The Western Hockey League playoffs reached the halfway point in the third round as the Western and Eastern Conferences crunch seven games in ten days to allow for the final round its ten day run and a small break for the run to the Memorial Cup.
Out east, after the first two games where the Swift Current Broncos won a pair of squeakers against a resurging Lethbridge Hurricanes team which had a small rest from the last series to gain some wind. The Broncos, who knocked off the Moose Jaw Warriors in seven games, had little time to gather their road legs. That seemed to be the difference as the series switched to the windy city of Lethbridge, Alberta.
In game three, the two teams struggled to get shots on net and for it, were rewarded with a scoreless tie in the opening period. In the second, Swift Current gave up an early goal on the powerplay before tying it late in the second. However, another powerplay goal just over a minute later, the first of the night by Brad Morrison, restored the Hurricanes lead. The Canes would add a goal early in the third period, the second of the game for Dylan Cozens before two late goals by Brad Morrison, giving him a hat trick and the Canes a 5-1 win.
Game four was another rough night for the Broncos. Four powerplay goals by the Hurricanes plus a shorthanded goal gave the Canes another 5-1 win over the Broncos. The penalty filled affair saw seventeen powerplays in the game and desperation by the Broncos, who saw their two game lead in the best of seven evaporate with the series headed back to Speedy Creek.
Out west, the Everett Silvertips who split the first two games in Everett, headed to Kennewick hoping to gain back some ownership of the series on visitor ice against the Tri-City Americans.
In game three the Tips scored early and midway through the first period to take a 2-0 lead. Late in the first period, Tri-City scored and notched the equalizer early in the second period with both scores coming on the powerplay. The Tips regained the lead with a pair of goals in the second period to again hold a two goal lead heading into the third period. Two goals less than a minute apart early in the third period, once again tied the game. Things fell apart for the Americans as the Tips banged home four goals in less than five minutes, including a pair by Patrick Bajkov which gave him a hat trick and the Tips a lopsided 8-4 win. Tri-City was perfect on both the powerplay with two goals and stopping the Tips on their two-man advantage opportunities, but the difference was the continued pressure by Everett to get the win.
Game four in Kennewick saw both team almost matched shot for shot in the game with both failing to score on the combined five powerplays, but it was the Tips using multiple goal periods, this time being the second period scoring twice after both teams blanked the first frame. Tri-City scored early in the third period, but the Tips added a late, empty net goal to seal off the Americans with a 3-1 win and the same result in the series as it heads back to Everett for a game five and possible Tri-City elimination. The Tips have never made it past the third round, having played only one time in the third round back in 2005-06 when they lost to the Vancouver Giants who made it as far as the Memorial Cup.
The Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, which has had tremendous sorrow over the past month with the bus crash that claimed sixteen lives and injured thirteen others of the Humboldt Broncos, saw the SJHL title go to the Nipawin Hawks after they defeated the Estavan Bruins 2-1 in Nipawin. The Canalta Cup Champions will now face the Steinbach, Manitoba Pistons for the ANAVET (Army, Navy, Airforce Veterans) Cup, the winner of the best of seven series will move on to the final tournament, a five team battle for the RBC (Royal Bank of Canada) Cup in Mid-May. The storybook Hawks playoff season, following the bus crash, has been one where so many are hoping they are able to not only compete in the RBC Cup, but win it for #HumboldtStrong.