Speed, shots on goal and extra-attacker hockey spelled doom for Kelowna on Tuesday, as the Portland Winterhawks somewhat miraculously rallied from two goals down in regulation to tie and then defeat the Rockets 4-3 in overtime on Taylor Leier's spin and wrist shot that beat hot goalie Jordon Cooke.
The Winterhawks, only moments away from being down 2-1 in the Western Hockey League Western Conference finals, enter Wednesday's Game 4, 7 p.m. at Moda Center, leading 2-1 after what could be deemed a crushing loss for the visiting Rockets.
Portland outshot Kelowna 65-33 nearly doubling the Rockets' shot output for the second consecutive game and used late man-advantage goals by Oliver Bjorkstrand and Brendan Leipsic to snatch victory from the clutches of defeat.
Portland carried momentum into overtime, goalie Corbin Boes came up big with saves and Leier scored with 10 minutes left in the extra period.
"This time of year, a loss is a loss," Kelowna coach Ryan Huska said. "You have to turn the page in a hurry. We're here, we have to try to get our split (in Portland). We have that opportunity."
But, after Portland's territorial domination of the past two games, how do the Rockets turn around the momentum? Huska's short answer for his players: Hit the Hawks, slow them in the neutral zone and move their feet to create chances in the offensive zone.
"We know they're going to come hard (Wednesday). They don't want to go down 3-1," said Bjorkstrand, who had two more goals, giving him 14 in the WHL playoffs. "We're going to come back hard, too, in our barn."
The 20-year-old Cooke was phenomenal, giving the Rockets the chance to snare back home-ice advantage in the best-of-seven series.
Kelowna started fast in the first five minutes, establishing a forecheck and going ahead 1-0 on Riley Stadel's goal. But Portland began to take over the game, although the Rockets stymied them on a 5-on-3 power play Mathew Dumba hitting the first of many posts for the Hawks. The opportunities kept coming in the second period Chase De Leo hitting the crossbar until Bjorkstrand worked hard for a rebound and scored in 4-on-4 hockey at 6:26.
But, only 13 seconds later during 4-on-4, Kelowna defenseman Colten Martin beat Boes and the Rockets regained the lead.
Leipsic led Portland's speed assault, getting some breakaway chances, but he couldn't capitalize. The Hawks peppered Cooke the rest of the second period and the entire third as the Rockets reeled. At one point, Cooke made a save with his head/mask on a Leipsic shot.
Portland got a power play, but then Leipsic picked up a goalie interference penalty. With 5:50 left in 4-on-4 hockey, Kelowna seemingly settled the game with a goal by Ryan Olsen.
"Not the way the third period was going did we feel secure," Huska said.
Indeed, the Winterhawks kept up their spirits.
"I liked the way our players handled it," coach/general manager Mike Johnston said. "Players on the bench knew we were getting our chances. We had to stick with it. Once the first one fell, the crowd was so into the game, they gave us a big boost."
The Hawks drew a penalty, pulled Boes for a 6-on-4 and Bjorkstrand scored with 2:59 left to draw Portland within 3-2.
Then, with Boes pulled again, Leipsic continued his personal assault on the Kelowna defense, took an end-board rebound and beat Cookie at a tough angle for the tying score with 1:18 remaining.
It seemed remarkable that Portland could tie the score, despite dominating territorially. Cooke was fantastic.
"We've been in this situation a couple times, a goalie gets hot like that," Leipsic said. "We're a veteran team. We stuck with it. At 3-1, most teams would have let the winds out of their sails. We knew we'd get our chance. We waited it out. Oliver scored a big goal. I was lucky enough to get it off the boards and tie it up."
The Hawks kept the pressure on Cooke in the final minute, and then got chances in overtime. But, Boes, the tarter ahead of Brendan Burke because of Boes' Game 2 backup duty in Portland's win, stopped Nick Merkley and then Marek Trvdon on a point-blank rebound and an angle shot.
Then came Leier's goal.
"I saw the (Kelowna) forward lost his stick, so I got (the puck) up top and tried to pull the puck around and get it on net," Leier said. "I saw (Chase) De Leo raise his hands, and I went crazy. That was pretty cool."
Officials reviewed the goal, making sure it didn't get deflected in from a high stick. It didn't, and Portland players celebrated their big win.
Huska later exited a down Kelowna locker room and gave praise to Cooke, who had 61 saves (and 109 in the past two games).
"Jordon was great. If we would have won this game, it would have been a steal on Jordon's part," Huska said. "He kept us in it for as long as he could. Unfortunately, we weren't able to hold them off toward the end of the third period."
Added Boes: "That was one of the best performances I've ever seen by a goaltender. Kudos to him. We'll definitely take the win."
The Hawks realize they dealt a big blow to the Rockets, and Portland wants to continue the momentum on Wednesday.
Said Johnston: "I thought we had great speed tonight. We carried our speed well and backed up their defense. We played with energy. Our puck movement from defense was good. Our puck movement was really quick. ... And, we're a team that likes to get a lot of shots. It's sort of a staple of how we play."
"A series like this is all about adjustments," Leipsic said. "They'll make theirs. We'll make ours. We can still do things better."
The Rockets have to find some way to slow the Hawks and prevent the large number of shots on goal.
Said Huska: "There's a few things we have to do better. One is making sure we're finishing more of our hits. They're getting a little too much time in our own zone. Through the neutral zone, we have to do a better job with our angles, so they're not able to build so much speed. We'd like our defensemen to stand up more than they are, but a lot of that is due to our forwards not doing their job properly."