Buzzing The Net - Junior Hockey

Oil Kings have Wheat Kings on the ropes: WHL Eastern Conference playoff roundup

The Edmonton Oil Kings have told the fat lady to warm up her chops, as they have a commanding 3-0 series lead on the Brandon Wheat Kings.

This series is ultimately a mismatch on paper and it’s proving to be on the ice as well. The Oil Kings blanked the Wheaties 5-0 and 3-0 respectively in the first two games and took the third one 5-2 in Brandon’s own barn.

It is unfair to knock Brandon, though. They finished seventh overall in the conference for a reason; they are in the process of a rebuild which will likely see them peak in 2016. Therefore, they deserve credit for even making it to the second round of the post-season.

Goaltending hasn’t been an issue for either team. Oil Kings puck-stopper Tristan Jarry has stymied the Wheat Kings’ offense, posting back-to-back shutouts in the first two games and maintaining a .974 save percentage throughout all three of the matches. Wheat Kings goalie Jordan Papirny, meanwhile, has stepped up his game against his hometown team. The 17-year-old rookie turned aside 94 of 102 pucks in the first two contests and holds a .917 save percentage in the series.

With 147 shots in three games, the Oil Kings’ offensive game plan is clear: pepper the net. In doing so, they’ve seen several players step up such as Edmonton Oilers prospect Mitchell Moroz, who scored a goal and three points in Game 3, Ottawa Senators first-rounder Curtis Lazar, who has a goal and four points, and Latvia native Edgars Kulda, who has a goal and five points.

Even though they have only scored two goals, it’s not as though Brandon’s offense has fallen asleep. They generated 64 shots in their last two games. So in order to win Game 4, they have to get more traffic in front of the net and hope for a lucky bounce or two.

The two King clubs suit up for Game 4 on Wednesday (April 9) in Brandon.

Tigers 1, Ice 1

It wasn’t surprising to see the Kootenay Ice split the opening two games of their series against the Medicine Hat Tigers, but how they did it is a different story. The Cranbrook-based team managed to steal two points on the road with the backbone of their club – top NHL draft prospect Sam Reinhart and 98-point scorer Jaedon Descheneau – failing to register a single point.

Albeit Kootenay has to be pleased with some of their depth players stepping up, the reality is they don’t stand a chance in this series unless Reinhart and Descheneau find their games. They don't necessarily have to dominate as much they did against the Calgary Hitmen (combined for 12 goals and 34 points in six games), but their line needs to generate at least two goals a game against a team with as much fire power as the Tigers.

Fortunately for the Ice, Mackenzie Skapski seems to be back on track in the blue paint following his lackluster first-round showing against the Hitmen. The New York Rangers prospect allowed six goals on 66 shots, averaging a .909 save percentage.

Unlike Kootenay, Medicine Hat’s best players have been their best players. Cole Sanford and Trevor Cox have notched three points apiece while team captain Curtis Valk has led the way by potting two goals, including Game 2’s game-winner, and four points throughout the series.

“It felt great,” said Valk. “The one in the third was huge, a great pass by Sanny and to give us a lead in a tight game like that, it felt pretty good.

“That is kind of my job. I supposed to be a guy that puts up numbers for this team. When I am doing that, I am just trying to help the team win.”

Valk got his first goal early in the second period with the Ice holding a 2-1 lead. He entered the Kootenay zone on an individual rush and roofed a shot to the same corner.

“(Valk) was the best player on the ice tonight for both teams,” said Ice head coach Ryan McGill. “He played hard. (Medicine Hat News)

On the defensive side of the puck, Tigers goalie Marek Langhamer has stood his ground. The Phoenix Coyotes prospect turned aside 39 of 42 pucks in Game 1 and did his job in the second contest by stopping 22 of 24 shots. Meanwhile, blueliners Dylan Bredo and Tyler Lewington have been key components in shutting down Reinhart and Descheneau.

The Tigers and Ice square off in Game 3 on Wednesday (April 9) in Cranbrook.

Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen

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