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Great start, but Hawks feel sting of OT defeat in Game 5

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSOTT - The Portland Winterhawks had a couple of goals and moments to celebrate, but not quite enough of them, as they lost 3-2 in overtime to Edmonton Friday night at the Rose Garden.So close, but the Portland Winterhawks have more work to do, as Edmonton denied the home team the chance to lift the Ed Chynoweth Cup Friday night.

Michael St. Croix finished off his hat trick and an exceptional night by his line, beating Portland goalie Mac Carruth 7:24 into overtime as the Oil Kings edged the Winterhawks 3-2 before a Rose Garden sellout crowd of 10,957 anticipating a celebratory night.

The Western Hockey League finals, which Portland leads 3-2, continues with Game 6 at 3 p.m. PT Sunday in Edmonton.

"Obviously, this one stings a bit, we're not going to lie," Portland defenseman Seth Jones said. "We really wanted this one. We came in definitely prepared for this game, and it didn't turn in our favor. We gotta bounce back, we've bounced back all year when we've needed to after losses and tough losses."

Portland outshot Edmonton 51-30, and appeared to have the momentum to make the night momentous when Brendan Leipsic took a Jones pass and burst up ice, flinging a backhand high on Edmonton goalie Laurent Brossoit from the right wing and scoring with 5:55 left in the third period. It tied the game 2-2, and let Carruth off the hook, as the 20-year-old's mistake in playing the puck had led to Edmonton's go-ahead goal.

But the line of St. Croix, Dylan Wruck and T.J. Foster made things happen again for the defending WHL champs in overtime. Wruck took a Martin Gernat pass and rushed up left wing on a 3-on-2 sequence and fed the puck to St. Croix, whose pass to Foster bounced off a Portland skate and back to him, and he buried the goal past Carruth.

It was St. Croix's 14th goal of the playoffs, and third of the night, and Wruck had key assists on all three goals. Wruck and Foster are 20-year-olds, and St. Croix 19, all three in danger of playing their final junior game.

"Obviously they wanted to leave it all on the ice tonight," Edmonton coach Derek Laxdal said. "They're a big part of our team, offensively catalysts. We didn't get any power plays tonight, and they did a lot of good work 5-on-5."

Said Wruck: "We challenged ourselves as a line. The coaches challenged us to be better and produce more offensively. The past couple games I think we deserved a better fate than what we got. (Friday) the puck went in for us; it was good to see and good to come through for the guys."

Up 3-1 in the series, the Winterhawks needed one victory to win the third of three consecutive WHL finals appearances. And, the night started wonderfully, with the packed Rose Garden provided with early excitement, as third-line checking forward Joey Baker backhanded a puck past Brossoit — off the post? — just 15 seconds into the game. It was Baker's fourth goal of the entire season.

The Winterhawks outshot the Oil Kings 9-0 to start the game. All was good.

"I liked our great start, great building, great atmosphere," coach Travis Green said. "We played a great hockey game, just didn't get the result we wanted."

The proverbial puck didn't bounce Portland's way.

St. Croix netted his first goal at 10:14 of the first period. Wruck won the puck against the boards and fed Foster, who passed to St. Croix, whose shot went off a skate and past Carruth. Nice play, lucky bounce.

The Winterhawks cranked up their offense in the second period, but came up with nothing.

Said Jones, about the third period: "We were one winning period away from a championship. We were just trying to keep our cool and stay mellow."

Then came the biggest play of the game. Carruth played the puck far out of his net to the left, pressured by Foster. Wruck picked up the puck and fed St. Croix, who spun and beat Carruth. Everybody, including St. Croix, couldn't believe that Carruth played the puck in a tight, 1-1 game.

" 'Wrucker'read it perfectly," he said. "He saw me going to the net, and I luckily got a little spin-a-rama there. ... I wasn't expecting (the Carruth play). We were just going to forecheck and take away the walls. If he wants to go out and play the puck, that's fine with us."

Said Green: "We like Mac playing the puck; he's been pretty good at that the past few years at reading the play, reading the situation. Obviously, there he should have just gone up the wall with it. Simple as that."

But, Leipsic's play tied the game.

"Seth made a nice outlet pass in the middle, and I tried to drive the defense wide and it went off (Brossoit's) stick or something," he said. "I was just trying to throw it on net and it went in."

Brossoit was sensational to help keep Edmonton alive for another game. It was the Oil Kings' first overtime win in four playoff games.

"The first goal was off the post and went in, tough shot to stop," Laxdal said. "I thought he was outstanding. He made a lot of great saves and had great puck play behind the net. 'Brossy' has been a big part of our hockey club, a catalyst to a lot of our wins."

So, the Hawks will try to end the series Sunday and advance to the Memorial Cup. If not, a Game 7 would be 7 p.m. Monday at the Rose Garden. It's Portland's 11th WHL finals appearance, and the organization has won two — 1982 and 1998 — and lost eight.

"I really liked the way our team played tonight," Green said. "Anytime you get 51 shots in a playoff hockey game, against a good quality team, you're doing a lot of good things."

Said Leipsic: "It's a tough series. We knew it wouldn't be easy. We're going on the road now, and good teams win on the road and we have to get it done in Edmonton."