April 22, 2012
KENNEWICK, Wash. — Trailing 4-3 late in a second straight 5-4 victory over the Tri-City Americans in the WHL's Western Conference finals, the Portland Winterhawks were beneficiaries of penalty call on Tri-City's Nathan MacMaster when he hit Joseph Morrow into the boards through the neutral zone.
Ty Rattie scored on a rebound to tie the game with 1:53 left in regulation on the ensuing power play, then netted a short-handed winner at the 7:58 mark of the extra period -- his third goal of the game and 16th in 13 games this playoff season. Leading 2-0, the Winterhawks return home with a chance to put the Americans on the ropes Wednesday.
When Morrow went into the boards, his stick jammed into the base of the boards and snapped violently, sending the stick into Morrow's neck. He stayed down for a couple of minutes before getting up, but returned to the game.
The question remains, though: was MacMaster's hit really a penalty? It didn't appear, at first glance, like referees Steve Papp and Sean Raphael were going to call an infraction on a play, but the violence of the snapped stick and Morrow's possible injury may have caused them to change their tune.
After conferring, Papp and Raphael chose to assess a boarding minor to MacMaster, allowing the Winterhawks to have one last chance to tie a game the Americans led 2-0 early and 4-2 midway through the third.
After the game, Tri-City coach Jim Hiller mentioned that the third period had been good for his team, "if not for a penalty that people can talk about and dissect a little bit."
When pressed further to describe the play, Hiller wouldn't shed any more light:
"These questions are not for me. It's for other people to make those calls. I'm probably biased in the way I saw it, but yeah, those aren't questions for me to answer."
Portland coach Mike Johnston conceded that the hit "looked worse than it was," saying that MacMaster hit Morrow from the side and "propelled him into the boards."
"His stick snapped and then the stick went up into his neck," Johnston said of Morrow. "He has a big gash on the side of his neck."
Johnston added, however, that he felt the hit was "for sure" a two-minute minor.
Rattie created the game-winning goal by poking the puck away from Tri-City's Justin Feser at the point during an Americans power play. Feser, a forward, plays the point along with fellow forward Patrick Holland on a unit that features five dynamic offensive players.
Johnston noted that despite using forwards at the point, Feser and Holland have been playing that role for a long time and are experienced players. Still, Rattie was able to take advantage of Feser at the point, then Holland on the resulting 2-on-1 with Sven Bärtschi.
"I was just thinking about getting it by (Feser)," said Rattie. "I knew I was in trouble if I didn't.
On the 2-on-1, we talked about how they like to slide on those so I read that Holland was going to slide, so I just pulled it around him and went high glove."
Rattie added that he would pass to Bärtschi "98% of the time," but felt taking the shot was the best move there. Rattie snapped a shot over the outstretched glove of Tri-City goaltender Ty Rimmer, who made 43 saves in defeat.
"It was a great play," Hiller said. "There's not too many goalies who could have gotten that one. I thought Rimmer played terrific and held the fort."
Hiller tried to stay upbeat in his postgame comments, and struggled to explain why the Americans have lost five consecutive overtime games over the last two rounds. Tri-City is 7-0 in regulation this postseason, and 1-5 in overtime.
"Sometimes you try to make a narrative to say why the puck doesn't go in (in overtime)," he said. "Sometimes, it just doesn't go in. It's not like we've been standing in our end and not having opportunities."
In the two overtime periods in this series, the Americans have put 15 shots on Portland goaltender Mac Carruth and had two power plays. Portland scored seconds after killing off a penalty Friday, then short-handed to win Saturday's game.
Said Hiller: "We need to get a win. I don't think we have to change a whole lot. The effort and intensity is there. This team has tremendous character from top to bottom and they'll band together."
Asked how his team will react to the hostile crowd at Portland's Rose Garden on Wednesday and Thursday, Hiller said: "You're in the Western Conference finals. I could drive to the north pole to play hockey, and it's the same with our guys. It's exciting, we just want to go win some hockey games and the venue is irrelevant."