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Winterhawks strike early to take 2-0 series lead over Royals

Series swings to the Island on Tuesday night with first playoff game in Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre since 2019

There was no need for splashy third-period theatrics on Saturday night for the Portland Winterhawks. They decided it early in taking a 3-0 first-period lead en route to a 5-1 victory over the Victoria Royals to take a 2-0 lead in their best-of-seven opening-round Western Hockey League playoff series.

The heavily-favoured Western Conference second-seed Winterhawks, ranked No. 5 in the CHL national major-junior top-10 poll, trailed the first game of the series 2-1 after the second period Friday before pulling out a 4-3 comeback win over the seventh-seed Royals. There was little doubt or drama in the second game Saturday.

“We gave up goals in the first three minutes of two of the three periods. When you talk about being ready to play with focus and attention to detail, you don’t give up those kinds of goals,” said Royals head coach James Patrick. “We got down early. Even in the third period, it’s 4-1, and if you get a goal it changes the complexion of the game. But instead we gave one up on the first or second shift and that was the game.”

Patrick decried what he described as his club’s defensive-zone passivity: “Someone has to take the lead and challenge someone. [Winterhawks] were having 40-second shifts generating chances and we were just standing still.”

Patrick pointed to his 15-year-old defensive star of the future, Keaton Verhoeff, as his club’s leading light in the game: “He had no fear and he led the team. I need a few other guys to play the way he played. At the end of the day, someone has to make a play, someone has to come through with a big play, if you want to stay in the game or win a game.”

The series swings to the Island on Tuesday night with the first playoff game in Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre since 2019. It’s pretty much a must-win for the Royals (29-30-9 in the regular season).

The fourth game will be Wednesday night at the Memorial Centre. A fifth game, if required, will be Friday also in Victoria. The 2-3-2 format is a perk for the lower-seed Royals. Now it’s up to them to take advantage of it to at least send the series back to Portland.

As the home team, the Royals will get the last shift change after whistles, which is a key when it comes to having an advantage in line match-ups. “I hope it’s a factor,” said Patrick.

“Sometimes it allows you to get guys on the ice that you normally would not get out as often. Portland has the edge in depth. That might take a bit of the load off our top guys.”

James Stefan scored twice for Portland (48-15-5 in the regular season) Saturday and Josh Davies and Detroit Red Wings first-round NHL draft pick Nate Danielson once each. San Jose Sharks-drafted blueliner Luca Cagnoni again showed why his 90 points this season were the most by a WHL defenceman in more than three decades since Shane Peacock of the Lethbridge Hurricanes recorded 102 in 1992-93. Dawson Pasternak had Victoria’s lone goal.