Here is the preview of the Western Hockey League's Western Conference finals, a best-of-7 series featuring the Tri-City Americans vs. the Vancouver Giants:
THIS SEASON: The Americans finished atop the U.S. Division and the Western Conference with a 47-22-1-2 record and 97 points. They beat Chilliwack 4-2 in the first round, and Kelowna 4-1 in the second round. ... The Giants won their fifth straight B.C. Division title with a 41-25-3-3 record and 88 points. The swept Kamloops in the first round of the playoffs and beat Portland 4-2 in the second round. This is the first time Tri-City and Vancouver have faced each other in the playoffs.
COACHES: This is David vs. Goliath. Tri-City's Jim Hiller had never been past the first round -- now he's led the Americans past Chilliwack and Kelowna to land in the conference finals, where he will match wits with the master. Vancouver's Don Hay has been around the block a few times. He's coached in the NHL and the AHL. In the WHL, he's coached Kamloops (1994, 1995) and Vancouver (2007) to Memorial Cup titles. Hay is the fourth-winningest coach in the WHL with 486 victories in 12 seasons and has 99 playoff victories, two shy of legendary Portland coach Ken Hodge (101). This series will come down to the littlest of details. Advantage: Giants
SPECIAL TEAMS: The Americans cruised along at 28 percent during the regular season, finishing second behind Calgary (29 percent). In the playoffs, Tri-City has dropped to 24.1 percent and rank eighth, but last among the four teams left in the playoffs. On the penalty kill, the Americans rank sixth in the playoffs at 79.5 percent, but during their series with Kelowna, allowed just 2 goals on 19 Rockets power plays. ... Vancouver's power play is at 27.8 percent, connecting on two more power-play goals than Tri-City on the same amount of opportunities. The Giants finished third during the regular season at 26.4 percent. Vancouver's penalty kill has not been so lethal at 68.2 percent. The Giants have given up 14 power-play goals. Advantage: Even
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OFFENSE: The Americans have scored 40 goals in 11 games, 10 fewer than the Giants. Sergei Drozd leads Tri-City with seven goals, while Brendan Shinnimin and Brooks Macek each have 13 points. ... Vancouver's Craig Cunningham leads all scorers in the playoffs with 19 points -- one more than teammate Brendan Gallagher. Cunningham also leads the playoffs with 11 goals, and he and Gallagher have scored 20 of the Giants 50 postseason goals. Of the top 10 scorers in the playoffs, four play for Vancouver. Advantage: Giants
DEFENSE: The Americans have allowed just 27 goals in 11 playoff games -- the least of any of the four teams left playing. Led by Jarrett Toll, Tri-City is known for blocking shots out front and keeps penalties to a minimum. ... Vancouver has allowed 36 goals in 10 games. The Giants' hard-checking demeanor has led to 184 penalty minutes. Advantage: Americans
GOALTENDING: Drew Owsley has been one of the top goalies in the WHL this season. He finished the regular season 33-11-1-1, sharing the net the second half of the season with Alex Pechurskiy. In the playoffs, Owsley has been outstanding, posting an 8-2-1 record with a 2.23 goals against average (second among playoff goaltenders) and a .930 save percentage (first). In his last three games against Kelowna, Owsley was 3-0-0, stopping 100 of 105 shots for a 1.623 GAA and a .952 save percentage. If the Giants have an Achilles heel, this is it. Mark Segal has played all 10 games for Vancouver, posting an 8-2-0 record with a 3.59 GAA and an .891 save percentage. He's allowed 12 more goals -- on 44 fewer shots -- than Owsley in the playoffs. Advantage: Americans
PREDICTION: It will be another hard-hitting series, but the Americans have grown accustomed to the style of play the last two series. Tri-City needs to limit Vancouver's chances, use its speed to create odd-man rushes and use its depth up front to score goals. Good goaltending is key for the Giants, who are giving up 3.6 goals per game. Vancouver, which has a potent offense, needs to shore up its penalty kill or stay out of the penalty box. Tri-City in 6.