The opening round of the 2017 playoffs is complete after a couple of thrilling game 7 victories by London and Kingston. Round two kicks off tonight in the Soo, with the rest of the series' starting Thursday and Friday. I went 7-1 with my round one predictions (only getting the Kingston/Hamilton series incorrect). Letś take a closer rook at the Conference semi final match-ups.
1. Peterborough Petes vs. 4. Kingston Frontenacs
Season Series: 6-2, Peterborough
Analysis: An interesting matchup between two very solid defensive teams who have consistently received great goaltending all year. Both Wells and Helvig were solid again in round one and will need to continue to be solid for their teams to come out on top here. Both teams also have hard working forward groups who bring energy at both ends of the ice. The defensive commitment of Kingston´s forwards was ultimately one of the difference makers in their win over Hamilton IMO. At the end of the day, I think it comes down to depth. Peterborough plays a solid defensive game, but also rolls three lines that can score. Hamilton could have said the same thing, but ultimately their lack of size and experience cost them against a bigger Kingston blueline. Peterborough´s forwards have an advantage in that area and I think they will be able to shut down the Frontenacs´ top line better than Hamilton did. Another interesting stat that is worth mentioning is that this is a battle between the two most disciplined teams in the Conference. Whatever team can try to get a physical edge without taking penalties will get an advantage. When all is said and done, I like Peterborough´s depth and experience here over a Kingston team that has overachieved this year given what they have to work with (major props to one of the best coaches in the league, Paul McFarland).
Prediction: Peterborough in 6
2. Mississauga Steelheads vs. 3. Oshawa Generals
Season Series: 4-0, Oshawa
Analysis: Season series was heavily slanted in Oshawa´s favour, but this is deceiving. Majority of those games were played before the deadline and before the Steelheads were healthy, with no games coming in February or March. These two teams are drastically different compared to when they last saw each other. Oshawa is a scrappy team and that makes them dangerous in a playoff setting. They have a balanced attack and more depth than they are given credit for. Mississauga´s victory over Ottawa wasn´t as easy as it should have been, given Mississauga´s firepower and Ottawa´s lack of experience on the backend. They will need to seriously step up their game if they want to beat a more experienced Oshawa team. One thing that I think Mississauga has going for them is their advantage on the powerplay. Both teams had serious issues staying out of the box in round one. The difference being that Mississauga´s powerplay is much more lethal and will be able to capitalize on those chances more than Sudbury did. Overall, I think Mississauga´s offensive talents will overcome some defensive lapses and propel them to the Conference finals. Something to watch is what happens in Mississauga´s crease. Matt Mancina should be returning and he likely replaces Jake Ingham who has been solid as an OHL rookie so far in the playoffs.
Prediction: Mississauga in 6
1. Erie Otters vs. 4. London Knights
Season Series: 4-2, Erie
Analysis: If the two second round series' in the West are as good as the London/Windsor matchup was, we are in for a real treat. London comes in fresh and hot after a comeback victory over the Spitfires. The team finally seems to be gelling and with Tyler Parsons in net, you can never count this team out. What an even matchup. Defensively and in net, I think the edge needs to be given to London. Where as Erie has more "star power" up front. However, here's why I think Erie takes this one. Firstly, London has had problems staying out of the box all season long and it continued in the first round. Erie's powerplay is absolutely lethal and they just can't give them those additional chances. Secondly, Erie's dominance in the season series was no fluke IMO. This Otters team matches up extremely well against London and in a league where you're often as good as your best player, Erie has the advantage. Lastly, I think Erie just has a swagger about them right now; an extra fire. This group knows that this is their last chance at an OHL championship after going through so much together the last few years. Those ups and downs, in addition to the players they brought in (Cirelli, Foegele), gives them a competitive edge IMO.
Prediction: Erie in 6
2. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds vs. 3. Owen Sound Attack
Season Series: 2-0, Owen Sound
Analysis: While the Erie and London series is going to receive all the media attention, I'm just as eager to watch this one play out. The Attack absolutely dominated the season series, but the small sample size makes that not worth talking about. Up front, these teams are built very differently. The Soo rolls three lines pretty equally and relies on a balanced attack, where as Owen Sound leans heavily on their powerhouse first line of Gadjovich/Hancock/Suzuki, (although Petrus Palmu's 2nd line came up huge in the first round series against Kitchener). On defense, these teams match up pretty equally. So what's going to tip the scale in favor of one particular club? I've got Owen Sound winning and here's why. 1) Goaltending. Michael McNiven has been fantastic all year long and he gives the Attack a clear advantage over the Soo in that department. SSM has flip flopped all year long in the crease between Raaymakers and Villalta (and that continued in round one), and I'm just not as confident in either stealing games the way that McNiven can. 2) Owen Sound's powerplay has been sensational all season long (best in the league) and that hasn't stopped in the playoffs. Meanwhile, SSM's powerplay has been relatively average all year long. The difference between the two could be that extra goal a game. I take the Attack to keep rolling.
Prediction: Owen Sound in 6