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Friday, 7 April 2017

#BetweenTheBoards: Chalk Talk Dominates 
Opening Playoff Round
The Memorial Cup dream still alive for many of the favourites


We started the season with 60 teams across 3 leagues believing in a dream to hoist the Memorial Cup at the end of the season.  When the playoffs came around a few weeks ago, the dreams were dashed for 12 teams leaving us with our 48 playoff teams.  Here we are only a few days later and once again the fat has been trimmed on Memorial Cup hopefuls.

After the opening round of the playoffs, we said goodbye to a whopping 24 teams.  Half of the playoff teams saw their dreams end while another 24 teams enjoyed the celebration of moving on and being that one tiny skate closer to playing for the ultimate prize in junior hockey.

The opening playoff round across the WHL, OHL and QMJHL had some exciting games and a few exciting series going the distance.  But, let's be honest, it was mostly chalk results across the board.  The fun part of playoff hockey is seeing upsets.  Who doesn't enjoy seeing a division champ get knocked out in the opening round?  Ok well maybe their fans don't but for the most part the rest of the league, the opposing players/teams and many fans enjoy seeing a few upsets along the way.


Here is the quick rundown of the opening round of playoffs:

  • WHL - We saw a pretty standard opening round.  The top teams (Regina, Medicine Hat, Everett, Seattle) dominated as expected.  The rivalry series between Moose Jaw-Swift Current, Lethbridge-Red Deer and Kelowna-Kamloops did not disappoint.  When the dust settled, we did see one major "upset" when wild card Portland knocked off B.C. champ Prince George 4-2.  The other lower seed to win was Swift Current eliminated the Warriors with a game 7 road victory.  The WHL did produce some late night excitement as well when Everett and Victoria played well into the night during a 5 OT game, the longest game in CHL history!
  • OHL - Chalk, chalk, chalk and more chalk.  In fact, when the zamboni left the ice all the top seeds won their opening round match ups.  The big favourites (Erie, Sault Ste. Marie, Owen Sound) had no problem easily advancing.  As expected the 4-5 battle in both conferences was the highlight of the opening round as both series went the full 7 games.  The big battle between defending Memorial Cup champions London and 2017 Memorial Cup hosts Windsor was a dog fight with London erasing a 1-3 deficit to take game 7 at home.  As is slowly becoming custom, our Memorial Cup hosts for the year will now wait out the playoffs before hitting the ice again.  In the East, Kingston and Hamilton battled back and forth before the Frontenacs scored the OT winner at home to eliminate the Bulldogs.
  • QMJHL - Again, more chalk, chalk, chalk results.  However the Q did produce the biggest upset in the opening round across the board.  14th-seed Val d'Or upset East division champs Shawinigan 4 games to 2.  Val d'Or only recorded 28 wins and 61 points this season compared to Shawinigan's 42 wins and 90 points.  Outside of this result, the top teams dominated the opening round with the higher seeds sweeping their opposition in 5 of the 8 series match-ups.  As expected, the Maritimes division is looking quite strong moving forward as 4 of their 5 playoff teams advanced.  Although it wasn't easy as Cape Breton nearly blew a 3-0 lead before winning the decider against Gatineau.

Ok time to look forward and check out the second round match ups.  Will the #ChalkTalk reign supreme once again or will we see a few more upsets along the way?  Let's get to the preview and #TwineTime predictions:

Western Hockey League (WHL)

#TwineTime Prediction Record: 7-1

Conference Semi-finals

Eastern Conference

(E1) Regina Pats vs. (E3) Swift Current Broncos

The number one team in the nation sure looked it when they easily dispatched Calgary in the opening round.  The Pats scored 5 goals every game and never surrendered more than 2.  They outscored their opposition 20-6 in the 4 game sweep.  Sam Steel continues to lead this team while Tyler Brown looked great between the pipes.  And don't forget Adam Brooks of course!  The competition level steps up here though against Sask rival Swift Current.  The Broncos survived a tough Moose Jaw team as the lower seed.  Swift Current is led by Ryley Lindgren's 6 goals and 10 points in the opening round while stand out stud Tyler Steenbergen is the man in charge when it comes to Bronco's scoring.  I'm not sure either can go skate for skate against Steel but this series should be fun to watch.

#TwineTime Prediction: Regina Pats in 5 games

(C1) Medicine Hat Tigers vs. (C2) Lethbridge Hurricanes

The Tigers have had some time to rest the boys and prepare for the second round while Lethbridge had to battle out of a 1-3 hole vs Red Deer just to advance and face another strong Alberta rival.  These teams are both capable of scoring goals and score in bunches game in and game out.  Expect some high scoring here.  The difference could come down to two things: which team is more disciplined and avoids the sin bin and which side has the goalie who can weather the storm of shots the most.  Can Lethbridge survive another long series too?

#TwineTime Prediction: Medicine Hat Tigers in 7 games

Western Conference

(BC2) Kelowna Rockets vs. (WC) Portland Winterhawks

The best Western Conference rivalry over the past few years resumes this season, in an unexpected way.  The Rockets and Winterhawks have really been the talk of the conference for years, both dominating their way towards the title and claiming WHL championships along the way.  However neither was expected to really be a top challenger to the conference title this season.  Alas, here we are once again with a Kelowna - Portland playoff series with the winner reaching the conference final.  As far as wild card teams go, one couldn't be more dangerous than Portland.  They are young and, in a way, overachieving this year.  Kelowna has the home-ice advantage and fields a strong core group of 19-year old studs.  Portland already silenced a fast team in the opening round, can they do it again?

#TwineTime Prediction:  Kelowna Rockets in 7 games

(US1) Everett Silvertips vs. (US2) Seattle Thunderbirds

The series we all wanted to see in the second round and probably the highlight of this round in the WHL.  These US rivals played in the US final last year with Seattle shutting down a strong Everett team with relative ease, winning 4-1.  Both teams enter this series fresh after a clean sweep in the opening round of their lesser opponents.  Seattle runs an open game plan where they have numerous players who can make moves towards the net and light the lamp.  Everett, on the other hand, has the strong blueliners keeping the score low and making the games more of a grind.  It's a classic offense vs defense match up here.

#TwineTime Prediction:  Everett Silvertips in 6 games

Ontario Hockey League (OHL)

#TwineTime Prediction Record: 7-1

Conference Semi-finals

Eastern Conference

(1) Peterborough Petes vs. (4) Kingston Frontenacs

The Petes have had some time to rest while the Frontenacs had to battle a tough 7 game series.  Peterborough has the more experienced team, stronger at all the positions and should be the overwhelming favourite here.  So does Kingston even have a shot?  Honestly, probably not.  Kingston is very young, relying on mostly 17-year old players.  This could be another quick series for the Petes.

#TwineTime Prediction:  Peterborough Petes in 5 games

(2) Mississauga Steelheads vs. (3) Oshawa Generals

Both teams put together routine 4-2 series wins in the opening round of the playoffs and both are looking quite strong heading into this battle.  These are two teams that like to grind out wins and are not afraid to get physical when needed.  Oshawa swept Mississauga during the regular season, winning all 4 games.  I wouldn't expect the same sweep here in the playoffs; however, I do expect the same result with the winning team.

#TwineTime Prediction:  Oshawa Generals in 6 games

Western Conference

(1) Erie Otters vs. (4) London Knights

The series everyone is looking forward to.  This will be the highlighting series among all the second round match up across all three leagues to be honest.  Redemption will be on the minds of the Otters, who were swept in the conference final last season only to then watch the Knights skate right on to claim the Memorial Cup.  The Otters are the favourites in the OHL this season and would love nothing more than to eliminate their rivals and the defending champs.  Erie is loaded with star power and NHL potential.  The only advantage London has in this series in between the pipes.  If Knights goalie Tyler Parsons can steal a win or two in the series alone, the Knights have a chance.  If not, the Otters should get their revenge.

#TwineTime Prediction:  Erie Otters in 7 games

(2) Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds vs. (3) Owen Sound Attack

We have two teams who are coming into this contest looking red hot.  Both have looked unbeatable over the past few months and both are used to picking up wins every night they hit the ice.  The Greyhounds are sporting 39 wins in their last 52 games while the Attack are an even more impressive 43 W's in 51 games.  While much of the attention within the OHL is focused on Erie and London, these two Western Conference teams are looking for some respect as well and to show both are legit threats to the OHL title and a Memorial Cup run.  Which gives in this series though?  Owen Sound allowed the fewest goals in the league during the regular season.  SSM has four 30-goal scorers in the line-up.  Which sides bends first and bends the most could decide who advances and who has their dreams shattered.

#TwineTime Prediction:  Sault Ste. Marie Geryhounds in 7 games

Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL)

#TwineTime Prediction Record: 4-4

Quaterfinals

(1) Saint John Sea Dogs vs. (14) Val-d'Or Foreurs

This is a strong Saint John team, as evidenced by their complete destruction of Rimouski in the opening round.  They outscored their opposition 22-8 in 4 games.  Yikes!  The team is loaded with NHL quality studs.  They can score at will.  They will be very tough to beat.  On the flip side, beauty of an upset for Val-d'Or, especially one year after they were the biggest opening round upset loser.  But this just might be where the glass slipper hits the ice and breaks.

#TwineTime Prediction:  Saint John Sea Dogs in 4 games

(2) Rouyn-Noranda Huskies vs. (8) Chicoutimi Sagueneens

The defending Q champs survived a tougher than expected opening round series vs. Halifax, needing 6 games and surviving a few OT battles.  They also lost leading goal scorer Antoine Waked in the opening game, who is out for at least 6 weeks now.  But this is also a very experienced Huskies squad and, after overcoming the rough start to the playoffs, their experience shined through in closing the deal to advance.  Chicoutimi's domination in the opening round was a pleasant surprise.  Heck I had them losing the series to Victoriaville and they silenced me quick.  This is a good team and one that should hang with the Huskies for a few games but playoff experience matters in the long run and the Huskies just have too much of it!

#TwineTime Prediction:  Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in 6 games

(4) Charlottetown Islanders vs. (7) Cape Breton Screaming Eagles

A nice all-Maritime Division battle in the quarterfinals should be fun to watch.  Cape Breton took the season series, winning 6 of the 9 games.  However, this is a stronger Charlottetown team than perhaps that result would indicate.  Remember they did finish 16 points ahead of Cape Breton in the standings and can be an explosive juggernaut, lighting the lamp for a Q high 303 goals this season.  But don't get too excited either as Cape Breton finished in the Top 5 of goals as well in the Q with 270.  Cape Breton also is coming off a battle-tested opening round where they nearly blew a 3-0 series lead and survived a game 7 OT.  This should be the closest series in the quarterfinal round with both teams knowing one another quite well.  Charlottetown has never advanced past the quarterfinals in three straight seasons and with the rumors flying this team is on the move out of PEI next season, what a perfect dream ending it would be for the team to finally reach the SF.

#TwineTime Prediction:  Charlottetown Islanders in 7 games

(5) Blainville-Broisbriand Armada vs. (6) Acadie-Bathurst Titan

There may not have been a happier team to see the Val-d'Or opening round upset than Blainville-Broisbriand.  Not often we get to see a #5 seed become the higher seed and have home ice advantage in the quarterfinals and they will want to take full advantage.  The Armada are a defense heavy team with strong goaltending being the backstop to a hopeful long playoff run.  The Armada allowed a league-low 171 goals over the season and gave up only 1 goal per game in their opening round sweep.  On the flip side, Acadie-Bathhurst loves to drive to the net and score goals in bunches.  They were 3rd in Q league scoring with 284 goals this season and will look to break the Armada wall during the playoff series.  In their opening round series sweep, the team collected 21 goals in 4 games.  They also spread the puck around with 9 different players picking up goals during the series.  Defense wins championships, yes.  But the all-around attack coming at you all game, every game, just might be too much to handle here.

#TwineTime Prediction:  Acadie-Bathurst Titan in 6 games

There you have it, #TwineTime previews and predictions for all 12 playoff series across all 3 leagues.  What do you think?  Agree or disagree with any of my predictions?  Share your thoughts in the comments below or hit me up on twitter.  And, as I reminded all of you in the opening round preview, if you live in any of these playoff cities (or close to) go check out some playoff hockey.  The inexpensive night out, in comparison to the upcoming NHL playoff ticket prices, will give you just as much, if not more, excitement and bang for your buck.

Enjoy....