April 06, 2011
The Western Hockey League's second round of the playoffs starts on Thursday. With all the top seeds coming out of the first round without upset, the second round looks like it could be full of surprises.
In the Eastern Conference, With the Blades landing Brayden Schenn and the Ice trading for Cody Eakin, both teams bolstered their chances to advance. Despite the Blades sweeping the season series, it's expected their second round matchup will be a lot closer.
After sweeping the Edmonton Oil Kings, the Red Deer Rebels will face a much tougher opponent in the Medicine Hat Tigers. This series looks to be evenly matched with both teams having rosters full of high calibre players.
(1) Saskatoon (56-13-1-2, 115 points) vs. (4) Kootenay (46-21-1-4, 97 points)
Season series: Saskatoon 4-0-0-0
Why Saskatoon should win: The Blades are expected to continue their success against the Ice in this series. Goals shouldn't be problem, with both Curtis Hamilton and Schenn each putting up 10 points in the first round.The Blades should be able to wear down the Ice with their physical style, considering they're full of hard nosed players like Duncan Siemens, Teigan Zahn and Darian Dziurzynski. The Blades will also have a strong advantage in the Credit Union Centre, where they've maintained a 35-3-0-1 record at home this year.
How kootenay could win: The Ice will need their top guns constantly firing to be able to keep up with the top-ranked Blades. They'll be counting on Cody Eakin to step up, after only managing two assists in four regular season games against the Blades this season. On the blueline, the Ice will need 2011 WHL all-star Brayden McNabb to be a vital player at both ends of the rink. After having some shaky performances in the first round, 6-foot-5 goaltender Nathan Lieuwen is going to have to outperform Steven Stanford.
(2) Red Deer (48-16-4-4, 104 pts) vs. (3) Medicine Hat (46-18-4-4, 100 pts)
Season series: Medicine Hat 4-1-1-0
Why Red Deer should win: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, 17, and company will have to match the Tigers offensive output. The Rebels have the upper-hand on the defensive side of the game. Their blueline is full of high calibre players like Florida Panthers second round pick Alex Petrovic and 16-year-old Mathew Dumba. After maintaining an impressive 1.50 goals against average and .948 save percentage in the first round, goaltender Darcy Kuemper has the power to single handily win this series.
How Medicine Hat could win: Medicine Hat's offensive prowess has shined after scoring 16 goals in their last two playoff games. After leading the regular season scoring with 116 points, Linden Vey continued finding the net scoring five goals and 12 points in the first round. Besides Vey, the Tigers will be looking for key performances by Anaheim Duck first round pick Emerson Etem and Edmonton Oilers second round pick Tyler Pitlick.The bottom line is goaltender Tyler Bunz is not only going to have to be on the top of his game, but he'll have to match Darcy Kuemper save for save.
Kelly Friesen is a Western Hockey League correspondent for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on twitter @KellyFriesen