Thursday, March 28, 2013

Hop on the Bus Gus

The Thunderbirds and Rockets are headed back to Kelowna for Game 5 of this series Saturday night at Prospera Place after the Rockets took Game 4 Wednesday to stay alive in this first round, best of seven, match up. The T-birds are still in the driver's seat with a three games to one series lead but they are starting to hear a little chatter from the back seat.

Seriously, raise your hand if back on March 15th you had Seattle up in the series, 3-1, after four games. As I thought, only one guy there in the back of the room, raised his hand. No time to panic after one loss. The one thing about a playoff series, you control your own destiny. Whether up two games or down two games, your fate is in your own hands.

The T-birds were a decided underdog when the series began and after finishing 50 points behind the Rockets in the regular season, they should still be considered underdogs. All the pressure is still on Kelowna. Seattle needs only to win one more game to push on to Round Two. They still need to play with a purpose but they should still be able to play loose and have fun. Most pundits had the T-birds out of this series in four games. Anything from here on is a bonus.

One of Seattle's biggest problems during the regular season was consistency. Whether it was from game-to-game, period-to-period or shift-to-shift,the 'Birds would confound you with moments of brilliant play followed immediately by a series of brain cramps. Through the first three games of the playoffs, the team was very consistent in their play and it resulted in three overtime wins. Wednesday night that strong consistent play was absent. Too many brain cramps!

They were way too undisciplined. They just didn't play smart at all. If you give a good team too many chances to belly up to the bar, they're eventually going to drink you dry. In Game 4 it was a veritable bottomless glass for the Rockets power play as Seattle kept taking penalty after penalty in the first period. The Rockets power play is just too good to keep giving them chance after chance with the man advantage. Meanwhile, the T-birds own power play is powerless at 0-for-18 in the series. They need to fix that.

Outside of Seth Swenson, I'm not sure how many of the T-birds with any WHL playoff experience (and there are so few)have been in a situation like they were Wednesday with a chance to close out a series. Well, at least now they know how not to do it. Let's hope they've learned their lesson going into Saturday night's contest.

So, in their last 18 head-to-head playoff games, dating back to 2005, home ice advantage has meant very little to the T-birds and Rockets as the road team has won 13 times.

One advantage for draft eligible players in the postseason is more games for NHL scouts to watch them play, and play in pressure situations. It's been fun to watch a pair of young defenseman in this series who could both be first round picks in the NHL Entry Draft this June; Kelowna's Madison Bowey and the T-birds Shea Theodore.

I think the playoff games have especially benefitted Theodore who has been at the top of his game through the first four contests. Both Bowey and Theodore are proof you to don't have to be a high pick in the WHL Bantam Draft to be considered a future NHLer. Bowey was selected in the second round of the 2010 draft and Theodore was the second of Seattle's two third round choices that year.

In fact a check of both rosters shows each team is loaded with young defensemen who will keep these teams competing at a top level for the next 2-3 years.

In memory of Bruce McDonald, 1971-2012

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