WHL Playoffs: Second Round Preview

WHL Playoffs: Second Round Preview

While there were not any upsets worth mentioning coming out of the first round of the WHL playoffs, that does not mean there was not any action in the eight series. This can only mean the second round will be even tighter and more exciting to watch. With most of the upper seeds advancing to the next round, only the best of the best is left to see who makes it to the conference finals.

Eastern Conference

East Division Final: (1) Prince Albert Raiders vs. (2) Saskatoon Blades

The Raiders continue their incredible season into the second round after an easy sweep of the Red Deer Rebels. The most interesting part of the series victory was the wide-spread, and depth scoring the Raiders possessed. While leading-scorer Noah Gregor had five points, rookies Aliaksei Protas and Ozzy Wiesblatt were exceptional as well. Protas put up two goals and two assists in the first two games of the series, and Wiesblatt, who only scored 15 goals in the regular season, scored three times against Red Deer.

While Saskatoon was able to slide passed Moose Jaw in four games, it certainly felt like more. Three of the four games were decided by one goal, with two of the them being decided in overtime. Max Gerlach and Kirby Dach led the Blades with five points in the series, with each scoring in the clinching win in game four. Nolan Maier was superb in net, only allowing eight goals against in the entire series.

These two teams are the only ones who made it out of the first round in the minimum number of games. Just goes to show how dominant they were compared to their opponents. Prince Albert handled the Blades during the regular season, winning six of the eight meetings. However, Saskatoon is hot, winning eight of their last night games dating back to the regular season. Their lone defeat was at the hands of the Raiders…the night after the Blades had defeated the them in Saskatoon.

My Pick

This series will be determined by the goaltenders, and Ian Scott is playing extremely well, Raiders in six.

Central Division Final: (1) Edmonton Oil Kings vs. (3) Calgary Hitmen

The Oil Kings had their hands full against Mads Sogaard and the Medicine Hat Tigers, but Edmonton was able to clinch after a come-from-behind overtime win in game six. Trey Fix-Wolansky was his usual self, tied for the team lead in points with seven. He was tied with Vince Loshciavo, who finished second on the team with 62 points during the regular season. Loschciavo scored four goals during the series, including the game-winner in game six to help the Oil Kings advance.

Calgary was not expected to slow down the talented offence that Lethbridge possessed, but with the offencive outbursts from the Hitmen’s own lineup, the Hurricanes were taken down by Calgary in a classic seven game series. Calgary managed to score five or more goals four times in the first round, much thanks to depth scoring, as nine Hitmen had five or more points. Carson Focht, Mark Kastelic, and Dakota Krebs all led the team with seven points in the series. Kastelic scored five goals, despite missing games three and four with a concussion. Focht was the first star in game seven, with two goals, including the game-winner.

It’s the Battle of Alberta in the playoffs, what more could you ask for? The Hitmen know they have it in tough, as they won only one of the eight meetings against their provincial rivals, with the Oil Kings outscoring Calgary by a 19 goal margin. The Hitmen are certainly riding high coming off an upset win, so it will be interesting to see how long they ride the wave of momentum into this series.

My Pick

Despite showing some weakness in round one, the Oil Kings’ confidence is as high as it has been this season, but the Hitmen will keep it close. Edmonton wins in seven.

Western Conference

B.C. Division Final: (1) Vancouver Giants vs. (2) Victoria Royals

Victoria did not have the easiest series against Kamloops in round one. However, despite the Blazers picking up a win on the road and at home, the Royals were able to bunker down and take games five and six convincingly to move on. Rookie Phillip Schultz really stepped up in the series, scoring nine points in the six game series, which was tied for second among playoff scorers. 

Vancouver did not have an easy time either against Seattle in the first round. However, the Giants were able to squeak passed the upstart Thunderbirds in six. Davis Koch led all players with 10 points in the six games, nine of which being assists. Bowen Byram continues to increase his draft stock, with three goals and five assists in the series, including a three-point performance in game three. Jadon Joseph piled on the goals for Vancouver, with six goals in the series, tied for the most among goal scorers. Trent Miner and David Tendeck split time in net during the first round, with Miner playing better than his teammate. Expect Head Coach Michael Dyck to go with Miner for the rest of the Giants’ run.

This series could be quite close, despite the two teams finishing so far apart in the regular season. Vancouver won four of the five meetings at the Langley Events Centre, while Victoria managed three wins on their home ice. With that, home ice advantage favours the Giants. Goaltending will be important, as always, and Miner and Griffen Outhouse are two very equal netminders. Vancouver is looking to avenge the game seven loss at the hands of the Royals in the first round of the playoffs last year.

My Pick

Victoria will give a spirited effort, but Vancouver’s offence will bury the Royals. Giants in six.

U.S. Division Final: (1) Everett Silvertips vs. (2) Spokane Chiefs

Spokane walked over a decimated and depleted Portland lineup. Despite a couple close overtime wins, the Chiefs eliminated the Winterhawks in five games. Riley Woods, who led the Chiefs in scoring during the regular season, led the team in the first round with eight points. Adam Beckman and Jack Finley were solid in their first playoff experiences in the WHL. Beckman scored three goals with a pair of assists, while Finley helped set up the offence with four assists.

Everett had a fairly easy first round against Tri-City, beating the Americans in a five game series. Bryce Kindopp was excellent with five goals and four assists in the series, including a hat trick in game five. Martin Fasko-Rudas only put up 31 points during the regular season, but caught fire in round one, scoring eight points in the five games. Dustin Wolf was consistent in net as he was all season, and was the best goaltender in the first round, with a 1.60 GAA and .937 SV% in the series.

The Chiefs did not have the best luck against the ‘Tips this season, as Everett won six of the eight games, including winning two in Spokane. With how good Wolf has been for the Silvertips this season, Spokane’s Bailey Brkin will have to be outstanding, but it is hard to measure him up against one of the best goaltenders in the CHL. 

My Pick

Persistent offencive pressure and Wolf in net is going to be too much for Spokane, ‘Tips in five.

All statistics and records from the WHL and Elite Prospects.

WHL Playoffs: Western Conference First Round Preview

WHL Playoffs: Western Conference First Round Preview

After 68 games, it is time to begin the best part of the season, the postseason. In the West, it was the US Division that saw a lot of success, as teams from the States took five out of the eight playoff spots. The divisional matchups will make for some great action, while the lone inter-divisional matchup should be intriguing to fans on both sides.

B.C. Division

(1) Vancouver Giants vs. (WC2) Seattle Thunderbirds

Vancouver has had one of the best seasons the franchise has had in recent memory. Just a few years removed from three-straight last place finishes, the Giants finished the regular season atop the Western Conference standings. Thanks in large part to a very solid defence core and incredible goaltending. Bowen Byram has been solid on the blueline for Vancouver. While his +33 plus-minus is best on the team, his 71 points is second in team scoring behind Davis Koch, and third in WHL defencemen scoring. David Tendeck and Trent Miner have been the best goaltending tandem in the league. They are third and fourth in goals-against-average with Miner’s 1.98 GAA and Tendeck’s 2.48 GAA.

The Thunderbirds come into the playoffs on quite a roll, winning eight of their final 11 games, including a big win over Victoria, and a sweep over Portland in the final weekend of the regular season. Matthew Wedman has been a bruiser for Seattle, while leading the team points with 77, he also led the team in penalty minutes with 110. Noah Philip has been an incredible playmaker for the Thunderbirds, leading the team with 49 helpers. Off his 75 points he scored this season, 33 of them came on the power play. 

Between these two teams, yes the mismatches are eminent. However, the teams are fairly matched on the offencive side of the puck, as the Giants, in total, scored 228 goals, while Seattle potted 231. Home ice has not been a factor in any of the four games between these two, as the road club won all four matchups.

My Pick

This will be a battle between the pipes, as good as rookie Ross Roddy has been lately for Seattle, he does not measure up to the level that Miner and Tendeck are at. Seattle will give everything they have, but the Giants will find a way to take the series in seven.

(2) Victoria Royals vs. (3) Kamloops Blazers

Talk about “blazing” your way into a playoff spot, Kamloops won five of their last six games to catch Kelowna on the final day of the regular season to force a tiebreaker matchup, which the Blazers won on Tuesday night. It was quite a run for a team that does not have a whole lot of offence in their arsenal, as they have scored the fewest goals among any team in the WHL playoffs. That means it will be up to rookie Dylan Garand to step up for the Blazers in this series. After Dylan Ferguson fell into a slump in the second half of the season, Garand took the reigns and was phenomenal, as he only gave up more than two goals once in his final six starts. 

While the Blazers have the least amount of goals scored, the Royals have the second-least amount of goals scored with 199 goals this season. Where they differ from their counterparts is how they ended the regular season. Victoria lost five of their last six games heading into the playoffs, including an 8-0 thumping at the hands of Kamloops. No Royal has more than 50 points this season, but five players have more than 40, including defenceman Scott Walford, who finished second on the team with 47 points.

Don’t expect a lot of high flying offence in this series, as neither team has any game-changing talent up front. It’s going to be a battle of defencive systems between Blazers Head Coach Serge Lajoie and Victoria’s Dan Price. Each game in this series may come out as a one-goal game, making each contest exciting until the final buzzer. Despite the last meeting of the regular season, the Royals have handled themselves well against the Blazers, winning all four games on home ice.

My Pick

If it comes down to the netminders, you have to give Kamloops the advantage with Garand in net, especially the way he’s been playing, Blazers in six.

U.S. Division

(1) Everett Silvertips vs. (WC1) Tri-City Americans

The ‘Tips Finished third in the WHL behind Vancouver and Prince Albert with 99 points this season. In a season where the team was expected to take a dip following the graduation of, now-Philadelphia goaltender Carter Hart, Everett has flourished. Connor Dewar and Bryce Kindopp have been outstanding on the top line, and the addition of Zack Andrusiak from Seattle has added a huge offencive boost. However, it has been the goaltender who has once again garnered the spotlight, as Dustin Wolf has made his case for the Del Wilson Memorial Trophy for WHL Goaltender of the Year. Wolf finished first in the league in wins (41), goals-against-average (1.69), and save-percentage (.936).

Tri-City is not looking in the best of shape heading into this first round. Along with losing their final five games of the regular season, the Americans also lost 10 out of their last 11. It will be huge for Tri-City’s leading scorer, Parker AuCoin, to step up if they want any chance in this series. The Americans possess one of the best youngsters in the WHL, as Krystof Hrabik finished third in rookie scoring with 51 points. Defenceman Aaron Hyman has helped the offencive effort as well, as his 50 points his tied for 10th in blueline scoring.

Given that Everett has been so consistent this season, it will be difficult for the struggling Americans to trip them up in this series. With the tight-knit defence from the Silvertips, along with the timely scoring from their top-two lines, expect Tri-City to have their handsful on both ends of the rink. Even when Tri-Cityis able to break through for a scoring chance, they run into Dustin Wolf.

My Pick

A defencive juggernaut against a team that has struggled at times to find goals, ‘Tips in four.

(2) Spokane Chiefs vs. (3) Portland Winterhawks

Portland sure has had a very interesting season. The team started out looking to contend for a division title, and continued to impress well past the Holiday Break. Then, on February 23rd, Cody Glass suffered a gruesome-looking knee injury that ended his season. The Winterhawks have not been the same in his absence. Joachim Blichfeld continued to produce in his absence, and ended up leading the WHL in points with 114, and tied for the most goals with 53. Players such as Jake Gricius and Reece Newkirk have had to pick up the slack, but have only done so mildly with Gricius posting 61 points, while Newkirk amassed 59 points.

The Chiefs on the other hand, were able to make a late run in the final month of the season to snag home-ice advantage right from underneath the Winterhawks. Spokane went 7-2 in the month of March, and riding high heading into the playoffs. Riley Woods had a solid end to his season, as the Chiefs’ leading-scorer registered 10 points in the month of March. Ty Smith was a big player at both ends of the rink for Spokane this year, including putting up 69 points, good for fourth among WHL defencemen in scoring.

Two teams heading different directions heading into this series, the Winterhawks need to find some form of consistency if they want to knock off the Chiefs. While Blichfeld has been good, Portland will need more from their second and third line to step up. Each team took three of the six games during the regular season. However since Glass’ injury, the Chiefs have taken the last two meetings, both in Portland.

My Pick

Without the x-factor that Glass is, Blichfeld cannot carry the team himself against a hot Chiefs club. The ‘Hawks keep it close, but the Chiefs pull it out in six.

All stats and records found from the WHL and Elite Prospects.