SASKATOON, Saskatchewan — The Portland Winterhawks struck for three goals in just over six minutes in the third period en route to a 4-2 victory over the Saskatoon Blades in the final round-robin contest of the 2013 MasterCard Memorial Cup tournament on Wednesday night at Credit Union Centre.
The victory puts the Hawks at 2-1 and sees them advance to Friday’s semifinal game. Portland’s win also means the Halifax Mooseheads get the automatic berth in the championship game on Sunday as Halifax defeated Portland in their round-robin meeting.
Meanwhile, Saskatoon, who fall to 1-2 in round robin play, will have to play London in the tiebreaker game on Thursday for the right to move on to the semifinals.
The Winterhawks’ offense has been known to score in bunches, and they did exactly that on Wednesday night, breaking open a tight-checking, physical affair with goals from Chase De Leo, Brendan Leipsic and Ty Rattie to put them over the top.
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“They are tight defensively, and we knew it would be hard, so to get three quick bingos like that was really big for the boys, gave us a bit more confidence and a little bit more leeway defensively, and ultimately puts us through to the semi-final,” said Rattie, who netted his fourth goal and seventh point of the tournament.
The Blades had played so well in Sunday’s win over the offensively charged Mooseheads, and were playing equally well versus the talented Winterhawks, taking away time and space, playing physical and not allowing the Hawks to play their wide open style. However, letting up on that game plan even for a few minutes in the third period wound up costing them.
“It was a tough game, and we had it going for two periods, there, but we gave up a couple quick goals that we shouldn’t have given up,” said Blades’ captain Brenden Walker. “We started playing east-west hockey, which isn’t our game.”
The teams traded goals in the second period with Derrick Pouliot and Shane McColgan getting the scores. Pouliot’s marker came on a soft wrist shot from the left wall that slipped through Andrey Makarov’s pads 6:44 into the period, while McColgan’s power play marker came after his centering attempt deflected off Troy Rutkowski’s stick and through Mac Carruth’s pads.
Saskatoon looked as though it had built momentum, having killed off a four-minute power play to end the second period. However, it couldn’t carry it through to the third period as it got away from its game plan.
“We were right there,” Blades’ head coach and general manager Lorne Molleken said. “These teams are all skilled teams, and if we get into that game, it’s going to be difficult on us.”
Chase De Leo broke the 1-1 tie 4:08 into the third period. Oliver Bjorkstrand fed a pass out to De Leo right in front of the net and he buried it past Makarov, who had lost his stick just seconds before.
Brendan Leipsic put the Winterhawks up by two with his first of the tournament just 2:19 after De Leo’s goal. Seth Jones made a terrific rush up the ice and fed Leipsic at the left circle. The 18-year-old Nashville Predators prospect made a nice toe drag and snapped a high shot just under the crossbar.
Ty Rattie made it 4-1 for the Winterhawks, netting his fourth goal of the tournament with a lazer of a wrist shot off the rush.
“I thought we were really good tonight,” said Winterhawks’ acting head coach Travis Green. “We knew they were going to play physical against us in between the second and third periods, we talked about sticking with the program, playing the way we want to play, and it paid off for us in the third period.“
Josh Nicholls got his fourth goal of the tournament to pull Blades to within two, but that’s as close as they would get.
Carruth ended the game with 29 saves on 31 shots to pick up his second straight win for the Winterhawks. Makarov stopped 30 of 34 shots fired his way in the defeat for the Blades.
The Blades are back in action Thursday versus the OHL Champion London Knights in the tiebreaker game. The Winterhawks will await the winner for Friday’s tiebreaker game.