WHL Blog: Playoff seeding down to the wire

The Victoria Royals scored three goals on the powerplay and kept the Kelowna Rockets from scoring one of their own as special teams loomed large in the final results on Saturday.

Timing is everything in hockey and with the WHL playoffs only a couple weeks away there are three teams that have hit their stride at the right time of the season.

In the Eastern Conference, the Brandon Wheat Kings have only been beaten twice—both in overtime—their past 10 games. That has clinched the East Division for them and they are one point away from securing their second straight top seed in the conference.

Not only are they winning games, but they’re piling up goals. They’re the top scoring club in the WHL and averaging an astonishing 6.5 goals per game in those past 10 contests. That’s going to get you a lot of points and the Wheaties looked poised to make another run to the finals.

In the Western Conference, the—no longer—surprising Victoria Royals continue to plow through opponents. They have 10 regulation wins in their past 11, with an overtime loss the lone blemish. The Royals are the first club in the league to hit the 100-point mark and are on track to not only win the B.C. Division and Western Conference, but also the Scotty Munro Trophy as the top team in the league. They lead the conference in scoring and their goaltending tandem of Coleman Vollrath and Griffen Outhouse has allowed the fewest goals against in the WHL.

The Seattle Thunderbirds have won 10 straight and 14 of their last 15 to erase a nine-point deficit and take over the lead in the U.S. Division. They currently lead the Everett Silvertips by four points and can clinch the title Tuesday night with a home win over the Spokane Chiefs. They have been getting stellar goaltending from Landon Bow who may end up being the best trade deadline transaction after Seattle got him from Swift Current in January.

Seattle Thunderbirds; Mathew Barzal; WHL; 2015 NHL Draft; WHL; CHL; Canada-Russia Series; New York Islanders; Sportsnet
Mathew Barzal is fifth in WHL points per game at 1.51. (Marissa Baecker/Getty)

There is still a lot of hockey to play and the post season is a different beast than the regular season, but these three teams could emerge as favorites to reach the finals.

Blazers also scorching

It seems like ancient history now, but the Kamloops Blazers started this season with a dismal 1-7 record. Things looked bleak at that time, but nobody is going to remember that now with the way Don Hay’s team is playing.

The Blazers have passed Prince George for third place in the B.C. Division standings by winning seven straight and nine out of 10. One of the biggest reasons for their turn around is goalie Connor Ingram.

Like the team, Ingram got off to a slow start but his GAA and save percentage have risen each month and he is playing as well as any goalie at the moment. He’s perfect in the month of March with seven wins and GAA of 1.69. In those seven games, he’s beaten Kelowna three times, setting up the possibility of a very intriguing first-round series with the Rockets if things stay the way they are now in the B.C. Division.

The Blazers currently lead the Prince George Cougars by four points and the two teams will finish their regular season schedule with a home-and-home against each other, which should be pretty intense.

Race to make it in

Thirteen of the 16 playoff spots have been secured so far, which means that this last week of the regular season still has plenty of drama for clubs trying to get into the tournament.

In the Eastern Conference, the Edmonton Oil Kings looked like they were locks to get in with the second wild card but are getting a big push from the suddenly rejuvenated Medicine Hat Tigers who are only two points behind. With Edmonton holding a game in hand, the Tigers missed a golden opportunity to tie things up on Saturday when they fell to the last place Ice in Kootenay.

The Oil Kings will get a shot at the Ice on Tuesday and then finish with games against Red Deer and Moose Jaw. The Tigers are off until the weekend when they finish up with a home-and-home with the Lethbridge Hurricanes. The two clubs are currently tied in wins—the first tie breaker—so things are far from settled.

In the Western Conference, and in particular the U.S. Division, there are still three teams in the mix. The Portland Winterhawks have a two-point lead over Spokane and a four-point lead over Tri City. Currently in third place, the Winterhawks are trying to avoid falling behind Spokane and into the second wild card slot, which would mean an opening-round date with the Victoria Royals.

With a magic number of one, the ice is thin for Tri City as they chase Portland, who need a single point to clinch. Spokane has a tough schedule to finish out with road games in Seattle, Everett and Portland this week. The Winterhawks have the home game against the Chiefs and then finish with a home-and-home with the Seattle Thunderbirds.

Record setting weekend for Bean

Calgary defenceman Jake Bean scored the game-winning goal Saturday night as the Hitmen beat Edmonton 4-2. For Bean, it was his 24th goal of the season which set a new franchise mark for goals by a Calgary defenseman.

It’s another highlight for the 2016 NHL Draft-eligible who continues to impress and projects to be a possible first-rounder. His 24 goals give him the most of all WHL blueliners and with 62 points he is fifth in the league in defensive scoring—two points behind teammate Travis Sanheim. The goal breaks the record previously set by Paul Postma in the 2008-2009 season.

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