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Winterhawks

• The Winterhawks hope to

go into the Western Hockey League playoffs with the second-best record in the Western Conference, behind B.C. Division winner Kelowna.

“We have to stay ahead of Victoria,” says Mike Johnston, Portland coach and general manager.

Victoria is second in the B.C. Division and has been battling the Hawks for the second-most points in the West — the higher-finishing team, points-wise, would have home-ice advantage in a possible conference semifinals match-up.

• The Vancouver Giants, meanwhile, are the most likely first-round opponent for the Winterhawks.

“They’re a good, solid team,” Johnston says. “They’ve got two very good defensemen, although I’m not sure if one of them (Dalton Thrower) will be able to play.

“They’ve got a hard-working, physical group of forwards.

They go to the net hard. They play a straight-ahead, driving type of game that (coach) Don Hay likes.”

The Hawks beat Vancouver 4-1 on Saturday, and Johnston knew going in that it would be a key game for his club in the event of a playoff pairing with the Giants.

• One of the many keys to the Winterhawks’ late-season success — which included a franchise-record 21 consecutive victories — has been the ever-increasing formidable presence of third-liners Alex Schoenborn, Dominic Turgeon and Keegan Iverson.

“This is their (NHL) draft year, and they’ve stepped up since Christmas,” Johnston says. “It’s a big, physical power line. They can play a shutdown role in the playoffs.”

Schoenborn agrees that the three forwards, together, “bring a physical presence.”

“I enjoy that part of the game,” he adds.