Oil Kings vs Hitmen - Eastern Conference Final Preview

It's the Battle of Alberta in this year's WHL Eastern Conference Final.

The Battle of Alberta hasn't taken place in the playoffs for years. The Oilers and Flames last faced each other in the playoffs in 1991 and even though the Oil Kings and Hitmen have faced off in the playoffs once before not many would call that series much of a battle. That was 2009 and the Oil Kings in just their second season qualified for the playoffs after the last day of the season when they defeated Prince Albert in overtime of their one game tie-breaker. In Calgary they found an opponent who had put up a league leading 59-9-1-3 record during the regular season. Calgary, as expect, made quick work of the Oil Kings that spring defeating them in four games and allowing the Oil Kings to score just four goals along the way.

But this season things are different. The Oil Kings aren't an expansion team anymore, in fact they're the defending WHL champions and entered the playoffs as the fourth ranked team in the country. And the Hitmen, while they aren't quite as highly ranked as the Oil Kings are still a very good team, one that score the third most goals in the league this season and finished with the second most points in the Eastern Conference (Saskatoon was seeded second because they won their division) only 11 points back of Edmonton. This series has the true makings of a Battle of Alberta. The first since I was 12.

By The Numbers: The Hitmen actually won the season series against Edmonton this year with a 4-2 record. For the record though two of those wins came in overtime or via the shootout so things were a little closer than they might look at first glance. By an odd quirk of the schedule these teams haven't played a game since before Christmas. After that night the Oil Kings had played 35 games winning 23, a record good enough for a 65.7% winning percentage. Not that winning two and losing one is really bad (especially with the occasional loser point tossed in) but from that point on though the Oil Kings were a much better hockey club losing just nine more games, winning 75.7% of their final 37 games.

Looking at the numbers below if there is one place that the Oil Kings have a decided advantage in this series it's on special teams. The Oil Kings were much better during the regular season in this aspect of the game and haven't missed a beat so far in the playoffs. If Calgary isn't disciplined they're likely going to find themselves in a hole.

Oil Kings Hitmen
Record 51-15-2-4 (2nd) 46-21-1-4 (5th)
Goals For 278 (4th) 280 (3rd)
Goals Against 155 (1st) 204 (6th)
Power Play 28.6% (1st) 19.9% (12th)
Penalty Kill 87.5% (2nd) 81.5% (9th)

How They Got Here: Thanks to the Saskatoon Blades defeat in the opening round, the Oil Kings have had a much easier route to the Conference Finals than Calgary knocking of the Ice and Tigers, the 8th and 7th place teams, in five and four games respectively. Calgary has so far faced the sixth seeded Swift Current Broncos and fourth seeded Red Deer Rebels winning both series in five games.

Who To Watch On Edmonton: I think a lot of fans in both cities are going to be watching Oil Kings goalie Laurent Brossoit closely during this series. With nine goals allowed on 240 shots against in the playoffs Brossoit has been stellar so far for the Oil Kings. Not surprisingly his 0.963 save percentage is tops among goalies in the playoffs. Edmonton fans love to watch this guy play. If there is a downside to Brossoit it's not found in his game, it's the fact that he's a Flame. If I had to guess I would say that this likely means that more than a few Calgary fans are hoping that he looks good in this series but not too good. As always, I hope Calgary fans are disappointed.

Who To Watch On Calgary: Cody Sylvester is rapidly approaching the end of his junior career. He's small at 5'11" but I've always found him fun to watch. With 41 goals and 49 assists he finished 10th in WHL scoring this season. Viktor Rask is another player to keep an eye on. Rask scored 41 points in 37 games this season and currently leads the Hitmen with 13 more so far in the playoffs. Rask was taken by the Carolina Hurricanes with the 42nd pick in the 2011 draft.

Key Matchup: I mentioned it earlier but special teams is going to be a key in this series, especially the Oil Kings power play. The Oil Kings had the best power play in the league during the season and so far have been doing just fine in the playoffs too. To make things tougher for Calgary they find themselves without the services of one of their penalty killers, Pavlo Padakin, who is out with a knee injury suffered in the Calgary's second round series with Red Deer. It's a tough break for Calgary and how they handle the loss will be a critical factor in how successful they are in this round.

Schedule: The entire series is available on Shaw for those in Western Canada. For those in Edmonton, if like myself you have Shaw, you'll find the HD feed on Channel 304. As always the games are also broadcast on the Team 1260.

Thursday April 18 @ Edmonton 7:00 PM
Friday April 19 @ Edmonton 7:00 PM
Tuesday April 23 @ Calgary 7:00 PM
Wednesday April 24 @ Calgary 7:00 PM
Friday April 26 @ Edmonton 7:00 PM
Sunday April 28 @ Calgary 4:00 PM
Tuesday April 30 @ Edmonton 7:00 PM

Prediction: This series is going to be closer than either of the two the Oil Kings have played so far. Typically that's how the playoffs work. That said I don't think the Hitmen have much of a chance in this one. I'll give them a couple of wins but that's it. Oil Kings in six. Coincidentally Doogie2K is predicating the exact same outcome. You can read his take on the series here.

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