Time to take a look at who I think will move on in the WHL playoffs. This is all going to be gut feeling and a small amount of thought. I’ll do just the first round for now.
(1) Edmonton 103pts v (9) Prince Albert 75pts
Prince Albert showed some determination in getting to the 8th place playoff game but that won’t be enough to get them past the first round. One interesting thing to watch will be the special teams. Edmonton was 17th overall on the power play, Prince Albert was the 2nd least penalized team in the WHL. So the Oil Kings shouldn’t look to the man advantage to help win games. Conversely, Prince Albert had the #3 power play in the league scoring about as many power play goals as Edmonton on 60+ fewer chances. If the Raiders can keep that advantage up, they might be able to win a game or two.
Edmonton in 5
(2) Regina 85pts v (7) Brandon 77pts
If there’s a series that has a potential for an upset, it’s this one. Were division winners not seeded 1-2, the Pats would be in 5th in the Eastern Conference. Special teams will also be a factor in this one as Brandon’s #2 power play goes up against Regina’s #20 penalty kill. However, because of Regina’s aggressiveness a man short, they tied for the league lead in shorthanded goals with 17. The Wheat Kings will have to be a little more cautious on the man advantage because of this. Regina was the 3rd most penalized team in the WHL so Brandon will certainly get their chances. Regina also earned 16 of their 85 points via shootout wins, most in the WHL, and that isn’t going to help them in the playoffs.
Brandon in 6
(3) Calgary 103pts v (6) Kootenay 83pts
Kootenay had a bit of a tough stretch to end the season. On top of what was going on with teammate Tim Bozon, the Ice managed a 4-5-0-1 record in their final 10 games leading up to the playoffs. This opened the door for Swift Current to take the 5th seed. Kootenay has some firepower on the top line in Reinhart and Descheneau but if Calgary is able to control those two guys, they are taking away a duo responsible for 1/4 of Kootenay’s goals. Combine that with the Hitmen’s #3 penalty kill and it may mean a power outage for the Ice.
Calgary in 6
(4) Medicine Hat 92pts v (5) Swift Current 85pts
Swift Current is the hottest team in the East, going 8-1-1-0 in their last 10 and jumping past Kootenay to avoid matchup with Calgary. The Broncos had a flair for the dramatic this season, coming from behind and getting important late goals multiple times. But will they be able to keep doing that if they need to in a 7 game series? Medicine Hat gave up the 2nd fewest goals in the East so they may not even give Swift Current the chance to come back if the Tigers are ahead in the 3rd. Medicine Hat had 5 players at +33 or better but their next highest player was a +13. Plus-minus is always a bit of a misleading stat but the Tigers offense has the appearance of being one-dimensional. This may be something the Broncos can exploit.
Swift Current in 7
(1) Kelowna 118pts v (8) Tri-City 68pts
This looks like a pretty lopsided matchup on paper. Kelowna is playing a US division team that finished 50pts behind them in the standings. Sound familiar? That was the same situation the Rockets had in the first round last year when Seattle took them 7. This year, however, Kelowna is not fighting as many injuries as they were same time last year. Also, this year’s Americans are not last year’s Thunderbirds. Tri-City scored the 3rd fewest goals in the WHL and the lowest of any playoff team by far. Comrie will be counted on in net but without some pucks behind Kelowna’s Cooke, it’s not going to make a difference and the Rockets gave up the 3rd fewest goals over the season. This one should be quick and ugly.
Kelowna in 4
(2) Portland 113pts v (7) Vancouver 75pts
By the Giants own admission, they didn’t expect to be here. The theme of the season of was “Champions Under Construction” but as the season wore on that became “Construction Ahead of Schedule”. With contributions up and down the lineup, it’s tough to key on one line and shut down the offense. However, Portland has multiple players that can be defensively responsible and that will take some bite out of Vancouver’s fire power. On the other side, hardly anyone could stop the Winterhawks from scoring. They haven’t been shutout in 2 1/2 seasons and scored 104 more goals this season than Vancouver did. Rathjen will certainly be busy. Oddly, even though this is a 2v7 match-up, special teams are about even. Both Portland and Vancouver are top-5 in power play and top-8 in penalty kill. It will be interesting to see how that plays out.
Portland in 5
(3) Victoria 100pts v (6) Spokane 86pts
Ask almost any Chiefs fan and despite how the season ended, they got the matchup they really wanted. But will this end up being a case of being careful what you wish for? 3 of the games in this season series came before Halloween and the first 2 were games #2 and #3 of the season for the Chiefs. A lot has changed since then, especially the emergence of Coleman Vollrath as a very solid goalie for the Royals. While Polivka will likely start for Victoria, Vollrath has been outstanding against the Chiefs giving up only 3 goals on 61 shots in 2 appearances. No matter who is in net for the Royals, it will most likely be 1 of 2 players potting goals for Spokane. Holmberg and Aviani combined for 100 of the Chiefs 244 goals this season. Big question will be can Aviani stay out of the box enough to be able to score?
Victoria in 6
(4) Seattle 88pts v (5) Everett 88pts
Tied in points at the end of the season, tied in the season series 5-4-1-0 each, and almost tied in penalty kill percentage. But that’s pretty much where the similarities end. Seattle was #2 in penalty minutes in the league, Everett was #22. Seattle was 4-6 in their final 10 games, Everett was 9-0-0-1 and 11-0-0-2 in their last 13. So where are the advantages for either team? Seattle went 7-18 on the power play at ShoWare Center vs Everett but only 1-16 at Comcast Arena. For a team like the Silvertips who don’t take penalties often, Seattle will need to convert better on the road. Seattle won 3 games in Everett and 2 of those were against Austin Lotz, who should be playing every minute for the Tips in this series. However, he was pulled in his last start in game #72 after 1 period. Is he hurt or was it just to give him rest? How serious is the injury to Everett’s Jujhar Khaira, who was clicking on the top line with the Tips top scorer Josh Winquist? Who takes the ice for game 1 may be a big indication as to which way the series is going to go.
Seattle in 6