The Finals are here…
Two teams who have battled to this point are four wins away from the Memorial Cup. One team has had a relatively easy ride to this point, while the other was expected to coast through the playoffs, but have had some bumps in the road along the way. Let’s analyze these two clubs and how they will matchup up.
Prince Albert Raiders
The Raiders, at one point, were on pace to produce the greatest season in CHL history. However, they slipped up down the stretch, but still finished with the best record in the WHL. After an easy series against Moose Jaw in round one, Prince Albert met a tough Saskatoon team in round two. Despite losing back-to-back games to the Blades, the Raiders were able to settle down and win the final two to meet with a rested Edmonton team in the Eastern Conference Finals. After Dylan Myskiw and Ian Scott went save for save in game one, the Raiders squeaked out with a 1-0 victory. In game two, the Oil Kings stunned the Raiders with an OT win, then won game three, and Prince Albert faced adversity for the first time this postseason. Yet, the talented Raider lineup was able to outlast the Central Division champs, and won three straight to win the series in six to make it to their second ever Finals, and first since they won the WHL Championship and Memorial Cup in 1985.
Depth scoring was important in the latter half of the series for the Raiders. With Noah Gregor and Brett Leason only scoring four points each in the series, others in the lineup needed to step up. A big piece to the wins in games five and six was rookie Aliaksei Protas. The Belorussian centre only had eight points coming in the series, and was held off the score-sheet for the first four games of the series. However, in the final two games of the series, Protas scored a hat trick in both games. Not too shabby for a player who only scored 11 goals during the regular season. Ian Scott’s play in this series cannot be overstated. The Raiders were outshot in four of the six games of the series, with Scott only giving up seven goals, including shutouts in game one and game five.
The best team in the Western Conference during the regular season are the best team coming out of the West in the playoffs. After having issues getting passed Seattle in round one, the Giants made quick work of Victoria in round two before meeting with a hot Spokane Chiefs team in the conference finals. After winning the first two games at the Langley Events Centre, the two teams traded overtime wins in Spokane, before the Giants finished off the Chiefs at home in game five. This will mark the third appearance to the Finals in franchise history, and first since 2007.
Bowen Byram was at it again for the Giants. One of the top prospects at this summer’s draft scored three goals and two assists in the series against Spokane, and now leads in playoff scoring with 18 points. Dawson Holt stepped up in the conference finals. After only scoring 19 points in the regular season, and seven in the first two rounds, the Saskatoon native scored five points against the Chiefs. This includes Holt scoring a goal and an assist in both game one and game two.
Finally, the Giants went with one goalie in this series. After Trent Miner and David Tendeck split time in the first two rounds, Tendeck was given the number one tag against Spokane, and did not disappoint. The Arizona prospect allowed no more than three goals in any of the five games, and made at least 24 saves in four of the five games in the series, including a 35 save performance in the game three overtime loss, finishing the series with a .935 SV%.
Not to sound cliché, but this where we truly see who is the best in the WHL. Both teams have earned their right to be here, and both have experienced some struggles in their postseason, the Raiders arguably more than the Giants. Looking at the goaltending, while Tendeck is the clear no. 1 for Vancouver, it is hard to compare him to Scott, as the Prince Albert netminder was the difference maker for the Raiders against the Oil Kings. You can argue Tendeck was exceptional in net, but the team in front of him looked far more superior than the Raiders looked in front of Scott. With that said, the Raiders top guns are going to have to step up. Leason and Gregor are going to play big minutes, while players such as Dante Hannoun and Sean Montgomery are going to have find the success they had in the first two rounds. The lone meeting in the regular season saw the Giants win at home over the Raiders, but that was back on January 24th.
This may be the tightest series of all the playoffs. However, Scott is on a roll, and that will halt Vancouver’s offencive onslaught, Raiders in seven.