EDMONTON — The series just got serious.
Edgars Kulda’s goal with 6:47 remaining in the third period was the winner as the Edmonton Oil Kings rallied from an early 2-0 deficit to remain in the running in the Western Hockey League final, defeating the defending champion Portland Winterhawks 3-2 on Tuesday night.
Henrik Samuelsson and Luke Bertolucci also scored for the Oil Kings, who are now 9-0 on home ice in the playoffs to cut Portland’s series lead to 2-1.
It was the third straight game Edmonton fell behind very early in the contest, however this time the Oil Kings were able to find a way out of the hole they had created for themselves.
“They got that quick start once again, but we had been through it before and I think we knew what to do this time,” Bertolucci said. “Our power play was clutch and our penalty kill was solid. We answered the bell when we had to.”
Edmonton head coach Derek Laxdal did not call a timeout after his team’s third straight tough start since it didn’t seem to make a great deal of a difference in the first two games.
“I hate to say it, but it was time to see if they would sink or swim. They swam, and we really started to see a lot of leadership,” he said. “I just let the kids settle in and play. After that I felt we played a very solid game and had a gutsy effort from the guys from top to bottom. I thought we bent, but we didn’t break. I give our guys credit for the way they battled.”
Chase De Leo and Mathew Dumba responded for the Winterhawks, who suffered just their fourth loss in their last 46 games, a string of success running all the way back to Jan. 11.
“We expected this would be a hard fought game here,” said Portland head coach Mike Johnston. “We had another good start, but I think we allowed them to get some momentum in the second. We obviously still had our chances in the third and had a great opportunity to tie it at the end.
“I don’t think this game was about us taking a step back, it was them taking a step forward.”
Added De Leo: “We had a really hot start and then we slowed down a bit in the second. We still had a lot of chances in the third. We knew coming into this game that it is hard to play in Edmonton.”
As has been the case in every game in the series, the Winterhawks came out flying to grab an early lead in the game, scoring twice in less than a minute to go up 2-0 on their first three shots before the game was even four minutes old.
Portland struck 2:38 into the first period as a big bounce off the boards came out front to De Leo and he spun and beat Edmonton goalie Tristan Jarry with a shot to the top corner for his 10th goal off the playoffs.
Just 52 seconds later it was 2-0 Portland, as Brendan Leipsic fed a pass to defender Dumba in the slot and the Minnesota Wild draft pick made the most of the opportunity.
Edmonton allowed goals in the first three minutes of the first two games of the series as well, and was outscored by a combined 5-0 in the first periods of its opening two losses of the series in Portland.