After treating fans to pair of wonderful WHL Championship Finals in both 2012 and 2013, hockey fans across the Western Hockey League were hoping the Edmonton Oil Kings and Portland Winterhawks would make it three for in 2014. However, if the opening two games of this year’s matchup are any indication of what we should expect, it looks as though Edmonton could have their work cut out for them
For the second consecutive night, the Winterhawks used some iffy goaltending from Oil Kings starter Tristan Jarry to jump out to an early lead and cruise to a rather comfortable 3-1 victory and grab a commanding 2-0 series lead over their Eastern Conference opponents. Forward Brendan Leipsic was at his agitating best on Sunday night, scoring a goal and picking up an assist after missing the series opener due to suspension, while netminder Corbin Boes was solid in between the pipes in earning his fifth consecutive post-season win.
It took Edmonton exactly 2:12 to find themselves behind the eight-ball, as Chase De Leo’s long ranged blast found its way through Jarry and set the tone for the opening ten minutes of play. Portland would make it two goals in just over a minute when Leipsic finished off a beautiful passing play for his thirteenth of the post-season into a yawning cage and just like that, the Oil Kings were down a pair and Derek Laxdal was using his timeout all of 3:14 after the drop of the puck to refocus his troops.
Unfortunately the early period goals would continue in the second, as Paul Bittner would notch his third of the finals in just over four periods when his harmless looking shot deflected off defenceman Dysin Mayo before finding its way up and over a down and out Jarry to make it 3-0 at the 4:32 mark. Coming back from a three goals down is tough to do against your run-of-the-mill squad, never mind the Western Hockey League’s highest scoring outfit.
Just as he did during the second frame on Saturday night, Jarry bounced back from a shaky start and made a number of quality stops to keep his team within striking distance, including a highlight reel glove save that kept Bittner from making it four goals in five periods for the suddenly red-hot Winterhawks forward. Edmonton had a golden opportunity to get on the board late in the frame with a two-man-advantage but once again generated next to nothing on the power play and went into the intermission down three.
Henrik Samuelsson would break Boes shutout bid with a late third period power play marker, his second of the series and fourth of the playoffs, to make it 3-1 but it was far too little and much too late for the visitors. While the Oil Kings have yet to lose on home ice during the post-season, the chances of knocking off the defending champs in four out of five, when they have lost just three times in their last forty-five, doesn’t seem likely.
However, that is predicament this team now finds themselves in and if they plan on returning to the Memorial Cup in 2014, that is exactly what they will have to do. To make matters worse, the quartet of Curtis Lazar, Mitch Moroz, Brett Pollock and even Samuelsson have been virtually invisible during both the flow of play and on the scoresheet. Perhaps a change of scenery will help swing momentum in the Oil Kings favour because at the moment, this has been men against boys and it hasn’t even been close.
If there was ever a time this team needed their fans to come out in droves and pick them up, this would be it and hopefully they hold up their end of the bargain come Tuesday and Wednesday night over at Rexall Place. Not only do these kids deserve the support but they could really use the help in trying to jumpstart their side in what has truly been a disastrous start to the 2014 WHL Final.