Only two of the eight WHL first-round playoff series hold any intrigue and/or drama.
One in the West and one in the East.
The Prince George Cougars’ battle against the Tri-City Americans is going as one would expect from a 4-vs.-5 matchup.
It is even 2-2 and down to a best-of-three that will conclude at CN Centre either Sunday night in Game 6 or Tuesday night should a 7th and deciding game be needed.
The fifth game goes tonight (Friday) in Kennewick in this 2-3-2 format which may not be as controversial now that the Cougars, the higher seed, are guaranteed three home games.
The Regina Pats-Saskatoon Blades Eastern Conference quarterfinal (tied 2-2) has been a roller coaster for both teams with the last three games decided in overtime and the road team winning each of the four games.
Realistically, the sixth-seeded Pats are only on even terms with the third-seeded Blades because of the Connor Bedard magic.
As hard as it may be to believe Bedard might even be playing at a higher level now than in the regular season especially considering the level of competition he is facing.
All one needs to know is of the Regina 18 goals in four playoff games, the 17-year-old Bedard has had a hand in 13 of them with a whopping eight goals to go along with five assists.
That’s more than three points per game.
Now for the Cougars and the Americans.
There is nothing like desperation to bring out the best in Prince George.
The Cougars’ biggest goal of the series was by far Jaxsen Wiebe’s tally at 4:52 of overtime in Game 2 to square the Western quarterfinal 1-1.
Tri-City won the opener 6-4 in a game P.G. fans want to forget since they thought Wiebe had tallied with 58 seconds left in the third period to tie the game at 5-5 but after a lengthy review that goal was disallowed because the Americans net was off its support.
Shortly after Tri-City put one into an empty net.
To be honest, that opener feels like a distant memory.
P.G. was rewarded in Game 2, after outshooting Tri-City 38-18.
The Americans held serve winning on home ice in Game 3 by a 4-2 score (again an empty netter sealed the Cats’ fate).
The pressure was on for the Cougars to rebound in Game 4 and they did decisively with a 6-2 statement victory.
The Cougars have scored 14 goals, getting virtually nothing from their power play (1-for-13) that was ranked #2 in the league during the regular season.
The only PG goal with the man advantage meant zero as it came with less than a second remaining on Wednesday.
If the Cougars’ power play ever wakes up, the Cats will be in an excellent position to advance.
On the other hand, if the Americans can start to capitalize on their power play (1-for-14) they will be in the driver’s seat to move on.
The Ty Young factor has come into play.
The Cougars’ backup goalie got his chance once starter Tyler Brennan suffered an injury Tuesday in Game 3.
The 18-year-old Young has been solid with a .919 save % and a 2.21 GAA in two appearances.
Could we be seeing a repeat of what Young did as a 17-year-old?
With Brennan injured, Young played the last six games of the 2021-22 regular season and was at his best propelling the Cougars to a playoff spot.
As usual, goaltending and special teams will be the two key factors in determining a PG/TC winner.
Tomas Suchanek was sensational in the first three games but the Americans netminder from Czechia tailed off in the 6-2 game leaving his save percentage at .904 with a 3.43 GAA for the series.
If you are curious how lopsided those other six first-round WHL series have been, here are the stats as proof.
In the West, Seattle swept Kelowna 4-0, outscoring the Rockets 14-4, Kamloops swept Vancouver 4-0, outscoring the Giants 24-5 and Portland leads Everett 3-0, outscoring the Silvertips 14-4 with Game 4 tonight in Everett.
In the East, Winnipeg swept Medicine Hat 4-0, outscoring the Tigers 20-9, Moose Jaw surprisingly swept Lethbridge 4-0 outscoring the Hurricanes 18-6 and Red Deer leads Calgary 3-1, outscoring the Hitmen 14-5 with Game 5 in Red Deer this evening.
The Warriors and Hurricanes actually went to double overtime in their first game before Moose Jaw crushed Lethbridge from that point on.
With the assumption that Portland will eliminate Everett, we know the Cougars-Americans winner will be a big underdog against the Seattle Thunderbirds in the second round, which is expected to begin the April 14th weekend in Kent, Washington.
With Cougars fever in the Prince George air, they sit two wins away from advancing past the opening round for the first time in 16 years.
If that should happen, then the Cougars and their supporters can start bringing up history from 2007 when they upset and beat the top seed in the second round to qualify for the Western Conference.
Sure, dream big and think big but eliminating the Americans will remain a difficult task.
With a full or near full CN Centre, that energy in the building should be a boost for the Cougars in their quest to make this playoff run memorable.
WHL playoff schedule and results for Prince George and Tri-City
Apr. 1 Prince George 2 Tri-City 1 (OT) (The box score is here)
Apr. 4 Tri-City 4 Prince George 2 (The box score is here)
Apr. 5 Prince George 6 Tri-City 2 (The box score is here)
Apr. 7 Prince George at Tri-City 7:05 pm PDT
Apr. 9 Tri-City at Prince George 6:00 pm PDT
Apr. 11 Tri-City at Prince George 7:00 pm PDT (if needed)
Cat Scan podcast:
In this week’s Cat Scan #podcast, @PGCougars goalie coach & Dir of Business Taylor Dakers discusses: Cougars increased attendance, the success of 6pm Sat home games, 1st round 2-3-2 format, 15 1/2 hour trip to Kennewick, what fans are telling him & what he has learned on the job. https://t.co/8C0mWbQ8Ix
— Hartley Miller (@Hartley_Miller) April 4, 2023
Habscheid leaves Pioneers, next steps “uncertain” . . . Ex-WHLer Stanley replaces him . . . Blazers complete sweep of Giants https://t.co/aWZtnkF9iq
— Gregg Drinnan (@gdrinnan) April 7, 2023
FROM THE QUOTE RACK:
Former PG resident Gerry Peckham is being inducted this year into the Canadian Curling Hall of Fame. When asked how he felt about the honor, Peckham said he was “swept away.”
*Contributor Marc Ragovin of New York
A wild rumour surfaced linking Tom Brady with Reese Witherspoon. After what happened with Giselle, you can be sure that with Reese, Tom will have to Walk the Line.
*Contributor Bill Littlejohn of South Lake Tahoe, California
Ohio residents recently voted not to legalize marijuana. Not to worry Cleveland Browns fans: you’ve still got liquor.
*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).