It all starts today with the ECHL’s Kelly Cup playoffs, as the Central Division kicks off the Western Conference side of things. As two of the newer teams are going to drop the puck tonight; it seems like the easy place to start for a playoff preview, with the Eastern Conference coming tomorrow.
(1C) Allen Americans vs. (4C) Tulsa Oilers
As they have the goalie with the most wins in the league (Riley Gill), the forward with the most goals in the league (Gary Steffes), the forward with the most points in the league (Chad Costello), and the top goal-scoring team in the entire league; the Allen Americans are going to be a hard out in these playoffs, especially in the Central Division play-downs. Especially to have someone like Gill, who has won a Kelly Cup two years ago in Reading; the Americans are primed to really take the playoffs by storm.
Yet, Tulsa has been able to play the Americans pretty close in their 17 match-ups, winning five games, losing two in extra time, and also playing several one and two-goal games. The Oilers are bring 40-goal scorer Adam Pleskach, 50-plus assist-man Drew Fisher, and solid rookie Jeff Jubinville to the fold and will give quite a task to the Americans’ defense. Thanks to Kevin Carr in net, the Oilers had their highest win total in team history since 2002-03.
That all said, with Chad Costello having himself an amazing year and putting up 15 goals and 31 points in the 17 games against Tulsa, it could be just a question of how many games the Americans will win this.
(2C) Rapid City Rush vs. (3C) Quad City Mallards
There might be no hotter team in the ECHL as the Rapid City Rush. The second half of the season, the Rush went 23-8-5 after the midway point of the season. Outside of the Jesse Schultz and Cody Ferriero up-front, one of the guys who played well against Quad City was Daniel Barczuk who had six goals and 10 points in the 13 match-ups the two had. With Mathieu Brisebois on the back-end contributing on the power play, the Rush are solid for scoring. One main questions is what can Danny Bottochio do in net, as he was only 5-3-3 in his appearances against the Mallards., but had a GAA under 2.00.
One thing for the Mallards is that they have two solid options in net with Parker Milner and Evan Mosher, which could be the determining factor for the Mallards when all is said and done. Yet, there’s a nice well-rounded aspect to the Mallards game, as they have gotten solid play from Mario Lamoureux, Justin Fox, and rookie Joe Perry, along with special teams’ help from Kevin Baker and defenseman Matt Duffy— the Mallards could very well will their way to win this series.
In a tight series like the Mallards and Rush have played this season; it’ll come down to how teams do in extra time, where the Mallards took three of the four extra time games. With their goaltending solidified with Milner back, the Mallards may have the edge– even with the Rush being the hottest team in the season half of the season.
(1P) Idaho Steelheads vs. (4P) Utah Grizzlies
When it comes to output, the Steelheads got plenty out of Wade MacLeod; who not only lead the team in scoring and ended up second in the league; but he also took control during the series against the Grizzlies with nine goals and 19 points this year against Utah. With the addition of Jason Bast off the IR for the playoffs, the offense should be solid for the Steelheads; who will also get plenty out of goaltender Olivier Roy and blueliner Gaelan Petterson in terms of keeping the Grizzlies off the scoresheet.
If anything, the Utah Grizzlies will rely on tight-checking and defensive play, as only the Wheeling Nailers and Quad City Mallards have less goals for the season than the Grizzlies had (213). The acquisition of Jacob Johnston early in the year helped the blue-line throughout the season, especially when through 13 defensemen in the season, many of whom are on the younger side of the age scale. It will be a test on Alex Krushelnyski and Michael Pelech if the Steelheads are able to neutralize leading scorer Mathieu Aubin.
Neither Roy nor Utah’s Igor Bobkov saw much time in net during the head-to-head match-ups, nor did they fare all that well when they got the chance. But with Roy back at full strength and the top offensive players for Idaho coming back; the Grizzles may be in an uphill battle to win this series.
(2P) Ontario Reign vs. (3P) Colorado Eagles
Though they haven’t faced the Eagles since February, the Reign have been quite solid since then– especially with Jussi Olkinuora playing solid down the stretch for Ontario. With the pick-up of Garry Nunn, the offense has been a little more explosive, as Nunn put up 21 points in his 15 games for Ontario. With Judd Blackwater and Matt White riding alongside, the offensive side is covered; even getting contributions from the blue-line from Matt Register and with forward Maxim Kitsyn— who had eight goals against the Eagles this year.
With the rotating net for the Eagles, it seems that Clarke Saunders has been able to overtake the crease from Doug Carr; especially when it comes to the Reign where he went 7-2-0; though he had an inflated 2.49 GAA. The one good thing for the Eagles is their spread out scoring with set-up man Trent Daavettila dishing to Brock Nixon and Taylor Vause; with Collin Bowman having the touch on the power play from the blue-line. There is also a lot of grit on the Eagles with both Darryl Bootland and Teigan Zahn putting up more than 200 PIMs this year on the 4th most penalized team in the ECHL.
If Saunders can stay healthy and hot against the Reign, the Eagles will only need to put up points in order to get past the Reign. That said, the Reign will be playing for pride, as it is their last season in the ECHL and they would want to go out with a bang before they move to the AHL.