By Jim Beseda, The Oregonian

When the Portland Winterhawks acquired forwards Marcel Noebels and Cam Reid at the Western Hockey League trading deadline in early January, general manager and head coach Mike Johnston said the moves could pay dividends in the playoffs.

Looks as if Johnston knew exactly what he was talking about.

Noebels and Reid scored goals 56 seconds apart to ignite a four-goal third period that carried the Winterhawks to a 4-1 victory over the Tri-City Americans, completing their four-game sweep of the Western Conference championship series before a sellout crowd of 10,947 Thursday at the Rose Garden.

Sven Bartschi and Brad Ross added goals 26 seconds apart with less than four minutes to play, helping propel the Winterhawks into the WHL Finals for the second consecutive season and the 10th time in franchise history.

“Winning back-to-back conference championships is so hard to do,” Johnston said. “Now we have the big step ahead of us that we missed last year.”

The Winterhawks will take on the winner of the Edmonton-Moose Jaw series in the Eastern Conference finals. Edmonton has a 3-1 lead in that best-of-seven series heading into Game 5 tonight in Edmonton.

If the Oil Kings close out the series tonight, the WHL Finals would begin next week, either Thursday or Friday, at Rexall Place in Edmonton and what is expected to be a 2-3-2 format.

Tri-City got a first-period goal from Adam Hughesman on a power play and the Americans nursed their 1-0 lead into the third period behind some brilliant play by goaltender Ty Rimmer, who turned aside all 40 shots through the first two periods.

Reid finally put the Winterhawks on the board at 6:42 of the third period, beating Rimmer to the blocker side for his second goal of the series and fifth of the playoffs.

“Going into the third, we said if we get one, they’re going to find their way in,” said Reid, who left St. Cloud University to join Portland after the Winterhawks acquired his rights from Edmonton. “And that’s exactly what happened.”

Noebels, who Portland picked up at the trading deadline from Seattle, gave the Winterhawks the lead when he took a pass from Ty Rattie and flicked a backhand shot inside the right post at 7:38 of the third period.

“I’m glad I’m not eating my words right now,” said Johnston, recalling what he had said at the trading deadline about Reid and Noebles. “We were anticipating that those were pieces we really needed. You can see right now, they can make the difference.”

Johnston also enjoyed hearing the crowd explode after Noebels put the Hawks in front.

“We knew once we scored the first goal that we were get a surge just from breaking the ice,” Johnston said. “All of sudden back-to-back goals, the building erupted and I think we had them back on their heels.

“I was really happy with how resilient we were. We had to hang in there tonight. I know there was some frustration. We weren’t scoring, we had some great chances, and Tri-City was playing a very good game, but we stuck with it and certainly the fans gave us a big boost once we got that first goal.”

Portland goalie Mac Carruth stopped all 24 shots he faced in the final two periods and finished with 39 saves as the Winterhawks outshot the Americans 61-40 in the game.

“I thought we did everything we could,” Tri-City coach Jim Hiller said. “We made mistakes. Portland’s going to make you make mistakes too, but I don’t think we could have done much more.

“Portland has a really good team with some good players and some good depth. We went toe-to-toe with them, but when they needed a big goal, their big guys scored big goals. And they got good goaltending. There’s not much more to it than that.”

Notes: Rattie, who scored the overtime winner in Game 2, had four goals and two assists in the series and was named the series MVP. Rattie continues to lead the WHL in playoff scoring with 17 goals and 12 assists in 15 games. ... Thursday's win marked the first time in 14 trips to the West finals that the Winterhawks won the series in a sweep. Portland had been sweep in two previous West finals -- in 1981 against Victoria and 1984 against Kamloops.