For those in a rut over your NCAA bracket, you may offer a bit of solace for those watching the WHL Playoffs and the possibility of upsets in the first round. Only two teams hold an advantage after two games and only one did it on home ice. Only one team has played three games and owns a two-to-one game advantage.
Starting in the Eastern Conference where the Scotty Munro Champion Moose Jaw Warriors took on eighth seed Prince Albert Raiders. Despite a thirty-two point advantage at the end of the regular season, the Warriors got all they wanted and more from the Raiders in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. In the first game, the Raiders shut down the top line for the Warriors as they scored two goals early and three goals mid frame to get past the Warriors 5-3. The second game saw the top line finally get on track, but Prince Albert stayed with the Warriors throughout the contest, sending the game into overtime where they would ultimately drop a 3-2 score to Moose Jaw with the series headed to Prince Albert for games three and four.
The Swift Current Broncos stormed out of the gate early at home with a 3-0 win in game one, but could not seal the deal in game two, dropping a 2-1 decision to the Regina Pats, after surrendering the first two goals to the Pats. That series shifted to Regina for the next pair of games. One of those games came on the heels of the weekend with a packed house in Regina. Despite the Pats heavily out-shooting the Broncos, it was Swift Current with the firepower on net that produced the first three goals of the game. Regina would score midway through the third period, but Swift Current replied just seconds later to take the game 4 to one and put themselves up two games to one.
The Medicine Hat Tigers, despite coming into the series with the Brandon Wheat Kings as the regular season points underdog between the two teams, used their home ice advantage with being the Central Division Champions to wallop the Wheaties twice by an aggregate score of 14-3. A 7-2 score, followed by a 7-3 beating, has sent the Kings back to Manitoba, but not exactly home. As has been the trick for many WHL teams, finding arena dates to play on has been a challenge. In fact, the Brandon Wheat Kings will be more of a traveling team in that they will play in Dauphin, Manitoba, nearly two hours north from their home arena and a third the size of the Keystone Centre where they play regularly.
The Lethbridge Hurricanes have also been busy racking up the goals in their first two games against the Red Deer Rebels. Like the Medicine Hat Tigers, the Hurricanes have also gone on a 14-3 cakewalk, first by shutting out the Rebels 6-0 and following up with an 8-3 thrashing. The games shift to Red Deer where they hope some hometown magic will help them stem the tide.
The Western Conference has been an interesting one as well. The Everett Silvertips, first in the Conference and the US Division, took aim at the Seattle Thunderbirds in the I-5 rivalry. The Tips started strong with a 4-1 win in the first game, and early strong start in the second game. Despite a hat trick performance by Garrett Pilon, who was acquired at the trade deadline, the Thunderbirds kept at it and forced the Silvertips to pull their goaltender, which resulted in the tying goal with less than a minute left in regulation. The teams headed to overtime where Zack Andrusiak pocketed the game winner for Seattle with just over five minutes gone in the extra period to take the game 5-4 and sending the series fifty miles south to Kent for the next two games.
The Victoria Royals are in a big battle with the Vancouver Giants who split the games in Victoria. The Giants took the first game 2-1, before dropping game two by a 5-4 margin. The series heads to Langley, BC, home of the Giants for games three and four with an expected raucous crowd that has not seen Giants playoff hockey for quite some time.
The Kelowna Rockets are scratching their collective heads trying to figure what went wrong as they battle the Tri-City Americans. The Ams looked to be an easy sweep by many, but that idea went out the window after the first games as Tri-City stunned the crowd in the Okanagan with a 5-0 shutout. The next game saw Kelowna jump out to a 3-0 lead early, but saw the next four go in for Tri-City. The seven goal outburst in the first period was met in the second with three more for the Rockets and a single by Tri-City to head the the third period with the Rockets leading 6-5. The wheels came off for the Rockets in the third as Tri-City tied the game early in the period and despite allowing a goal midway through the third to the Rockets, Tri-City would add three more including an empty net goal to give Nolan Yaremko a hat trick and the Tri-City Americans a wild 9-7 win and a commanding 2-0 lead in the best of seven series with the games now headed to Tri-City.
In Portland, the Winterhawks and Spokane Chiefs too to the ice at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum with two large crowds hoping to see the Hawks secure victory. Game one saw the Chiefs open the scoring and hold the lead through the first period. Early in the second, the Hawks Dennis Cholowski scored on the powerplay to even the score, but that quickly changed in about twenty seconds as Spokane regained the lead with a goal by Riley Woods Just over four minutes later, it was Henri Jokiharu who would tie the game, but Spokane would reply on a powerplay of their own. With just under three minutes remaining in the second period, Cholowski scored his second of the game and the score stayed tied through the third period and sent the game into overtime. Luke Toporowski would send the Portland faithful home in sadness with a goal just over two minutes into the period and finished the night with a goal and two assists for the Chiefs with Riley Woods also adding into the same totals. Dennis Cholowski would record two goals in the game and Henri Jokiharju with a goal and an assist to lead the Portland charge, but it wasn’t enough in a 4-3 loss.
The second night saw Portland storm out of the gate with goals by Kieffer Bellows, Jake Gricius and Alex Overhardt to dominate the first period at 3-0. Portland’s Mason Mannek would score his first of the playoffs to pad the Hawks lead and send starting Chiefs goaltender Bailey Brkin packing. The Chiefs weren’t done though as they would score a pair late in the second period with one of the goals on the powerplay to halve the Hawks lead. With nearly six minutes gone by in the third, the Chiefs struck again and the Hawk faithful grew concerned. Despite pulling their goaltender with less than two minutes remaining, the Hawks wore down the clock with long clearing passes and several missed attempts at the open net. The one time they did hit the net, the ruling was no goal as the puck had apparently hit one of the officials which would rule the play dead. Despite this, the Hawks took game two by a 4-3 margin and now shift to Spokane for the next pair of games before returning to Portland for game 5 on Saturday night.
Best of seven series
Moose Jaw vs Prince Albert tied at one game each
Swift Current vs Regina Swift Current leads two to one
Medicine Hat vs Brandon Medicine Hat leads 2 to none
Lethbridge vs Red Deer Lethbridge leads two to none
Victoria vs Vancouver tied at one game each
Everett vs Seattle tied at one game each
Kelowna vs Tri-City Tri-City leads two games to none
Portland vs Spokane tied at one game each