So the only series two-games deep has seen the No. 8 Sudbury Wolves (of the atrocious second-half) make an about-face and turn in back-to-back solid performances, managing a split in Belleville against the heavily favoured No. 1 Bulls.
Does that mean we can expect some magic out of the Western front, too as the playoffs really kick into gear tonight with six games? For my money, that may come from the Plymouth Whalers. Not exactly a huge call at the No. 4 seed, but anything that jeopordizes a Windsor-London West final could be considered an upset.
Windsor (1) vs. Owen Sound (8)
Vitals: Windsor - 57-10-1, 115 pts … huge edge in special teams with OHL’s fifth-ranked power play and second-ranked penalty kill.
Owen Sound - 26-27-15, 67 pts … pulled of a 1-1-2 record against Windsor during the regular season series.
Breakdown: Based on Game 1 of this series, a 7-4 Spitfires win on Wednesday, it’s hard to imagine the Attack taking even a game from a Windsor team that’s only lost 11 times this year. The Spits are a juggernaut, led by youngsters Taylor Hall (late ’91 – and the possible first-overall pick in the 2010 NHL draft) and Ryan Ellis (’91) and boast much depth at forward and defence. I can see an Attack ‘tender, either Tyler Beskorowany or Scott Stajcer, stealing a win in this series, probably in an overtime game. That’s why it goes to Windsor in 5.
London (2) vs. Erie (7)
Vitals: London - 29-16-3, 101 pts … won all six meetings this season … OHL’s top power play (24.4%) and league’s scoring champ John Tavares (58 goals, 46 assists) highlight a potent offence.
Erie - 34-29-5, 73 pts … League’s best penalty killing (87%) will be key to hang with Knights.
Breakdown: At the trade deadline, the Otters looked like their return to the post-season could avoid Windsor or London in the first round. But sliding down the stretch means they’ll have to deal with John Tavares.
While Tavares looked a little bored in some games toward the end of his final OHL season before he goes No. 1 in this summer’s NHL draft, it’s more likely the determined JT the nation watched at the world juniors in Ottawa will resurface. You can count on him to be motivated to do what he couldn’t in Oshawa – lead a team to the OHL finals.
Some good news for Erie is they’ve taken the last two meetings to overtime, so the Otters can hang in there for 60 minutes here or there. London in 6.
Saginaw (3) vs. Guelph (6)
Vitals: Saginaw - 36-24-8, 80 pts … franchise hasn’t advanced past first round since move
Guelph - 35-26-7, 77 pts ... only 24 points in 26 games since trade deadline.
Breakdown: Guelph committed fully to the rebuilding mode by moving one of the OHL’s best goalies, Thomas McCollum to Brampton. The Storm are the worst of the West’s playoff teams since.
This is the best team Saginaw's had to watch, and the disparity between these clubs is best described by their respective forward situations. Three of the Storm’s key horses are a trio of ’91-born NHL-draft-eligible Peter Holland, Taylor Beck and Michael Latta. In Saginaw, OHL veterans Chris Chappell, Jack Combs and Tyler Murovich lead the way. Saginaw in 5.
Plymouth (5) vs. Sarnia (6)
Vitals: Plymouth - 37-2-5, 79 pts … second-best record in the West since the trade deadline (41 points in 29 games).
Sarnia - 25-26-7, 77 pts … also strong since the deadline (35 points in 27 games).
These teams rank in the middle of the OHL in almost every important statistical category. But Plymouth’s 4-1-1 edge in the season series includes a commanding 6-1 victory in the final game of the schedule to earn home-ice advantage for this matchup. Plymouth has finished the season strong, anchored by the return of the coach who took the team to the Memorial Cup two years ago, Mike Vellucci. Whalers captain Chris Terry is one of the best leaders in the league and finished second to Tavares in league scoring. The experience of Whalers vets who won the league two years ago will make the team dangerous for both the Knights and Spits down the road. Plymouth in 6.