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Playoffs / Semi-Finals

By Derek Holtom

Full semi-final playoff schedule below

There will be a new Manitoba Junior Hockey League champion crowned in 2018.

The three-time defending champion Portage Terriers bowed out in six games in a hard-fought series against the Winnipeg Blues, and making for some intriguing matchups in the second round.

Here then is a look ahead to the MJHL semifinal series, and how each team stacks up, though keep in mind this column was written prior to the start of each series.

No. 6 Winnipeg Blues vs. No. 1 Steinbach Pistons

The Steinbach Pistons swept away the Swan Valley Stampeders in the opening round of the playoffs, and their reward is to face a team perhaps as hot as they are – the Winnipeg Blues.

Winnipeg went a scorching 8-2-1 down the stretch, and carried that over into their series against the Portage Terriers, where they advanced after six games. Three of the six games went into overtime, with the Blues winning the decisive Game 6, 3-2 in extra time.

The Pistons have been all business in these playoffs, only allowing one goal against in their first three games against the Swan Valley Stampeders before rallying from a two-goal deficit to clinch the series in overtime in Game 4.

The Blues won a bit of a shootout against the Terriers, scoring 22 goals in six games. They were led offensively by the trio of Brady Castellano (10 points), Dexter Kuczek (nine points), and Devon Skoleski (eight points). As well, Levi Cudmore tied with Castellano and Skoleski with four goals each.

The Pistons, meanwhile, relied on scoring by committee – an incredible 13 players scored at least one goal in their four-game sweep over the Stampeders. Their leading scorer was actually defenseman Mark Taraschuk who chipped in two goals and six assists. Tanner Mole and Austin Heidemann each had three goals to lead that category for the Pistons. Mole only had seven goals in the regular season, proving the Pistons have plenty of scoring depth they can rely on.

In goal, the Pistons started both Matthew Radomsky and Matthew Thiessen in the opening round. You have to think the Pistons will go with Thiessen against the Blues – he has two shutouts in two playoffs starts this year. The Blues will counter with Jeremy Link, who played all six games for the Blues, posting a 2.72 GAA and a .918 save percentage.

For special teams, the Blues enter the second round with the second-best power play at 24 per cent, while the Pistons sit tied for fifth at 14.3 per cent. Steinbach, though, has a perfect penalty kill thus far to sit atop that category, while the Blues are sitting fifth at 80 per cent.

No. 5 Winkler Flyers vs. No. 2 Virden Oil Capitals

The other semifinal matchup pits the Winkler Flyers, who edged out the OCN Blizzard in six games, and the Virden Oil Capitals, who took out the Selkirk Steelers in five.

Winkler and OCN went into overtime four out of the six games, proof that the fourth and fifth seeds were extremely well matched against one another. The Flyers advanced with a wild 7-6 overtime winner in Game 6 on home ice.

The Oil Capitals, meanwhile, are the only team to advance who have not played an overtime game. Selkirk and Virden split the first two games of their best-of-seven series, before the Oil Capitals won three straight to advance. They also had little drama in their clinching game, unlike the other three teams who required overtime to win their series, beating the Steelers 5-1 in a convincing home-ice win.

The Flyers and Oil Capitals have plenty of recent playoff experience against one another, and this series looks to be another classic installment in their rivalry.  Last season the Flyers took down the Oil Capitals in six games in the opening round, while in 2015 it was the Oil Capitals besting the Flyers in six games in the second round.

Winkler enters this series with the playoff point’s leader in defenseman Mitchell Dyck, who had a goal and 11 helpers to aid the Flyers in their win over the Blizzard. Brett Opperman led the team in goals with six, and he and Weiland Parrish tied for second in team scoring with seven points.

Virden, one of the most potent scoring teams in the regular season, spread their scoring around against Selkirk. Leading the way with six points (including five goals) was Ben Dalke, followed by Dylan Thiessen with four points. Heading up a group of six players with four points in five games to tie for third in team scoring was Kyle Salaway who had four goals.

In goal, Virden’s Riley McVeigh is second in playoff GAA with a 2.20 GAA, along with a .921 save percentage and one shutout. Winkler counters with Troy Martyniuk, who posted the second best save percentage at .927, while also throwing up a solid GAA of 2.73.

The Oil Capitals enter the second round with the hottest playoff power play at 31.3 per cent. Winkler’s power play unit is also solid, sitting third at 22.2 per cent. Virden also sports the second best penalty kill unit at 89.5 per cent, while Winkler is third at 85.7 per cent.

Both series feature four teams playing their absolute best hockey of the year, which should make for two outstanding series to watch.

SERIES E –  WINNIPEG BLUES vs STEINBACH PISTONS

Mar 23

Winnipeg Blues

at

Steinbach Pistons

7:30 pm

Mar 25

Steinbach Pistons

at

Winnipeg Blues

6:30 pm

Mar 27

Winnipeg Blues

at

Steinbach Pistons

7:30 pm

Mar 29

Steinbach Pistons

at

Winnipeg Blues

7:00 pm

Mar 31

Winnipeg Blues

at

Steinbach Pistons (if necess)

7:30 pm

April 1

Steinbach Pistons

at

Winnipeg Blues (if necess)

6:30 pm

April 3

Winnipeg Blues

at

Steinbach Pistons (if necess)

7:30 pm

 

 

SERIES F – WINKLER FLYERS vs VIRDEN OIL CAPITALS

Mar 23

Winkler Flyers

at

Virden Oil Capitals

7:30 pm

Mar 25

Virden Oil Capitals

at

Winkler Flyers

7:30 pm

Mar 27

Winkler Flyers

at

Virden Oil Capitals

7:30 pm

Mar 29

Virden Oil Capitals

at

Winkler Flyers

7:30 pm

Mar 31

Winkler Flyers

at

Virden Oil Capitals (if necess)

7:30 pm

April 2

Virden Oil Capitals

at

Winkler Flyers (if necess)                      

7:30 pm

April 4

Winkler Flyers

at

Virden Oil Capitals (if necess)

7:30 pm