, who had just come on the ice. Noebels wired a one-timer past Tri-City goalie Ty Rimmer at 7:52 of the extra period to win the game 5-4.
"I saw (Taylor Peters) coming off the ice so I just jumped into the play," said Noebels, adding that he thought the quick change confused the Americans, who lost track of the German who was traded from Seattle to Portland at the WHL trade deadline. "Baertschi made an incredible pass all the way across the ice to find me."
The winning goal let Carruth off the hook for a mistake that he says he's never made in his career.
"I'm surprised I haven't been called for it before given the amount of times I play the puck," said Carruth, who is noted for keeping Winterhawks fans on edge with his puckhandling skills that are often masterful but sometimes perilous. "I knew I had to make up for it with some big saves."
Johnston wasn't particularly happy with his team in the overtime period, saying that the Americans "were all over us."
"We weren't very good," he continued. "They had the play and the momentum, but we capitalized on our one chance."
"That was the only time they had pressure on us in overtime," Tri-City coach Jim Hiller said. "They have some good players that made plays. Our guys made plays too, but we just couldn't quite get it at the end."
The Americans were most exasperated by a chance for Connor Rankin early in the overtime period. After Carruth made a save, he let a rebound go to his right, and Rankin was ready to bury it into the empty net.
But at the very last second, Portland's Cam Reid dove with his stick and poked the puck away as Rankin stepped into his shot.