Monday, March 21, 2011

Playoff Time!

When looking at what to write this week in the interim between the regular season and the playoffs, I've decided to just put a mix of all my thoughts about all things hockey, as well as some predictions for the first round of WHL playoffs:

First off, what an amazing accomplishment by the Portland Winterhawks this season to wrap up their first division title since the 2001-02 season. It's been a long time in Hawkville since a banner was raised to the rafters in the Memorial Coliseum for accomplishments on ice. When looking at the Winterhawks' roster this season, many experts in the junior hockey game thought a division title was a certainty. However, what actually transpired was one of the best races for a division title in recent memory. The Hawks didn't secure their crown until Game 71. Until the injury bug hit the Tri-City Americans in the last month of the season, any of 3 teams could have skated away with the title. The games between these teams down the home stretch were played at a high level, and the Hawks and Spokane Chiefs were two of the hottest teams in the league in the second half of the season. Over the final 10 games of the season before the 72nd game between the teams, with the division title obviously on the line for both clubs, each stepped up their play big time. The Hawks and Chiefs both went 9-1-0-0 over these games. Clearly both teams play their best when the pressure increases, and that may poise them both for extended playoff runs.

Now a prediction from yours truly about 7 of the 8 playoff series (I won't predict the Hawks-Silvertips series. Since I'll be calling those games, and cannot claim to be impartial about that series)

Eastern Conference:

1. Saskatoon Blades (115 pts) vs. 8. Prince Albert Raiders (67 pts)
This series, on paper, looks to be heavily lopsided in favor of the Blades. With 11 more points in the regular season than any other team in the league, Saskatoon comes into the playoffs the clear favorite. However, upsets occur, and in a similar matchup last season between Calgary and Moose Jaw, the Warriors pushed the Regular Season and Postseason champion Hitmen to 7 games. However, I don't see the Raiders being able to stop the Blades' potent offense. The Blades had 4 80 point players this season, and none of them were named Brayden Schenn. Raiders will be lucky to steal one game in this series. Saskatoon in 4

2. Red Deer Rebels (104) vs. 7. Edmonton Oil Kings (69)

This series, to me, comes down to defense. The Red Deer Rebels gave up 93 fewer goals in the regular season than the Oil Kings. Darcy Kuemper tied the league record for most shutouts in the history of the league with 13. Edmonton has to match the defensive intensity of the Rebels, and it's imperative they don't allow top draft prospect Ryan Nugent-Hopkins too many opportunities on the powerplay. Edmonton puts up a fight, but Red Deer closes this series out in 5 close games.

3. Medicine Hat Tigers (100) vs. 6. Brandon Wheat Kings (73)
Medicine Hat comes into this series hot, going 8-1-0-1 in their final 10 regular season games. They have league leading scorer Linden Vey, as well as Anaheim Ducks 1st round pick Emerson Etem. The Wheaties have put up goals in bunches ever since the trade that sent Brayden Schenn to Saskatoon. This series will be the most offensive in the league in the first round in my opinion. Brandon pushes it 7, and anything can happen in a game 7, but Medicine Hat will pull it out thanks to the experience advantage they have in net with Tyler Bunz.

4. Kootenay Ice (97) vs. Moose Jaw Warriors (86)
3 weeks ago, I'd have said that this series would be an upset for the Warriors. They have Dylan Hood who's very hot up front and first round pick Dylan McIlrath anchoring their defense. The Kootenay Ice on the other hand had stumbled through late February and early March, and looked very much like a team struggling to adjust to deadline acquisition Cody Eakin. However, near the end of the season they've looked close to figuring it out. This series goes 7, and I could see either team winning that game 7. However, Eakin is a big-game player, and he'll have a big game 7. Kootenay advances.

Western Conference:

2. Kelowna Rockets (87) vs. Prince George Cougars (70)
This series looks to be a wash in skill on the front end, with Prince George perhaps having the slight advantage. Kelowna has a group of forwards who work hard, and Geordie Wudrick has captured his sniping form in the second half of his 20 year old season. Brett Connolly has been healthy this season, and has shown why Tampa Bay decided to select him as the 6th overall NHL selection last summer. Both teams have skilled defensemen, with Tyson Barrie leading the Rockets, and Martin Marincin leading the Cougars. In the end, goaltender Adam Brown for the Rockets will be the difference. His play has been outstanding in the second half, and he'll lead the way in a long series against the Cougars. Kelowna wins in 6.

3. Spokane Chiefs (103) vs. Chilliwack Bruins (74)
The Chiefs missed out on the division and conference title by just one point. They have the second leading scorer in the league in Tyler Johnson, the tied for leading scorer among defenseman Brendan Kichton, and first round NHL draft selection and massive anchor on defense Jared Cowen. They tied for most goals scored in the league with the Saskatoon Blades. They had the second most shutouts in the league as a team behind the Red Deer Rebels. They finish the season with the top ranked Powerplay and Penalty Kill. But they have to start the series on the road, and Chilliwack has shown they're dangerous on home-ice. And the Bruins have Lucas Gore, who was credited with 77 saves last week in a game against the Chiefs. Ryan Howse, Roman Horak, and Brandon Manning are top flight players in this league. But the Chiefs will be too much for the scalding hot Bruins. Chilliwack will put up a great fight, and Gore will steal them a game. But unfortunately for the Bruins, he won't steal the series. Spokane in 5.

4. Tri-City Americans (92) vs. 5. Vancouver Giants (75)
The Americans floundered a bit down the stretch, suffered injuries to key players like Adam Hughesman and Drew Owsley. The last month of their season didn't go as planned, and the Americans were unable to defend their division crown. But Owsley's back, and they're playing the team that comes into the playoffs as one of the coldest in the league in the Giants. However, the Giants lost many of those games without Brenden Gallagher. He's back, looks healthy, and is ready to lead his team deep. You can't bet against a Don Hay coached team in a series, no matter who the opponent is. But the Americans had the goaltending and skill to get past the Giants last season in the conference final. I think the Americans are better built for the playoffs than they were last season, and the Giants aren't as good this year as they were last. Tri-City in 5...

So, I picked the higher seed in all 7 series profiled. So much for being bold. Bring on the Games!

1 comment:

  1. this is the perfect blog for anyone who wants to know about this topic. You know so much its almost hard to argue with you (not that I really would want...HaHa). You definitely put a new spin on a subject thats been written about for years. Great stuff, just great! technology