How does a WHL Western Conference first-round matchup featuring the (26-23-4) Prince George Cougars and the (27-21-5-2) Tri-City Americans sound?
Come the end of next month that is shaping up to be a reality.
As I have pointed out in recent past columns, the Cougars have arguably the easiest schedule in the league down the stretch for their final 15 games.
That time has now arrived.
Prince George plays its next 13 games against teams lower than them in the standings: five against Victoria (9th), four against Vancouver (7th), and two each against Kelowna (8th) and Spokane (10th).
Let me get my calculator out for a moment.
The combined record of the Royals, Giants, Rockets, and Chiefs is 67-128-15-7.
That’s more than 60 games below .500 when adding those four teams’ totals together.
The Cougars are playing their best hockey of the season, winning seven of their last nine.
That includes a five-game win streak (where they outscored Kelowna and Victoria 33-8), a pair of losses, one each to Kamloops and Saskatoon, and back-to-back victories this week over Portland.
At the moment Prince George is 6th in the Western Conference standings, just a point behind 5th place Everett (with a game in hand) and five back of Tri-City (with two games in hand).
It appears Portland is locked in as the #3 seed for the first round, meaning they would play team #6.
The Cougars, based on a weak remaining schedule, should have little difficulty climbing into the #4 or #5 spot.
The Silvertips have 14 games to go, two each against Seattle (1st), Kamloops (2nd), Portland (3rd), and Spokane, plus three each against Vancouver and Victoria.
Everett’s schedule isn’t the most difficult either but they still have eight to play on the road compared to six at home.
Prince George also gets Kamloops twice in a home and home to conclude the regular season, but they don’t have to see Seattle or Portland again as Everett does.
Of the Cougars’ remaining games, they have eight at CN Centre and seven on the road.
The Americans, with 13 games left, (seven on the road and six at home) have arguably the most difficult schedule remaining among the three teams; with five against Spokane, four against Seattle, two against Portland, and one each against Kelowna and Vancouver.
The Thunderbirds, clearly the class of the Western Conference, and riding an 8-game winning streak, host the Americans three times and only play them once in Kennewick, Washington.
Tri-City whipped Everett 6-2 Wednesday in the final regular season meeting between those two teams.
Over the last 10 games, Prince George is 7-3, Everett is 5-3-1-1 (but 0-2-0-1 in its last three) and Tri-City is 3-5-1-1.
In terms of goal differential, the Cougars are +18, the Americans are +10 and the Silvertips are -15.
The Cougars’ goal is to get to the #4 seed so they can have home-ice advantage in the first round and start the playoffs on a Friday and Saturday in their building rather than have home games on a Tuesday and Wednesday should they finish 5th or lower.
It could be suggested that P.G. staying in the #6 spot and getting Portland in the first round would not be a bad consolation prize.
One could make that argument since the Cougars went 3-1 against the Winterhawks in the season series.
Keep in mind though two of those victories came in a shootout something that is not used in the playoffs.
The Winterhawks may be in a current slump (0-4-0-1) but overall, with a 36-14-2-3 record, that is considerably better than the three teams directly below them.
This is a busy time for the Cougars with four games in six days this week and four games (at home) in five days next week.
If P.G. goalie Tyler Brennan continues to play as well in the playoffs as he did this week against the Winterhawks, (allowing one goal in the two wins) the Cougars would be in great shape to win a round for the first time in 16 years – regardless of who they play.
#WHL POR/PG: @PGCougars finally break the ice 24:32 into this contest and don’t look back getting to within 3:06 of a second straight shutout. Tyler Brennan drops GAA to under 3.00 after blocking 34 of 35. 10-2-0-0 when allowing 2 goals or fewer, 1.51 GAA & .942 SV%
— Geoffrey Brandow (@GeoffreyBrandow) February 22, 2023
It is the home stretch with just over four weeks to go.
Trying to guess what will happen in the “schedule” game is not always as predictable as it may appear, but logic tells me the Cougars move past the Silvertips setting up a first-round date against the Americans in the most important time of the year.
Cat Scan podcast:
The @PGCougars are in the homestretch. In this week’s Cat Scan #podcast, associate coach Josh Dixon talks about: reasons for team improvement, Jim Playfair’s impact, superb goaltending from Tyler Brennan, upcoming favourable schedule & the 3 possible first round U.S. opponents. https://t.co/LEktJxiu4V
— Hartley Miller (@Hartley_Miller) February 24, 2023
Bedard’s six-pointer turns to five . . . Chiefs’ group shrugs off WHL rumours . . . Huskies halt Dinos’ 23-game streak https://t.co/7W6X8yHLN4
— Gregg Drinnan (@gdrinnan) February 24, 2023
FROM THE QUOTE RACK:
A recent film told of a group of 80-year-old ladies following a much younger QB and was named ’80 For Brady’. A sequel is being discussed in which, again, a group of older women follows a much younger QB—-in San Francisco, this one’s called ’30 for Purdy.’
*Contributor Bill Littlejohn of South Lake Tahoe, California
Nothing against Jayson Tatum, who is an incredible talent. But is there a more meaningless award than the NBA All-Star game MVP? One thing about NBA All-Star games – nobody plays defense. Which increasingly makes it like many NBA regular season games.
*Comedy writer Janice Hough of Palo Alto, California www.leftcoastsportsbabe.com
Reuters reports U.S. scientists have designed an “invisibility cloak” and have had success making things disappear. Who have they been testing it on recently, the Vancouver Canucks?
*Western Canadian comedy writer RJ Currie www.Sportsdeke.com
Hartley Miller is the news and sports director/supervisor plus morning news anchor for 94.3 the GOAT and Country 97fm. He is in his 10th season as the radio colour commentator for Prince George Cougars’ home games. Hartley has been on the airwaves in PG since 1979 and is the author of You Don’t Say (sports quotes).