Friday, March 21, 2014

First Round Preview: 2)Portland vs. 7)Vancouver

Portland Winterhawks (54-13-2-3, 113 pts) vs. Vancouver (32-29-7-4, 75 pts):
-The Portland Winterhawks look to claim their 4th straight Western Conference title and 2nd straight WHL title this season. Their first obstacle is a well coached, young team in the Vancouver Giants.

Season Series:
-January 12th 2014: Portland 5 @Vancouver 4 (SO)
In their 3rd straight win, of what would be a 21 game win streak, Portland chased starting Goalie Jared Rathjen 22 minutes into the game with 3 goals and then after giving up a short handed goal to Dalton Sward, they got a late short handed goal of their own from Adam De Champain to force the extra session. Then Derrick Pouliot and Taylor Leier both converted in the circus, while Corbin Boes (in his 2nd game with the Hawks) stopped Cain Franson and Domink Volek for the win. Case De Leo had 2 points for the Hawks, while Brett Kulak had two as well.

-January 15th 2014: Portland 5 vs. Vancouver 2
Three days later the Hawks dispatched the Giants, again. This time in much more convincing fashion as they controlled most of the play, pumping 43 shots on net. Corbin Boes again was able to beat the Giants, getting 36 saves on 38 shots and being named the game's second star. Brendan Leipsic led the way for the Hawks with 1 goal and 3 assists, while Carter Popoff set up both Giant's goals.

February 15th 2014: Portland 7 @Vancouver 4:
One month later, the Hawks dominated play pretty much from the get go and were held off the scoreboard by Goalie Payton Lee in the first period, when he stopped all 12 Portland shots. The Hawks broke through in the second though and coasted to a 7-1 lead before giving up 3 late, to make it a close one. Boes stopped 31 of 34 to give him his 3rd win over the Giants, while Lee was chased 46 minutes in after giving up all 7 goals. Most of these were not his fault as Vancouver's defense coughed up a lot of turnovers. Alex Schoenborn, Dominic Turgeon and Oliver Bjorkstrand all had 3 points each for the Hawks, while Vanouver was led by Tim Traber's 2 late goals.

March 8th 2014: Portland 4 vs. Vancouver 1:
Having already all but locked up playing each other in the first round, this was as close to a playoff preview as you will see, except of course Portland started 3rd stringer Adin Hill. The Giants tried to send a physical message right away and added with a ton of blocked shots, they kept this game closer than it should've been. Portland finally put it away late in the 3rd period. Both Bjorkstrand and Leipsic had 2 points apiece for the Hawks, while Joel Hamilton had the Giant's lone goal.

Head to Head Leading Performers:
-Nic Petan-2-3-5pts

-Boes-3.97 GAA and .900 Save % in 3 games
-Hill-1.00 GAA and .966 Save % in 1 game.

-Ty Ronning-1-2-3pts

-Lee-4.57 GAA and a .874 Save % in 2 whole game and parts of the other 2.
-Rathjen-5.00 GAA and a .833 Save % in parts of 2 games.

History in the Playoffs:
-2005-06 Western Conference Semi-Finals:
Cain's older brother Cody Franson and Gilbert Brule led the way offensively and Goalie Dustin Slade held Portland to only 6 goals in 5 games, as the Giants won 4 games to 1 and ended up winning the WHL Championship, before losing in the Memorial Cup. Portland was led by Brandon Dubinsky and Jannik Hansen that post-season with 15 and 13 post season points respectively.

-2009-10 Western Conference Semi-Finals:
In an exciting 6 game series, in wich every game seemed to be s hoot out, the Hawks fell in 6 games to the Giants, who would go on to lose in the Western Conference Final to Tri City. Vancouver was led in the post season by Craig Cunningham and Brendan Gallagher. The Hawks were led by the young duo of Ryan Johansen and Nino Nieddereiter. This series was noable in that Vanoucver outsciored Portland 16-10 in just the first 2 games in Portland.

How They Match Up:
-Few teams can match up with the Winterhawks on this front they roll out 5 forwards that nothced 79 or more points in Petan, Bjorkstrand, Leipsic, De Leo and Leier. It is pretty difficult for most teams to slow down the top line of Petan-Leipsic and Bittner, let alone have another shut down d-paring to contend with De Leo-Leier and Bjorkstrand. Then coming along late in the season the thired line of Turgeon-Schoenborn and Iverson give them a checking line that can also pot a few goals when needed. If Adam De Champlain gets healthy, they have a 4th line cneter that plays aggressive and has game breaking speed. 16 year old Ethan Price and 20 year old Adam Rossignol should round out the 4th line with another pair of campable wingers that can also play strong in their own zone.

Vancouver has a top line of Hamilton-Franson and Jackson Houck that is certainly capable of scoring a few timely goals, but has not shown consistency over the season. Their second line should be some combination of 16 year old rookies Ty Ronning and Alec Baer along with Carter Popoff and 20 year old Tim Traber. Dalton Sward gives them a solid 2-way center to set up their 3rd line with most likely some combination of Trent Lofthouse and Dominik Volek (if healthy) and 17 year old Thomas Foster usually lines up as their 4th line center. Health is defintely a major factor for this forward unit as Volek, Lofthouse, Franson and Travis McEvoy are all listed as "day to day" while Jakob Stukel and 15 year old top Bantam Pick Tyler Benson are out for the season. De Champlain is the only Hawk's Forward out at this time.

Edge: Portland and it's not even close.

-Portland definetely had their defensive issues early in the season, but the emergence of Anton Cederholm, Layne Viveiros and Garrett Haar, as reliable puck moving D-men, has really helped them stick to their system of controlling the play and getting more scoring chances than their opponent. Also, those 3 were awful at turning the puck over in their own zone and making life difficult for Goalie Brendan Burke. In the last 2 months, the Hawk's Defense still does this far too often but has definetely improved at recovering and keeping the other tam from having second and third chances. Mat Dumba has also beena  godsend for top D-man Derrick Pouliot, as it gives him someone to share the load with. They have been split up for the most part as Pouliot has spent most of the season with Cederholm and Dumba has split time with Haar and 16 year old Keoni Texeira. Look for them to only be paired together when the Hawk's are clinging to a late and asmall lead. Dumba defintely has not been as physically imposing as he showed earlier in his career with Red Deer, but this is most likely by request of the coaching staff. You can certainly not argue with the results on the offensive end as he has scored 24 points in only 26 games with the Hawks.

Vancouver was led most of the season by their reliable tandem of Kulak and Thrower. The likely absence of Thrower means that Mason Geertsen will likely try to fill this role. Thrower pumped in 39 points in only 42 games, so that point production along with his leadership and strong defensive play is going to assuredly be missed by the Giants. Arvin Atwal and Tyler Morrison are adequate defenders against most teams, but they were victimized consistentnmly against the fast Winterhawks system. They were a combined -10 in those 4 games, with one assist on the offensive end. They will also play many more minutes in the absence of Thrower, something Vancouver fans will not be looking forward to. Top import pick Dmitry Osipov has had trouble transitioning to the North American game this season and will certainly struggle against the Hawks.

Edge: With Thrower healthy it would be a lot closer, but since he is likely out this one also goes to Portland by a large margin.

-The most important pplayer for the Hawks to make a deep playoff run, is Brendan Burke. He has very limited post-season experience but has played lights out lately, despite suffering from an illness that caused him to miss a bunch of games. This illness, along with the arrival of 20 year old backup Corbin Boes, actually means that shoudl be well rested and prepared for the long haul of the playoffs. Burke has not yet faced the Giants, which actually could benefit him, as at the WHL lelevel it takes awhile for some players ot get used to Goalies tendencies.

Payton Lee's numbers against the Hawks are horrendous, but it could certainly be argued that he has not actually played that bad. He made several huge saves in both the latter games, that kept Vancouver in games far longer than they should've been. He has no playoff experience though and will be relied upon to pull a couple wins out of nowhere for the Giants to even hope this is a series. He is backed up by Rathjen, should he be healthy and 15 year old Ryan Kubic, should he not.

Edge: Portland, because of Burke and Boes' play lately.

Special Teams:
-Portland sports the best power play in the WHL with an astounding 27.5 %. Look for this to continue despite their struggle against the Giants on the power play in the regular season. They went only 3 of 20 over 4 games. Their special teams will defientely be key in this series as Vancouver will look to slow down the Hawks with a physical game that is sure to warrant a few penalty calls. Vancouver's penalty kill is 9th in the WHL with 9 short handed goals; 6 of which were scored by top pker Dalton Sward.

-On the other side, Vancouver's PP is actually a solid 24.2 % good enough for 5th in the WHL. Franson is the heart and soul of this unit with 10 PP goals. Portland is 4th in the league with a PK at 81.2% and also sports a couple strong short handed threats with Bjorkstrand and Leier, who both notched 4 apiece. Nic Petan also notched 3 for the Hawks. The giants went 5/25 on the power play against the Hawks in the regular season and will look to continue this sccess, as 5 on 5 they do not have much hope of going goal for goal vs. Portland.

-It is fairly obvious that the Hawks will stick to their usual game plan of getting the puck out of their zone fast, controlling play and setting up quality scoring chances. I have been impressed time and tiem again with how patient some of the Hawk's goal scoreres have been this season and this will be needed more than ever agaisnt a team that blocks a lot of shots and will try to muck up the play. If the Giants are able to take this series to 6 or 7, it will be because they got some Portland players to lose their cool and had far more power play chances, resulting in some timely goals.

I have faith however, that Portland will continue to be patient and control play enough to just get many more chances than the Giants. On the other end, this is not a series that Burke has to be spectacular in, but rather just stop the pucks he is supposed to.

I see this one going to 5 games, due to Vancouver probably stealing one up north of the border.

Prediction: Hawks in 5

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