Can Chiefs tame 'Canes playoff run?
Cory Wolfe, The StarPhoenix
Published: Friday, May 02, 2008
Like the Calgary Hitmen, this scribbler laid a giant egg during Round 3 of the Western Hockey League playoffs.
I went a dismal 0-for-2 in my semifinal forecast.
The Lethbridge Hurricanes not only swept the Hitmen, they outscored them 19-7. Meanwhile, the Spokane Chiefs outlasted the Tri-City Americans in a Western Conference showdown that went the full seven games.
Heading into the best-of-seven championship series -- which opens tonight at Spokane Arena -- the Hurricanes should be favoured. They're well-rested and they're rolling. Lethbridge's exploits need no more exclamation marks, but consider that the 'Canes hauled a giant flu bug around during their destruction of Calgary.
Yup, Lethbridge rides an eight-game winning streak into the final. I am, however, picking Spokane.
The Hurricanes had few offensive equals during the regular season, and they're in a class by themselves this spring. Spokane, though, is better in two key categories: Defensive play and goaltending.
No playoff team has been stingier than the Chiefs, who held Tri-City's top-ranked offence to 10 goals in seven games (five of which went to at least one overtime period). In the rare instance of a defensive gaffe, Spokane goaltender Dustin Tokarski has been near impenetrable. The Watson product boasts a 12-5 playoff record with a 1.41 goals-against average and a .945 save percentage.
Through these playoffs, Lethbridge has not faced such a wall.
The Hurricanes' first two victims, Brandon and Kootenay, weren't exactly defensive slouches but they were better known for their firepower. In the end, neither could trade goals with Lethbridge. The Hitmen believed they had the defensive horses to slow the Hurricanes' high-octane offence, but leaky goaltending was Calgary's undoing.
Lethbridge won't get any gimmes against Spokane. The Chiefs' masked men have been rock-solid since September. And, in the unlikely event that Tokarski's game goes south, the Chiefs have Kevin Armstrong (20-5-1-3, 2.17 GAA, .915) in their bullpen.
Spokane should not be misrepresented as the second coming of the 1990s New Jersey Devils. In addition to being defensively strong, the Chiefs have their share of slick stickhandlers. Drayson Bowman and Judd Blackwater combined for 73 goals during the regular season and they have eight apiece during the playoffs. Czech winger Ondrej Roman has also stepped up his production with seven goals in 17 playoff games after tallying just 15 goals during the 72-game regular season.
Still, the Chiefs won't want to play run-and-gun with the Hurricanes' Zach Boychuk and Friends. Lethbridge won the lone regular-season showdown 2-1, and scores that conservative would certainly favour Spokane over the long run.
There's no doubting that Lethbridge has more flash, but Spokane has a better all-around team -- and that has to be worth something.
Prediction: Chiefs in 7.
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WHL PLAYOFF PREDICTIONS
Wolfe's overall record: 10-4
Round 3 record: 0-2
The match-up: The Lethbridge Hurricanes return to the WHL final for the first time since 1997 when they swept Patrick Marleau and the Seattle Thunderbirds. The Spokane Chiefs last played for the championship in 2000, but lost to the Kootenay Ice in six games.
© The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) 2008