WHL Report: Four Teams Fighting For the Remaining Playoff Spots
Heading into the final weekend of the regular season, there’s still a lot to play for, as a couple of teams sitting outside of a playoff spot still have a chance to earn their way into the postseason. With only spot available in each of the conferences, it is do-or-die for four teams who want to get into the playoffs.
Eastern Conference: Red Deer Trying to Hold Off Brandon
Out in the Eastern Conference, a duo of clubs have an opportunity to clinch the last Wild Card spot. Coming out of the Central Division, the Red Deer Rebels currently sit four points ahead of the Brandon Wheat Kings. While these two teams will not meet in the final weekend of the regular season, Both teams will be keeping a close eye on one another.
Red Deer Just Needs One
The Rebels have not struggled as bad as Medicine Hat has as of late, however Red Deer at one point was one of the hottest teams in the WHL. However, lackluster play over the past few months have seen Red Deer drop out of the top-three. It did not help when they lost six in a row at the end of January into February, losing 11 of 12 in that time span. It also did not help that the team right above them in the standings, the Medicine Hat Tigers, beat the Rebels on Wednesday night to clinch one of the two Wild Card spots.
The Rebels will have to play Lethbridge and Kootenay this weekend, as the Hurricanes visit Red Deer on Friday, while the ICE host the Rebels on the final day of the regular season on Sunday. The Hurricanes have won three of the five meetings against Red Deer this season, including shelling the Rebels with a 6-2 win on February the 1st. The Hurricanes have been on a storm surge of sorts, as they have won 11 of their last 13 games.
Red Deer has a little more favourable odds against Kootenay, as they have won all five games this season against the ICE, with two of them coming in extra time.
Brandon Clinging To Hope
The Wheat Kings have really battled throughout the season with the best in the East Division. However, a slow second half to the season has pushed them out of the top-three, and outside the playoff picture all together. After a six-game win streak in the middle of February, including an overtime win over the dominant Prince Albert Raiders, Brandon has only won one out of their last eight games. This includes losses to Medicine Hat and Red Deer, teams they were trying to stay in front of not too long ago.
If there is a glimmer of hope for the Wheat Kings, it is their opponent this weekend. The Regina Pats will meet with Brandon for a home-and-home this weekend. It has been a tight set of games between the two, as each team has won three of the six meetings this season. Yet, the Pats are heading into the weekend riding a seven-game losing streak, with their last win coming on February 22nd.
Even though Brandon has an opportunity to sweep the weekend against Regina, it is hard to see Red Deer losing to Kootenay on Sunday, giving the Rebels the final playoff spot in the East.
Western Conference: Kamloops Surging Towards Kelowna
The U.S. Division has dominated the West this season (with the exception of Vancouver). So much to the point that five teams from the States have already punched their tickets to the postseason, including Tri-City and Seattle owning the two Wild Card spots. The one spot remaining sits in the B.C. Division, as the Kamloops Blazers and Kelowna Rockets are neck-and-neck heading towards the end of the regular season.
Kelowna Holding On by Their Fingertips
A month ago, if you had said the Rockets would be one point away from falling out the playoffs, you may have heard a chuckle or two. At one point, it looked like Kelowna would be able to steer clear of Kamloops. However, it has been a tough go as of late for the Rockets. They are 1-2-3 in the month of March, and have been mediocre at best since the trade deadline. It has been a roller coaster of a second-half for them. They have been on an odd pattern of wining a game, losing two in a row, win a game, lose three in a row. Sitting only point ahead the Blazers, Kelowna will need a big weekend to lock up the last playoff spot in the B.C. Division
However, they will have to do so in a home-and-home against the Vancouver Giants, the best team in the Western Conference. It is almost funny how good the Giants have been compared the rest of their division, as they sit 28 points ahead of second-place Victoria. Home ice certainly has not helped the Rockets this season against Vancouver, as the Giants have won all four meetings at the Prospera Place, outscoring the home team by a combined score of 11-2. The lone victory Kelowna has picked up against Vancouver was back on January 27th at the Langley Events Centre.
Coming in Blazing
If you want to talk about a team playing playoff hockey during the regular season, look no further than the Kamloops Blazers. After losing six of seven games as February turned into March, the Blazers kicked it into high gear, and have reeled off four in a row to put them back in the hunt for the postseason. This includes a sweep last weekend over third-place Kelowna, and 5-1 and 8-0 thrashings of Spokane and Victoria, respectively. By far the hottest team in the West, Kamloops are right on the coattails of the Rockets.
They will have a home-and-home to end the regular season, and it will be against the Prince George Cougars. The Cougars will finish last in the Western Conference for the second season in a row, however they are coming off a win over Portland. Kamloops is 6-1 this season against Prince George, despite the Cougars winning the last meeting back on February 22nd.
It is hard to see Vancouver fall off the run they are on against Kelowna, and Kamloops has handled the Cougars easily throughout the season. Kelowna may earn a split against the Giants, but I see the Blazers jumping into the final playoff spot with a sweep over the Cougars.
stats from WHL.ca