With a week’s gap between games, there’s lots of time to dig around for interesting storylines and such. Or I could knock this shit out with half an hour to spare before the Battle of AHLberta tonight, for the purposes of cross-promotion. Wonder which one I’ll go with?
(1) Edmonton vs. (3) Calgary
Playoff History: The only other time these two teams have met was in 2009, when the Hitmen were the juggernaut and Edmonton was just happy to be there after the requisite two years of expansion awfulness. Slightly different series this time.
How We Got Here: Calgary eliminated the Red Deer Rebels in five games, in a series that was both more and less competitive than the Swift Current series: Red Deer got a couple of very strong games in, more so than Swift did, yet when the elimination game came, Calgary put the boots to ‘em worse than they have any other game this playoff. Edmonton has steamrolled the competition thus far, losing just one of nine games combined against Kootenay and Medicine Hat thus far, outscoring the opposition 44-9. That’s an average score of 5-1. Jeepers.
Season Series: Calgary took four of the six meetings, though as with the Red Deer series, there was very little from the second half to work with; in fact, these two teams have met since before Christmas. Two of Calgary’s wins were in OT/SO, with each team claiming one clear victory (2+ non-ENG) and one close regulation victory (1 non-ENG). Four of the games were very even on the shot clock, with Edmonton only pulling away in two of them. Edmonton had 30+ shots in all six games; Calgary had 30+ in four, along with games of 25 and 16 (?!). The series was generally not a goaltending duel, with Driedger posting a 3.10/.906 to Brossoit’s 3.26/.885. Conclusion: a lot closer than has generally been suggested thus far.
Statistical Breakdowns: Not yet posted. A quick rundown: Driedger (2.51/.915 RS; 1.73/.946 PO) vs. Brossoit (2.25/.917 RS; 0.97/.963 PO); power play (CGY: 19.9% RS, 15.0% PO; EDM: 28.6% RS, 27.0% PO); penalty kill (CGY: 81.5%, 80.5% PO; EDM: 87.5%, 95.7% PO).
Bonus Fact: This is the first series the Hitmen have started on the road since the 2007 playoffs, when they started all three series (KTN, BDN, MH) on the road.
Doogie Says: When this series was hinted at in the preseason, I kind of didn’t believe it, but sure enough, there we were winning the season series, and there we were keeping pace with the Oil Kings. At least until Christmas, when we fell off and they kept on keeping on, but I digress. So when everyone at Buzzing the Net is all, “Edmonton in four,” I have a really hard time accepting that. Don’t get me wrong: this is a very strong team and one that the Hitmen are going to need everything they’ve got to maybe have a chance of beating. Their offence stacks up nicely against Calgary’s, and their defence was stingy as all get out, allowing just 26.5 shots per 60 during the regular season. The Oil Kings also have a deeper defence, with no weaknesses like Calgary’s “rotating kid spot” at #6. Additionally, for the third consecutive series, Calgary’s facing superior goaltending, though thanks to his early-season struggles, Laurent Brossoit finished with an effectively equal SV% to Driedger, which is almost a relief after facing Eetu Laurikainen (.922 RS) and Patrik Bartosak (.935 RS). Indeed, in that regard, it’s difficult to be impressed by Edmonton’s scoring exploits when they’ve faced much weaker competition, both on a team level (7/8 seeds) and on a goaltending level (both Skapski of Kootenay and Lanigan of Medicine Hat were .910 this seaosn). And this is where the Pavlo Padakin injury really hurts: in a series where offence will likely rule and the opponent is deeper than you, you need everyone healthy and contributing. Losing a quality penalty killer, goalie agitator, and 20-goal scorer is not the way forward.
So when it comes down to it, how is this series actually going to pan out? I think it’s going to be wickedly entertaining, turning into a track meet at times, the goaltending is going to be evenly-matched (and thus a potential difference-maker), but I think Edmonton has just that little bit extra to overcome the Hitmen. They’ll have to work for it, but I think it’s Oil Kings in six, setting up a rematch of last year’s Edmonton-Portland final.
Oh, yeah, almost forgot. I have a Twitter bet with one or both of @ryan_batty and @Hbomb1982 (I’m not quite sure). Loser wears the winning team’s logo and “Let’s Go [Team]” display name until the winning team is eliminated. That could suck if the Oil Kings make the Memorial Cup. So Let’s Go Hitmen! Let’s see an upset!