GWMHL

Playoff Preview: Plante Quarterfinals

In Uncategorized on April 26, 2022 at 12:23 pm

It’s a brand-new playoff format for the GWMHL, as the field has been expanded by four total teams. The top two in each conference get a bye, so the first round will determine who moves on to face the first and second seeds. Here’s what that looks like in the Plante:

Salem Sabercats (40-31-11) vs. Hershey Bears (36-37-9)

Nobody tell the expansion Bears, miraculously seeing postseason action in their inaugural season, that they’re about to face the most successful dynasty in GWMHL history. Although the Sabercats are now two years removed from their most recent title, they still have a strong, balanced team led by veterans Anze Kopitar, Patrick Kane and David Perron, who all posted more than 80 points this season.

Yet, against the odds, Hershey actually won the season series 3-2-1, so maybe Salem’s path to the second round won’t be so easy after all. The Bears tied with Vancouver for fewest goals allowed, had the league’s best penalty kill (87.3%), and blocked more shots than any team in league history (379). They won’t score a ton (team points leader Carter Verhaeghe had 65; the next highest forward was Calle Jarnkrok with just 46), but they’ve been getting good goaltending from Chris Driedger, who will likely split games with Cal Petersen, and should be a worthy adversary. At the other end, Salem got a great season out of Marc-Andre Fleury (.923 save percentage in 51 games), so this series may be shaping up to be a goaltending duel.

Baltimore Crab (42-35-5) vs. Pittsburgh (38-35-9)

Lower seed Pittsburgh won the season series between these two teams pretty handily (4-2-0) and the teams seems evenly matched, which promises an exciting matchup. Baltimore has the more dangerous snipers (Sidney Crosby and Pavel Buchnevich scored 46 and 41 goals, respectively) and a monster on the back end in Cale Makar (65 points in 64 games) while the Hornets got timely if less spectacular production up and down their lineup, led by Ryan Strome (78 points), and boasts some major weapons on the blueline of their own in Quinn Hughes (74 points in 82 games) and Victor Hedman (50 points in 71 games).

There are some factors that could tilt things one way or the other, however. Baltimore needs a lot more out of its secondary scoring, as Mark Scheifele managed just 16 goals and 56 points in 82 games and Filip Forsberg potted a mere 11 goals in 57 games. The Hornets, who will be facing a strong regular season goalie in Philipp Grubauer (51 games, 2.73, .914, 6 shutouts), face a goaltending dilemma. Their nominal starter, Anton Khudobin, was pretty bad, posting an .890 save percentage in 43 starts. Backups Petr Mrazek and Ville Husso fared better but aren’t eligible to play in all the games if the series goes long. Pittsburgh will need Khudobin to find his A game if they’re going to have a chance against the Crab’s big guns. Oh, and it would help to have Evgeni Malkin, who made just 42 regular season appearances, in the lineup too.

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