The WHL playoffs are locked in place, and the Portland Winterhawks are on the way to northern British Columbia for a long, tense weekend against the Prince George Cougars. Predictions and speculation brackets, including our own Stuart Kemp, have the Cougars sweeping the Hawks in six games and laying them dormant until autumn, especially given the disappointing performance against the Spokane Chiefs this last Sunday.
With a 45-21-3-3 record, the Cougars are not the highest rated team in the Western Conference. The Hawks could have ended up facing the Everett Silvertips, who have a nearly 70 percent win rate. What might be a bigger deciding factor could be the travel. Passage up through BC to Prince George and the inevitable trip back here to Portland will take a toll on players looking to recuperate and adjust.
Looking at the last few Winterhawks games as a reference, I believe Prince George is beatable, but the team presents some specific obstacles that the Hawks have a tendency to trip over.
For starters, the Cougars have left wing Jesse Gabrielle. He has a plus-minus of 17 and is the fifth highest shorthand goal scorer in the league. He can be dangerous in the high slot area against Portland. Spokane snagged a myriad of turnovers from the Winterhawks last Sunday, many of them in the neutral zone. If Prince George gets a similar chance it will spell doom for a less-prepared Shane Farkas if he gets a turn in the goal.
Speaking of goalies, Ty Edmonds will likely become the ongoing offensive problem for the Hawks for the duration of round 1. The Winnipeg native has a 0 .916 save percentage, and his GAA is a 2.48 for the regular season in Prince George. If that season closer against Spokane is any indication, a sharp goalie can derail Portland shooters indefinitely unless they start commanding the puck in the offensive zone and pass more decisively.
Beyond all of this, there are recent matchups off which to go for predictions. Prince George is the much better team on paper, but the Winterhawks beat them recently on March 8 by outlasting them. Late in the third period is when Portland comes alive, and that might be what it takes to stay alive to see round 2 of the bracket.
The Cougars will come to Portland for games 3 and 4 on Wednesday and Thursday. Tickets are still available at www.winterhawks.com but if you are looking to catch the away games, there are viewing parties happening at the Sports Look Bar and Grill in Hillsboro, the Oregon City Ice House, and several Buffalo Wild Wings locations in the metro area.