Sure the Ice Wolves and the rest of the top six teams are fashionably late to the party, but now that they're here... I'm sure there'll be lots of debauchery to be had.

Let's be honest, the playoffs are just that.  A party.  With fantastic games available to us almost every night and series with compelling storylines and the like, Hockey fans can rejoice at the playoffs.  Sure it sucks to be a North Stars or Millionaires fan right now, but Visa has a great promotion for the pain you're feeling right now.  

Just watch some commercials on Youtube with Morgan Freeman narrating and you feel a lot better.  Seriously, there is nothing more soothing than Morgan Freeman narration.  Then you can get back into the party picking teams to root for as the battle for the Credit Union Cup continues.

Here's a clip from Beasly , the Flames' P.A. announcer, to get you in the mood.

Love this playoff stuff.  It's like a drug, even better than Charlie Sheen (had to get something in).  Speaking of WINNING!, that's what the Bruins did last night to move on to face the Terriers.  I doubt Yorkton is too happy they have to face Joel Danyluk in the playoffs again, we'll see if he can recapture what he had in the SJHL Finals last season.

The Bombers had some Tiger Blood running through their veins when they took out the Battlefords North Stars in four games.  Now they've had a few days to rest up and get ready for tonight's series starter in La Ronge.  The Bombers will need that Charlie Sheen mojo to keep flowing if they're going to get some revenge for last season's early playoff exit.

Yes, here's one of those compelling storylines.  These two teams find themselves in the reverse situation of last year.  Instead of the Ice Wolves fighting their way out of the Survivor Series, it's Flin Flon, while the Wolves watched the series from their pedestal as the top team from the regular season.

Well, it's time to hop off that happy place (if your happy place includes lots of conditioning work) and get into straight into the trenches for the battle of attrition that is the playoffs.  The Ice Wolves have mixed reviews coming off long breaks in their regular season.  The lesser success of the two long breaks was back at the beginning of the season when the Wolves had 12 days between games.  They lost 2/3 games back from the break

The next break was of course the holiday break when they returned to win three straight.  In both of those situations, past the first three games, the Wolves went on pretty good tears.  In the playoffs, the ramp up time needs to be pretty much instantaneous.  As successful as La Ronge was on the road and at the Whitney Forum this year, I guarantee they don't want the Bombers to steal home ice advantage.  The Wolves have been plagued by poor starts this season, and it frustrates the coaching staff to no end.  

It's kind of tough to draw comparisons across leagues, but this was a problem the Calgary Hitmen had last season in the playoffs when I was working with them.  It almost cost them dearly.  Finding consistency in sports is always key, but in Junior hockey, when the emotion can swing so fast and so hard, it becomes all that much more important.

Finding consistent secondary scoring has been the Bombers weakness all year.  They have a great first line with Fox/Stillar/Johnston, but their secondary scoring, though talented, left something to be desired down the stretch in the regular season.  It woke up big time against the North Stars.  

Corey Tyrell - 4 G, 1 A
Jesse Mychan - 2 G, 2 A
Brett Penner - 1 G, 3 A

Those three outscored all but Andrew Johnston in the Survivor series for Flin Flon.  With that line rolling, it truly gives the Bombers a deep scoring threat that the Wolves need to be aware of.  

The playoffs are all about goaltending.  Ask a Habs fan about their NHL playoff run last year, or even the Ice Wolves run with Bartko and Danyluk.  No matter how good or bad a team is, if they have some killer goaltending, they have a chance.  P.J. Musico was very good against the North Stars.  He put up a GAA of 2.56 and a Sv% of 0.938 in his four games against Battlefords.  He was also very busy, making 162 saves in 235 minutes played.

The regular season was really the story of two Adam Bartko's in net for the Ice Wolves.  I'm semi-convinced that Barkto had business with the criminal underworld through the first half of the season, so he created a clone to cover the pipes for La Ronge.  This clone wasn't hugely successful.  When Bartko returned from his battle with crime, he put up excellent numbers.  After the holiday break, Bartko lowered his GAA from around 3.30ish to 2.96 and raised his Sv% from about an 0.890 to 0.908.  If the Bartko from the end of the season is between the pipes for the Ice Wolves, they will be tough to beat.  Against the Bombers this season, he put up a GAA of 2.14 with a Sv% of 0.931 in seven games of action.

I'm not a huge fan of the Survivor Series and the near two weeks off for the top team awaiting the winner.  The other series it's not too bad because they have about the same amount time off, but I think it puts the top team behind the ball to get things going.  The Survivor Series does bring some excellent hockey, but in the overall playoff bracket, I could do without.  

That being said, it's not all bad for the Ice Wolves.  They got some time to rest players and get them back in the lineup all good and healthy.  Phil Belanger  got more time to get his legs under him after being out with that concussion.  Justin Ducharme had 2+ weeks to skate with the team and get up to speed, and after missing the last game and a half of the season, Doug Lindensmith is also back in the lineup.  There are still some injured Wolves.  Steven Cook, Alex Vandenameele and Phil Cliche are all out of the lineup tonight.  It sounds like Franklin Cook from the Beardy's Blackahawks will be a part of the lineup in the series with the Hawks done for the season.

Take what you will from the season series, but the Ice Wolves took it handily by a 6-1-0-1 record.  Two of those games were blowouts with the final meeting of the season an ugly 8-1 beating.  I don't think we'll see the Bomber team that showed up last night, and I hope we never see it again, because that was not a very fun game of hockey to watch.

In place of Notes and Numbers today I have a bit of a different segment.

Players to watch in the Series:

Flin Flon:

Andrew Johnston: The second team all-star put up five goals against the Ice Wolves in eight meetings.  Don't let him get a breakaway... he will score.

Ryan Fox: He only played six games against the Wolves but led the Bombers in scoring against La Ronge with seven points.  The Bomber captain is a focal point for Flin Flon's success.

P.J. Musico: Because of a couple of lopsided scores, his stats don't show up as impressive against the Wolves in the head to head.  Musico has been fantastic at the Mel this year and I would say he will steal at least one game in the series on his own... if not two.

La Ronge:

Travis Eggum: The SJHL Player of the Year has been the Bomber Killer this season with 15 points in 8 games against Flin Flon.  All eyes will be on him and the rest of the big line to see if they can carry over their production to the playoffs.

Logan Herauf: The Ice Wolves leading secondary scorer has 10 of his 54 regular season points against the Bombers.  Herauf was really picking up his game down the stretch, he gives the Ice Wolves a first line threat in the second line slot.

Justin Ducharme: The nineteen year old forward would likely have been a top candidate for rookie of the year had his season not been shortened by suspension and injury.  He had 28 points in 27 games and is the most dynamic player on the ice whenever he steps off the bench.
I'll have the webcast for you starting shortly before the game which goes at 7:30 at the Mel.

I will be keeping recaps and previews relatively short through the playoffs because there is only so much you can write about two teams that have played each other a possibility of 15 times this season.
As final note, Rogers Sportsnet West Reporter, Roger Millions tweeted, "How are things in Atl..our Ottawa man Ian Mendes says last nights 50-50 draw was for 256 bucks! Nice". 

Ice Wolves fans and Bomber fans making the trip, think you can beat the Thrashers' 50/50 prize tonight?
Enjoy the playoff hockey!


Post Script: I will publish the final poll results tomorrow, last day to vote!

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