PORTLAND — The Kelowna Rockets are the team with depth. The Portland Winterhawks are the team with top-end talent.
In simplified terms, that was one of the themes at the start of the Western Hockey League Western Conference finals. So, naturally, it was Portland’s depth that struck a critical blow as the Winterhawks rallied for a crucial Game 2 win.
Goals from third-line forwards Dominic Turgeon and Alex Schoenborn helped the Winterhawks rally for the 5-3 win that squared the best-of-7 series 1-1 entering games Tuesday and Wednesday at the Moda Center.
“You need the depth of your lineup to come up big at certain moments, and I think they have done that,” Winterhawks coach Mike Johnston said.
He praised the play of fourth-liners Adam Rossignol, Adam de Champlain and Ethan Price in the previous series against Victoria, and said the third line of Turgeon, Schoenborn and Keegan Iverson was the Hawks’ best in Game 2 at Kelowna.
Portland’s top two lines are known for speed and skill. The third line can skate, too, but comes at opponents with a size the others lack. Turgeon, the son of Pierre Turgeon who played 19 seasons in the NHL, is listed at 6-foot-2, 196 pounds. Schoenborn is 6-1, 194. Iverson is 6-0, 216. All three — along with second-line forward Chase De Leo, are ranked among the top 100 North American skaters eligible for the 2014 NHL Draft.
“The line of Turgeon, Iverson, Schoenborn is a bigger, physical line. They can contain teams down low. They’re hard to play against. They get in on the forecheck really well,” Johnston said. “But we don’t ask them to play any different. We still want them to manage the puck and make good decisions with the puck.”
Turgeon and Iverson along with first-line forward Paul Bittner played for the United States under-18 select team at a tournament in August in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Iverson said he and Turgeon began building chemistry there.
In their first playoff run as significant contributors for the Winterhawks, the third-line forwards have grown into their role as responsible forecheckers who try to pin opponents deep.
“We are three big-body guys, so we like to bring a physical presence out there, and really work teams down low,” Schoenborn said. “We did that really well (in Game 2) and that paid off for us in the end.”
Turgeon’s first playoff goal came on the first shift of Saturday’s second period and was a momentum changer. The Rockets created a quick scoring chance off the face-off before Iverson carried the puck into the zone and took a shot that started a goal-mouth scramble with three forwards and defenseman Matt Dumba around the crease.
“We had four guys in there. Luckily enough it bounced out to me and I was able to get one,” Turgeon said.
Even when Kelowna scored moments later to take a 3-1 lead, the energy from that first-shift goal stayed with Portland.
Johnston said goals from players who don’t often score can be big momentum plays for the team that scores.
“When they do score it lifts your bench, it gives everybody that extra boost and it’s nice to see that when they contribute,” Johnston said.
Schoenborn’s third playoff goal came from a tough angle. It gave Portland a 5-3 third-period lead in Game 2 and the Winterhawks played their strongest period of the first two games to finish off the victory. If Portland’s depth was an overlooked factor entering this series, it’s not anymore.
“We know we’re a good, strong third line,” Iverson said. “We create opportunities to score, and if they’re not aware of what we can do it will bit them in the butt eventually.”
NOTE — Johnston did not say on Monday who will start in goal for Game 3. Corbin Boes relieved starter Brendan Burke in the second period of Game 2 and stopped all 15 shots he saw.