The 2016 Western Hockey League Playoffs are ready to begin as the regular season has come to a close. The Playoffs matches are final, well most of them, and evaluation of the eight series has begun. Make sure to check back for previews of the Eastern Conference match-ups as well after the Medicine Hat Tigers and Edmonton Oil Kings tie-breaker game concludes on March 22. The winner of this win-and-in match will then head off to face the Brandon Wheat Kings.
— The WHL (@TheWHL) March 20, 2016
Victoria Royals vs. Spokane Chiefs
The Royals were the regular season champions of the WHL with 106 points and a 50-16-3-3 record. They enter the playoffs as the top seed and have few holes in the line-up. The Spokane Chiefs finished fourth in the U.S. Division, amassing 75 points, and a 33-30-5-4 record. The Royals and Chiefs played four times and each team won once at home and once on the road.
The powerhouse Royals have no shortage of goal scorers, lead by Tyler Soy, who tallied 46 goals which ranked third in the league. Tyson Verhelst posted a 1.67 GAA and .937 save percentage in three appearances against the Royals. If he can keep up this level of play against the third highest scoring offense in the WHL, Chiefs might make it interesting. No one allowed fewer goals than the 167 the Royals did, so the Chiefs have a very tough series ahead of them on all fronts.
Last Word On The Series: Royals in six games.
Seattle Thunderbirds vs. Prince George Cougars
The Seattle Thunderbirds finished first in the U.S. Division with a record of 45-23-4-0, good for 94 points on the year. No team was hotter coming into the playoffs than the T-Birds, who were have not lost in regulation since February 20. The Price George Cougars finished fourth in the B.C. Division with a record of 36-31-6-1. The Cougars are limping into the postseason, winless in their last five games. The Thunderbirds and Cougars played four times and each team won once at home and once on the road. Prince George hung six goals on the Thunderbirds in each of their two wins, but Seattle shutout the Cougars in the final meeting.
No team was more penalized in the WHL than the Prince George Cougars, who amassed 1292 minutes in the box, over 200 more minutes than second place Lethbridge. Seattle comes into the series with a power play that converts 27.3% of their opportunities. Even if the Cougars can keep their aggression in check, Landon Bow has been lights out since being acquired from the Swift Current Broncos.
Last Word On The Series: Seattle in five games.
Kelowna Rockets vs. Kamloops Blazers
The Rockets finished second in the B.C. Division with 100 points after posting a solid 48-20-4-0. The Blazers finished right behind the Rockets with a 38-25-5-4 record, good for 85 points. The B.C. Division rivals squared off eight times during the regular season. The Rockets won the first five games of the series before falling victim a terrible case of injury bugs throughout the line-up. The Blazers won he last three games between the clubs, with all of the wins coming between March 4 and March 11.
The Rockets will be without blue-chip prospect Nick Merkley, who was lost for the season after tearing his ACL on February 5 and starting goaltender Jackson Whistle, who finally underwent surgery to repair lingering hip injuries. The Rockets still feature enough talent withTyson Baillie, Dillon Dube and Lucas Johansen, but the Blazers will make them work for it.
Last Word On The Series: Kelowna in seven games.
Everett Silvertips vs. Portland Winterhawks
Both teams hail from the U.S. Division of the WHL. Everett finished in second place with a record of 38-26-5-3. Portland finished third, going 34-31-6-1. Everett and Portland faced each other ten times this season, with each team bagging five wins a piece. The Silvertips and Winterhawks are more than familiar foes: Portland won the second round WHL playoffs series in five games last year, and Silvertips would like to return the favor.
The entire series will likely come down to the 2016 NHL Draft’s top goalie, Carter Hart. Everett only allowed 172 goals on the season, finishing second in the category, but finished second to last in goals for with a paltry 182. Hart will have to be on top of his game against the Portland offense that boasts a formidable top line featuring center Dominic Turgeon.
Last Word On The Series: Everett in seven games.