Thursday, May 2, 2013

1) Portland vs. 1) Edmonton WHL Final Preview

Portland (57-12-1-2, 117 Points in the Regular Season) vs. Edmonton (51-15-2-4, 108 Points in the Regular Season). The series begins Friday night at 7 pm at the Rose Garden in Portland.

How They Got Here:
-Portland beat 8th seeded Everett 4 games to 2 in the first round. Then they swept 4th seeded Spokane 4 games to 0 in the Conference Semi-Finals. Then they beat 3rd seeded Kamloops 4 games to 1 in the Western Conference Final.

-Edmonton beat 8th seeded Kootenay 4 games to 2 in the first. Then they swept 7th seeded Medicine Hat 4 games to 0. Then, in the Eastern Conference Final, they beat 3rd seeded Calgary 4 games to 3.

Season Series at a Glance:
-This does not play as big as a role in this series as they only played each other one time, while Edmonton was on their West coast swing.
2/27/13- Edmonton 4 @ Portland 3- Portland jumped out to a 3-1 lead, behind goals from Nic Petan, Taylor Leier and Troy Rutkowski. The Oil Kings stormed back scoring 3 unanswered goals, the last coming on a power play with 1:03 left, for the win.

Dylan Wruck and Michael St. Croix both had 1 goal and 1 assist to lead the way for the Oil Kings, Rattie had 2 assists for the Hawks. Laurent Brossoit stopped 26 of 29, while Mac Carruth stopped 38 of 42.

Edmonton at a Glance:
-The Oil Kings are the defending WHL champions, downing the Hawks in 7 games, in what was a truly epic series last May. But, this team is different from the one you saw your beloved Hawks lose to in Edmonton that fateful Sunday afternoon/evening.

Gone from Edmonton are:
- Captain and Defenseman Mark Pysyk (played 19 games for the Buffalo Sabres this year).
-Tyler Maxwell (formerly of the Everett Silvertips).
-Latvian Kistians Pells, who used an exemption to play in the AHL as a 19 year old this year.
-Game 4 OT hero Rhett Rachinski.
-Jordan Peddle- Did a little bit of everything for the Oil Kings, including get under Joe Morrow's skin.
-17 year old D-man Mason Geertsen- Was traded for David Musil from Vancouver.

Though the makeup of the team in it's entirety is different the core pieces that made this team a juggernaut are still there:
#28 D-man Martin Gernat- Plagued the Hawks(and the rest of the WHL for that matter) last year and this one with his remarkable ability to jump into the play and create scoring chances for others or himself.
Martin Gernat

#4 D-man Keegan Lowe- Reliable and steady, this guy has an NHL pedigree and likes to muck it up in the scrum just like his old man. He also can create offensively.
#2 D-man Cody Corbett- Was a bit of a goat for Edmonton in last year's final, but has improved dramatically this year.
#18 Michael St. Croix- The future New York Ranger again has lead his team in regular season and post-season scoring. He trails only Rattie and Kamloop's J.C. Lipon with 22 playoff points. Part of what makes Edmonton good is that they do not rely upon him to do all of their scoring, as 7 other players have at least 10 playoff points.
#27 Curtis Lazar- A big bodied forward that takes a lot of punishment in front of the net but keeps holding his own. He is the real x-factor on this Edmonton team. If he plays up to his potential, they will be tough to beat.
Curtis Lazar

#7 Stephane Legault- Another speedy Edmonton forward that creates well off of the rush.
#10 Henrik Samuellson- Another Oil King with an NHL pedigree. Much like his old man, he likes to hit, often times not legally, as he has been suspended many times over the last 2 years (see last years final).
#16 T.J. Foster- Plays the Jordan Peddle role for them this year, getting into the corners and coming out with the puck.
#11 Dylan Wruck- Short player, with a low center of gravity, played the hero in the regular season game vs. Portland.
#31 Goalie Laurent Brossoit- He has not been nearly as impeccable as he was last year, but he may have kicked himself into high gear with that Game Seven 2-0 shut out against Calgary.

Laurent Brossoit
Added to the team from last year's squad are two players the Winterhawks know well:
#6 David Musil- The former Vancouver Giant was traded for to bring size and some play making ability to the back end (in essence to try to fill in for Mark Pysyk).
#34 Trevor Cheek- Born and raised in nearby Vancouver, WA, Cheek will be sure to draw a healthy contingent of family to the games in Portland. He was traded for as a 20 year old to provide some scoring punch and has done his job, scoring 8 times and adding 8 assists.

The biggest questions, when it comes to Edmonton are injury related. Will Trevor Cheek play? He was hurt in Game 5 of the Calgary series and skated only a couple shifts in Game 6. He sat out Game 7and could miss some time in this series with an "undisclosed injury."
Vancouver's Trevor Cheek

Even bigger for the Oil Kings is the fact that they will be without Captain and Defensive stalwart Griffin Reinhart for the entirety of this series. His foot was stepped on early in the Calgary series and he left a gaping wound on the blue line for Edmonton. He was sure to get the match-up with Portland's top line and now that will fall on Musil and Lowe. Though they are serviceable defensively, they are a significant step down from a guy who was taken 4th overall by the New York Islanders in the 2012 NHL draft. How well they do against Rettie, Petan and Brendan Leipsic could go very far in determining who wins this series.

Random Notes:
-I know it is a bit of a cop out to say that whoever wins the Goaltending match-up wins the series, but I have never felt it so strongly as I do with these two teams. Portland has shown that they can win despite a strong showing from the opposing Goalies (see Everett's Austin Lotz and Kamloop's Cole Cheveldave), but they over matched those teams at the forward position and more notably at the blue line. This is not the case in this series. Though with the loss of Reinhart, Portland does hold the edge defensively, Edmonton is much deeper on the front end and comes close to matching the Hawks for top end talent.
-Leipsic pulled a bit of a disappearing act in last year's final and this years game vs. Edmonton. This cannot be the case this year for the Hawks to advance. He is going to need to push through the physical Oil Kings and play the game he loves to play (speedy and flashy).
-Portland's second line of Leier-De Leo-Bjorkstrand, struggled for a lot of the Kamloops series before putting together a strong finish. They will need to take advantage of the match up with Edmonton's less experienced D-men and put up some points.
-Taylor Peters will once again be relied upon to take a majority of Portland's draws in the defensive end as he has the last two series.
-Paul Bittner and Keegan Iverson should expect to play a role in trying to swing the physical play in Portland's favor.
-Expect Seth Jones, Tyler Wotherspoon, Troy Rutkowski and Derrick Pouliot to play even more minutes, as the drop off in talent to the Hawk's last two d-men is significant.

All in all, expect a great series, with the two best teams in the WHL by far. For any motivation, Portland has just to watch the following video:

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