Halifax Mooseheads book ticket to Memorial Cup final

Portland Winterhawks goaltender Mac Carruth and Chase De Leo celebrate after a 4-2 victory over the...

Portland Winterhawks goaltender Mac Carruth and Chase De Leo celebrate after a 4-2 victory over the Saskatoon Blades during the Memorial Cup in Saskatoon May 22, 2013. (Al Charest/Calgary Sun/QMI Agency)

RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:53 PM ET

SASKATOON – Nathan MacKinnon and the Halifax Mooseheads are off to the Memorial Cup final.

The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League champs vaulted into Sunday's championship game with the Portland Winterhawks' 4-2 victory over the host Saskatoon Blades before 9,239 in the round-robin finale Wednesday night at the Credit Union Centre.

Both Halifax and Portland finished with identical 2-1 records, but the Moose beat the 'Hawks 7-4 in their meeting last Saturday. The 'Hawks advance to Friday's semifinal.

The Blades face the OHL's London Knights in Thursday's tiebreaker game and will be hard-pressed to match the same physical play on back-to-back nights.

Portland exploded for three third period goals in just over six minutes. Chase De Leo, a 17-year-old forward from La Mirada, Calif., broke the tie by taking advantage of Andrey Makarov losing his stick and stuffing the puck past the Blades' star goalie.

Then, two of Portland's 350-point scoring line Brandon Leipsic, with his first, and Ty Rattie, with his fourth, sent the crowd scrambling for the exits.

The game wasn't without some early controversy.

Portland forward Taylor Leier was knocked out on an open-ice hit by Saskatoon defenceman Dalton Thrower in the first period. The Philadelphia Flyers' prospect caught an elbow in the face, suffered a cut face and had to be assisted off the ice.

No penalty was assessed on the play but the Canadian Hockey League will surely review it.

The 'Hawks opened the scoring in the second period on Derrick Pouliot's shot from the side boards accidentally redirected by a Blades player. Saskatoon forward Shane McColgan tied it on an intended pass that banked in off a Winterhawk skate.

It was the first goal the Blades scored on Portland goalie Mac Carruth this season. The 21-year-old recorded a 4-0 shutout with 26 saves back on Oct. 10.

There were only 4,439 in the rink that night. It was a more electric atmosphere for this meeting.

The rink has always been special to Portland captain Troy Rutkowski.

The overager scored his first major junior goal, an overtime winner, here against the Blades way back on Oct. 22, 2008. He also scored twice in the Winterhawks' Cup-opening loss to Halifax last Saturday.

“(Former 'Hawk) Killian Hutt took it around the net and I was just there to poke it in the net,” Rutkowski said of his first goal. “This rink has been pretty good to me. I enjoy playing in this rink. The fans get loud, especially when the home team's playing.”

Portland is a high-octane team in the Halifax vein, but they have struggled to hold leads this week.

They gave up five straight goals to the Mooseheads in their first game and blew a 3-0 lead to London before regrouping to win.

“You never want to let up a lead and we've done that two games,” Rutkowski said. “We've got to clamp down defensively. It's our forwards and defenceman working together as a unit.”

Against Saskatoon, they were better in that department.

After their first-round playoff flop and two-month layoff, the Blades figured a tiebreaker spot would be an accomplishment.

“This whole tournament, we've wanted to let our play do the talking for us,” top scorer Josh Nicholls said. “We wanted to come out, work hard and beat some good teams.”

In their only other Cup appearance here in 1989, the Blades went right to the final before losing to Swift Current.

This time, like London, they have to take the hard way there.

ryan.pyette@sunmedia.ca

Twitter.com/RyanatLFPress

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MEMORIAL CUP

Winterhawks 4, Blades 2

Portland goals: Derrick Pouliot, Chase De Leo, Brandon Leipsic, Ty Rattie

Saskatoon goals: Shane McColgan, Josh Nicholls

Next: The London Knights (1-2) face the Saskatoon Blades (1-2) in the Thursday tiebreaker, 8 p.m. (ET) at the Credit Union Centre.


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