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Thunder's season comes to an end.

Byline: CHRIS HANSEN The Register-Guard

Eugene had won 13 of 14 games against Portland this season, but Sunday, the Thunder couldn't beat the Pioneers when it mattered the most.

Portland ended Eugene's season with 5-3 victory before a crowd of 268 at Lane County Ice, winning the best-of-three, first-round playoff series 2-1 and advancing to next weekend's Northern Pacific Hockey League's championship series.

It was a shocking upset by the Pioneers (19-27-1), who had lost all 12 regular-season games to the Thunder before winning game one of the series 5-2 in Beaverton on Friday night. They were the last team to make the playoffs and finished the regular season on an eight-game losing streak.

"When it's the playoffs, it all goes out the window," Portland coach Joakim Faelt said. "The team that wants it the most wins, and we wanted it more than they did today. I didn't think they took us lightly, but I was sure it was going to be a little harder than it was today."

For Eugene, the league's regular-season champions at 35-7-2, the failure to advance couldn't have been any more disappointing.

"I said right from the start of this year that we had built a team that could contend for the national title, and it's a major disappointment that we didn't get out of our league ... or even get out of the first round," Thunder coach Kelly Hubbard said.

Alex Hall scored twice for the Pioneers, who, much like in game one, jumped out to a quick lead, scoring two in the first period and another at the start of the second before Eugene was able to answer.

Still, the Thunder never came closer than two goals despite outshooting Portland 34-22.

Goalkeeper Martin Stehl, who had been sensational for Eugene during the regular season, building a 17-4 record and 1.99 goals-against average, had a rough playoff series, allowing 11 goals on 58 shots.

"They didn't have a whole lot of opportunities," Hubbard said of the Pioneer offense. "I don't know if Martin struggled, but I've seen him play better."

In comparison, Pioneer goalie Joe Nobel, who started the playoffs with a 10-12-1 record and 4.9 gaa, let in 14 goals in the three games - most of which came in their 9-1 loss Saturday - on a whopping 137 shots.

"Their goaltender played very well, but we made him look good," Hubbard said. "We shot right at him instead of making him move or going hard to the net."

Portland scored first at 7:03 of the first on a wrist shot by Peter Narver. Two minutes later, James Samson slapped a 15-footer past Stehl for the 2-0 lead.

With four minutes gone in the second, Cass Zwacki pulled the puck out of a scramble in front of the net and slid it into the goal for a 3-0 lead.

Steve McCracken finally put Eugene on the scoreboard at 5:35, when he knocked in a deflected wrap-around shot by teammate Eric Slaughter during a five-on-four power play for the Thunder.

Hall answered, however, with his first goal of the day, slapping it past Stehl at 13:59.

James Ross brought the Thunder back within two goals at the 6:47 mark of the third when he lifted a wrister into the left side of the of the net to make it 4-2. But Eugene couldn't score again until Powell Gallagher poked in a deflection with 52 seconds to play.

A minute before that, though, Hall added his second goal to give Portland a 5-2 advantage.

"I think we were looking past Portland, knowing that we were 12-0 against them this season," Hubbard said of his players. "They were looking to next weekend or nationals.

"I give Portland credit, they showed a lot of heart, a lot of grit, a lot of determination. They were not as talented as our team but they did work hard and they deserved this series."
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Title Annotation:Hockey: Portland records stunning upset in first-round series.; Sports
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Mar 11, 2002
Previous Article:Unstimulating bill.
Next Article:Ducks star in this show.

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