Round #3, Game #3: Brandon Wheat Kings vs. Calgary Hitmen

The Brandon Wheat Kings routed the Calgary Hitmen 8-2 on Friday in Game 5 to win their Eastern Conference final series. (Tim Smith/WHL)

Although the Calgary Hitmen showed signs of improvement in game two of the WHL’s Eastern Conference Final, they still find themselves down 2-0 to the Brandon Wheat Kings. The news didn’t get better for the team during the two day break between games, as the team found out they will be without forward Jake Virtanen for the next two games due to suspension.

Without arguably their most dynamic player and facing a 2-0 series deficit, the Hitmen have their hands full. They’ll hope a change to the Scotiabank Saddledome will help turn their fortunes around. Here is what to look for in game three as Calgary tries to get back in this best-of-seven series.

Just how deep is this Hitmen forward group?

All season long, Calgary’s depth was talked about as their biggest strength. Well, right now it is being tested to the limit. Already without Connor Rankin to start the series after he was injured in game five of round two, injuries and unforeseen circumstances have hit the team in round three. Chase Lang was injured in game one and the team has also lost Virtanen due to suspension; he already missed game two and will also miss games three and four. With those key losses up front, the depth is being tested. Although the team showed well in a 3-2 overtime loss in Saturday’s game two, they will continue to be tested.

If depth was Calgary’s strength this year, then one can only hope to see that depth come through the next two games. If it does, this series will likely go back to Brandon. If not the Flames will be the only team to occupy the Dome by week’s end.

Will a return to home ice help the Hitmen change the tide?

So far in the 2015 WHL playoffs, the Hitmen have gone 4-3 on home ice, which isn’t exactly a flattering record at the Scotiabank Saddledome. Now more then ever, the team’s margin for error will be razor thin on home ice. For this series to go back east for at least a game six, Calgary will need find a way to truly take advantage of home ice.

Can Adam Tambellini carry the team by himself?

Adam Tambellini still leads the WHL playoffs in scoring with 23 points. As game three approaches, the 20-year-old draft pick of the New York Rangers will need to find yet another level to his already elevated game. With no Rankin, Lang and Virtanen, he will need to carry the majority of the offensive load. Already with a goal in game two, Tambellini will likely have to score a few more in order for Calgary to extend this series past four games. Since he has stepped up all season, it wouldn’t be a stretch to believe Tambellini is up to the challenge once again.

Can the Hitmen bring the shots against total down?

High shots against totals were an issue in the first couple games of round two, and the Hitmen fixed it as that series went on. After allowing 41 shots in game one and another 46 in game two, the team will once again need to lower that total. Despite the strong play of Brendan Burke in net on Saturday night, the recipe for success doesn’t include allowing north of 40 shots. If this series is going to require a game five, the Hitmen will need to stop the heavy duty offence of the Wheat Kings from getting as many scoring chances as they did in the first two contests.

Game three is set for Tuesday night at the ‘Dome. Sportsnet 960 The Fan will have a full one hour pregame show starting at 6:00 pm with play by play at 7:00 pm.

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