Monday, May 13, 2013

Winterhawks simply too much for the Oil Kings to handle

So much for that storybook ending. After earning a hard fought come from behind OT victory in Game Five of the Western Hockey League Championship Final, the Edmonton Oil Kings seemed destined to send this one to a seventh game for the second consecutive year. As good a team as the Portland Winterhawks are, there was no way they were beating the Oil Kings three consecutive times on Rexall Place ice.

Unfortunately for the defending champs, the Winterhawks had other plans in mind.

Despite falling behind 1-0 in the opening seconds of play, Portland stormed back with five unanswered goals, including a hat-trick performance from Playoff MVP Ty Rattie. The 5-1 final clinched the Western Hockey League crown for the Winterhawks, whom were participating in their third consecutive WHL Final and are now headed back to the Memorial Cup, for the first time since hoisting the trophy in 1998.

At the end of the day, Portland was by far and away the better team. While Edmonton were missing two key components in captain Griffin Reinhart and forward Trevor Cheek, the Winterhawks dominated play for large portions of the finals. Be it in goal, on the blueline or upfront.

Mac Carruth out-dueled last year's playoff MVP in Laurent Brossoit, who was either out of this world good or simply just average throughout the series. Having said that, had it not been for the play of the Calgary Flames prospect between the pipes, this one could of wound up being a four game sweep.

On defence, all the talk coming in surrounded potential first overall pick Seth Jones, who was as good as advertised, but it was the Winterhawks entire backend that held the Oil Kings vaunted offence at bay. Be it Jones, Derrick Pouliot, captain Troy Rutkowski or Tyler Wotherspoon, Portland's top four blueliners were simply outstanding...from start to finish.

Whereas Edmonton received gutty performances from the trio of Martin Gernat, Keegan Lowe and David Musil, the loss of Reinhart created far too big a hole for this group to overcome. While both Lowe and Musil took on the vast majority of the captain's usual workload, it was painfully obvious they were unable too handle it against a side as talented and dangerous as Portland.

Curtis Lazar was probably Edmonton's most consistent forward from an all around standpoint but the highly touted prospect had one point in six games/ Ditto for linemate Henrik Samuelsson, who scored a pair in the opener and did nothing but take bad penalties and turnover the puck the rest of the series. Even the trio of Michael St. Croix, TJ Foster and Dylan Wruck, who were fantastic in the Game Five overtime win, combined for just six points in the remaining five games of the final.

Obviously the loss of Cheek, who had points in eight of the Oil Kings first nine playoff games, was a major blow but with the talent this team had upfront, their lack of scoring was frankly shocking. Made even worse by the fact Edmonton went scoreless on their final thirty-four chances on the man advantage, including a 0-for-14 run against Portland..

Compare that to the Winterhawks, whom received major contributions from their top line of Brendan Leipsic (3 goals), Nicolas Petan (6 points) and Rattie (5 goals), and it becomes pretty clear why the series went the way it did. Head coach Travis Green had his best players deliver when it mattered most.

Having said all that, the Oil Kings have no reason to hang their collectives heads. They went out and gave it their all, despite missing a couple of key pieces. In the end,  it wasn't nearly good enough but in falling to the Portland Winterhawks, Derek Laxdal's gang lost to a better team. Plain and simple....and there is no shame in that.

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