EDMONTON — The Portland Winterhawks are a win away from attaining what has eluded them in the past two WHL championships.
Brendan Leipsic had a goal and an assist as the Winterhawks edged the Edmonton Oil Kings 2-1 on Wednesday night to take a 3-1 lead in the WHL final.
Troy Rutkowski had the other goal for Portland, which is battling in the Ed Chynoweth Cup for a third straight year. The Winterhawks were previously bested by the Kootenay Ice and the current defending champion Oil Kings.
“I like the group that we have as far as how balanced they are emotionally,” said Portland head coach Travis Green. “They’ve never gotten ahead of themselves and I don’t expect them to get ahead of themselves now. It takes four wins to win any series and we’re playing a very good hockey team … it’s the hardest win to get.
We’re going to get their best game, and we’re going to have to play better than we have so far.“
Mitch Moroz had the lone goal for Edmonton.
Game 5 is Friday in Portland.
Edmonton’s Edgars Kulda had the best chance early, whipping Moroz’s dish from the wing out of midair at 3:20 of the first, but Portland netminder Mac Carruth slid across to block the shot harmlessly away.
“We’re throwing pucks at him, some of them are hitting in the chest and he has good rebound control,” said Edmonton forward Curtis Lazar. “When the rebounds are there, the defence did a good job of boxing out, but it’s up to us as forwards to fight through those checks and get our sticks on the puck.”
With the teams playing four aside, Nicolas Petan set up a wide open Seth Jones halfway through the period, forcing Edmonton goalie Laurent Brossoit to flash across with a sterling right pad save.
Leipsic opened the scoring at 17:13, driving to the net to chop home a loose puck in the low slot past Brossoit.
Rutkwoski doubled the ’Hawks lead at 9:54 of the second period after some crisp passing found Rutkowski in the high slot and he buried the puck to the blocker side.
It took a video review, but Moroz pulled Edmonton within one at 4:45 of the third period, knocking the puck twice out of midair and into the back of the net with his stick just level to the crossbar.
Edmonton head coach Derek Laxdal says his team will be ready for Game 5 with the pressure now on Portland to close out the series.
“Our backs are against the wall and our goal is to get this back to Edmonton,” said Laxdal. “I think the pressure’s been getting to them a bit … but (facing elimination) takes a bit of pressure off us because it’s either win or go home.”
Carruth made 29 saves in net for the Winterhawks, while Brossoit stopped 19 shots.
“It’s like any sport, they’re going to get a bit of momentum,” said Carruth. “But our defence did a real good job afterwards and I can’t thank them enough. Our guys played really well (in front of me) when I couldn’t see the puck, or when I was out of position, or when guys blocked shots. But we have one more win ahead of us.”