Minneapolis, MN - The upsets continued in this year’s WHL playoffs as the Minnesota Rink Rats knocked off the Saskatoon Fighting Irish in game 6 of the Western Conference Semi-finals. After winning a crucial game 5 in Saskatoon, the series went back to Minnesota where the Rink Rats closed out the series. Ryan Miller’s play was the difference as he held the Fighting Irish to just 2 goals in their final two matchups and 4 goals in their final 3. Miller’s 2.83 goals against average is one of the best in the WHL Playoffs.
Among the keys to the series was the balanced scoring attack by Minnesota and the lack of goaltending for the Fighting Irish. It was clear the Irish’s Cristobal Huet could not fight off the Rink Rat’s scoring attack even behind a quality defense. While the Fighting Irish were able to withhold Daymond Langkow from the score sheet, the rest of the Rink Rats were able to step up their play and lead Minnesota past the Irish. Among those players that contributed were speedy veteran, Sergei Samsonov and young scoring sensation, Patrick O’Sullivan. Mike Cammalleri was able to contribute as well after being non-existent against the Las Vegas Bulls in Round 1.
Up next for the Rink Rats is the Rocky Mountain Express. The last time the two squads met the Rink Rats beat the Express 3-2 in overtime. They’re 2-0-1 against the Express this season, and although they have a winning record, the Rink Rats are not looking past this veteran Express squad. “We remember what they did to us last season,” stated Head Coach, Barry Melrose. “They took it to us and beat us in 4 games and although we’ve played well against them thus far this season, this series is going to be a tough one for us. They have some new faces since we played them last and we have some new faces so this will be an interesting series. Hopefully our young legs will prevail and we can pull off a Minnesota Miracle heading into the Cup Finals.”
WHL Conference Final Predictions
Icedogs vs. Corinths
The series we’ve all been waiting for – Icedogs vs. Corinthians. This series promises to be a huge series and will likely go down to the wire as both teams have been two of the premier WHL clubs for some time. The Corinths made some deadline deals to bring in some additional offense and have looked strong thus far. While they overlooked their need to bring in a No 1 goaltender, the idea seemed to payoff as Manny Legace looked stellar in the first two rounds and leads the WHL Playoffs in save percentage and goals against average.
Legace will likely have a tougher time in the Conference Finals as he goes up against the Icedogs, one of the WHL’s best offensive squads. The Icedogs proved how tough of a team they are when they upset the Sparrows winning the final 4 games of the series to advance to the next round. The comeback was truly remarkable and leads many to wonder if there will be a coaching change in Chicoutimi. Roberto Luongo is one of the league’s best goaltenders and will be the key to this series against the Corinthians. While both teams have are solid in pretty much every category, Luongo is the difference maker and will lead the Icedogs to the Cup Finals.
Prediction: Icedogs in 7
Rink Rats vs. Express
Many predicted that the Rink Rats would be golfing long before this time, but Minnesota keeps pressing and is one of those rare Cinderella teams that have taken the league by surprise. Led by the play of Daymond Langkow & goaltender Ryan Miller, the Rink Rats have a balanced scoring attack and are decent defensively. Miller’s play has been huge thus far in the playoffs and he seems back to his MVP-caliber form rather then what we saw during the majority of this season. He’ll have to have another great series in order to beat this veteran Rocky Mountain squad.
The Express’s veteran squad knows there are only a few more chances for them to win the Cup together. After many seasons of being a continuous competitor, Edmonton’s veterans are either on the verge of retirement or decline. This squad is still very strong and deadline acquisitions made them that much stronger. Mike Modano continues to play at a high level while other veterans like Erik Cole and Scott Niedermayer contribute. The Express has a solid goaltender in Rick DiPietro and great defense led by Niedermayer and Chris Pronger. Look for this squad to push the series deep and get a sniff at the Cup.
Prediction: Express in 7