The Chilliwack Bruins played fabulous hockey during the last month of the season. The Bruins went 7-1-2-1 in the month of March, which has earned them the sixth seed in the Western Conference. The Chilliwack Bruins (33-31-4-4) will play the third seed Spokane Chiefs (48-18-4-2) in the first round of the 2011 WHL playoffs.
The standings were not settled till the final whistle blew in the WHL season. The Vancouver Giants picked up two points on the final day to go one point ahead of the Bruins in the standings, finishing fifth in the final standings. The other Western Conference first round matchups include: Portland vs. Everett, Kelowna vs. Prince George, and Tri-City vs. Vancouver.
While the matchup with Spokane wasn’t the best case scenario for the Bruins, they feel they still have more to accomplish this season. With that in mind though, this Bruins squad will be in a tough spot to make it past the Chiefs in the first round. The Bruins did have some success against Spokane this season, going 1-2-0-1 on the year, but the Chiefs are a top notch team considered to be among the upper echelon in the WHL.
This series promises to be a dynamic one, with some of the best junior hockey in Canada about to be played in our backyard. The two teams sport the two highest goal scorers in the WHL, with the Chiefs’ Tyler Johnson having netted 53 goals and the Bruins’ Ryan Howse notching 51 tallies of his own. Spokane scored the most goals in the WHL in the regular season (310) and allowed the second lowest amount (193). The Bruins sport one of the most potent lines in the League, featuring the aforementioned Howse and the top import duo in the Dub, Roman Horak and Robin Soudek. The Bruins also have netminder Lucas Gore tending to the twine, who closed out the season with a 3-0 shutout against the Everett Silvertips. Just last week Gore set a WHL record for most saves in a game against the Spokane Chiefs, where he got in front of 77 of 78 shots, but wound up losing 2-1 in the shootout.
One big difference between these two teams is their special teams. The Spokane Chiefs finished first on both the power play and the penalty kill. The Bruins ended in fifth on the power play and middle-of-the pack on the penalty kill. What may help the Bruins even up these numbers is the presence of Philadelphia Flyers prospect Brandon Manning on the blueline. Manning missed large chunks of the season to injuries and suspensions, but he is one of the premier power play quarterbacks in the League and should really help turn around the team’s numbers on the kill.
The series will open in Chilliwack on Friday and Saturday night and then head to Spokane for the three games after that. If the Bruins plan to come out on top they will need to check hard, play a smart game, and capitalize on any chances they get with the extra man. Gore will need to continue playing lights out hockey, and the penalty killers will have to pressure on the forecheck to disrupt Spokane’s flow. One thing is certain in CHL hockey, anything can (and often does) happen.