Playoff Preview: Round 1

In Uncategorized on April 5, 2021 at 6:27 pm

The 2021 Gump Cup Playoffs are upon us! Here’s a look at the four series that are about to get underway.

Plante Conference

#1 EL DORADO LYNX (53-19-10) vs. #4 WINNIPEG FALCONS (37-35-10)

Regular season series
EDH won 4-1-1

Top scorers
EDH: Ovechkin (81, 74-23-97), O’Reilly (82, 18-77-95), Connor (82, 28-38-66), Petry (82, 16-41-57)
WPG: Pettersson (81, 40-57-97), Hoffman (82, 37-50-87), Pacioretty (82, 35-47-82), Suter (82, 6-54-60)

EDH: Rask (48, 2.12, .933), Price (34, 3.48, .906)
WPG: Kuemper (34, 3.03, .916), Merzlikins (31, 3.26, .901), Allen (17, 3.36, .912)

Winnipeg held off Salem to hang onto the final playoff spot in the Plante, earning the privilege of facing one of the league’s most formidable teams. The Lynx finished second overall on the strength of its twin MVPs, Tuukka Rask, who led most major goaltending categories, and Alex Ovechkin, who shattered his personal best with 74 goals in 81 games. The smart money is on Rask starting all of El Dorado’s games, but Winnipeg is likely to go with a two- or even three-man platoon, so they can ride whichever goalie is hottest. Also to its credit, the Falcons got excellent offense from its top three forwards, Mike Hoffman, Elias Pettersson, and ex-Lynx vet Max Pacioretty. But El Dorado’s depth at the wing and on defense are undeniably superior. The Falcons have a monumental task ahead of them.

#2 BALTIMORE CRAB (49-29-4) vs. #3 PITTSBURGH HORNETS (40-33-9)

Regular season series
PIT won 4-2-0

Top scorers:
BAL: Scheifele (82, 28-57-85), Killorn (80, 39-35-74), Schwartz (82, 29-42-71), Burns (82, 18-51-69)
PIT: Smith (82, 41-44-85), Meier (82, 39-37-76), Malkin (60, 27-49-76), Duclair (72, 43-26-69)

BAL: Grubauer (42, 2.99, .909), Koskinen (40, 3.62, .901)
PIT: Murray (41, 3.42, .899), Mrazek (41, 3.68, .894)

It’s been half a decade since Pittsburgh made the playoffs, but standout performances by some unlikely players (newly minted 40-goal men Reilly Smith and Anthony Duclair for two) propelled them into the third seed. But they could have their work cut out from them against second place Baltimore, who also missed the playoffs last season but prior to that had made four straight appearances, including their championship year in 2016. Led by Mark Scheifele up front and Brent Burns and rookie Cale Makar on the blueline, the Crab had the league’s second most effective powerplay (24%). Although Pittsburgh’s goaltending was fairly poor during the regular season, the Hornets were notably able to outscore their problems, potting 32 goals against the Crab and winning four of six meetings.

Sawchuk Conference

#1 VANCOUVER NIGHT TRAIN (54-17-11) vs. #4 BOSTON BANSHEES (46-28-8)

Regular season series
VAN won 3-1-2

Top scorers
VAN: Lindholm (82, 42-54-96), Stone (75, 31-61-92), Barzal (82, 22-63-85), Palmieri (77, 38-35-73)
BOS: Zibanejad (67, 58-40-98), Couturier (82, 20-52-72), Boeser (68, 19-49-68), Zucker (71, 26-40-66)

VAN: Jarry (39, 2.76, .915), Rittich (29, 3.28, .895), Driedger (14, 2.33, .932)
BOS: Bishop (51, 2.89, .913), Khudobin (32, 2.90, .910)

A West Virginia road tie in one of the last games of the season vaulted them over Boston, leaving Vancouver — holder of the league’s best record this season — to face the defending champion Banshees. The Night Train were a huge surprise this season after relatively few offseason changes: they allowed fewer goals than Boston this season (240 to 243) but scored nearly a hundred more (381 to 282), and held the league’s best road record, too. The X factor here will be in goal. Boston’s tandem was solid but unspectacular, but the Night Train relied on Tristan Jarry and Chris Driedger for some big wins, yet will be forced to play David Rittich at least two games out of a seven-game series. Rittich’s shakiness against Mika Zibanejad (58 goals in 67 regular season games), Ryan Ellis (62 points in 58 games from the back end), et al., could spell first-round upset.

#2 DELTA STURGEON (48-23-11) vs. #3 WEST VIRGINIA RIVER RATS (47-29-6)

Regular season series
DEL won 4-2-0

Top scorers
DEL: MacKinnon (81, 48-53-101), Kucherov (80, 35-61-96), Ekblad (80, 10-56-66), Nugent-Hopkins (75, 23-38-61)
WVR: Draisaitl (82, 44-82-126), Laine (79, 29-64-93), Aho (82, 48-35-83), Nelson (82, 27-47-74)

DEL: Raanta (38, 2.32, .925), Gibson (29, 3.53, .883), Hill (15, 3.58, .895)
WVR: Francouz (33, 3.56, .901), Markstrom (27, 2.77, .918), Saros (22, 2.95, .907)

Blessed with high-end talent, great depth, a strong D, and solid goaltending… Wait, which team are we talking about? Two high-octane teams. Draisaitl vs. MacKinnon. Kucherov vs. Laine. This promises to be a hugely entertaining series, and it could go either way. While West Virginia began the season on a tear, faded, then finished strong, Delta was a relatively consistent force, and promises to be a big test for the Rats’ Jakob Markstrom/Pavel Francouz tandem. The Sturgeon managed 44.2 shots per game during the season, outshooting opponents by, on average, a whopping 12.7. At the other end, a long series would force the Sturgeon to play all three of its goalies, and John Gibson was absolutely terrible this season. It’s not a huge weakness, but it’s one on which West Virginia’s offense may be able to capitalize.

Vancouver, El Dorado Vie for 1st as Regular Season Ends

In News on April 2, 2021 at 10:03 am

The sun set on the GWMHL’s 2020-21 regular season this week, with a flurry of late movement carrying major playoff implications.

The El Dorado Lynx finished with a commanding lead in the Plante Conference, 14 points head of second-place Baltimore. The biggest news here is the Winnipeg Falcons holding off the Salem Sabercats for the fourth and final playoff birth, ending Salem’s 13-season postseason streak. Winnipeg will make its first playoff appearance since 2016 and just its second since 2004. The third-place Pittsburgh Hornets, meanwhile, will see the playoffs for the first time since 2015. Of the conference’s playoff teams, only the Lynx made an appearance last season.

There were fewer surprises in the Sawchuk Conference, but still much movement. The Vancouver Night Train‘s wonderful fourth quarter allowed them to clinch first overall and ensure home ice advantage, while the Delta Sturgeon climbed to second place with a strong Q4 showing. The Boston Banshees, the reigning champs, sagged from second place all the way to fourth as the West Virginia River Rats clawed their way into third in a positive ending to their roller coaster of a season.

West Virginia’s Leon Draisaitl took the scoring crown, with 126 points, one of five players to reach the century mark this season. Alex Ovechkin of El Dorado had another monster quarter to reach 74 goals on the season, the most by a large margin. It was the sniper’s career-best total, and he becomes just the 10th player in league history to pass the 70-goal mark. Ovechkin’s teammate, Tuukka Rask, led the major goaltending categories with a 2.12 GAA, a .933 save percentage and 32 wins. Charleston rookie Dominik Kubalik led all freshmen with 74 points, but even more remarkable was Baltimore defenseman Cale Makar‘s 67 points as he became a key part of the team’s resurgence.

El Dorado Takes Top Spot Entering Q4

In Uncategorized on February 22, 2021 at 10:24 am

The El Dorado Lynx, led by Alex Ovechkin and his 24 goals in the schedule’s third quarter alone, have vaulted past the Vancouver Night Train to take the first overall spot in the league as the GWMHL enters its final 18 games. The Lynx went 9-1-2 at home and 8-3-1 on the road, and scored a league-best 112 goals. Ovechkin leads all goal-scorers with 56.

El Dorado sits atop the Plante Conference, well ahead of Baltimore and Pittsburgh. The third quarter did see Winnipeg turn in a solid 13-7-4 record, enough to move them just past Salem. With only two points separating them, the fight is on for that fourth and final playoff berth.

Vancouver, meanwhile, went 15-5-4 against some tough competition in the quarter, but the real news in the Sawchuk Conference is West Virginia. After a sparkling start to their season, and a middling second quarter, the Rats are fading, going 9-13-2 in Q3. Thanks to strong efforts from both Boston and Delta, West Virginia has now dropped from second place at midseason to fourth, and are just 4 points ahead of fifth-place Ice Harbor, putting their championship hopes in serious peril.

Despite that, it’s the Rats’ star forward Leon Draisaitl turning in the best individual performance of the season so far, and he’s already passed the 100-point threshold with a whole quarter left to play. Farmington’s John Carlson leads all blueliners with 67 points, while Charleston’s Dominik Kubalik has a healthy lead in the rookie scoring race with 62 points and 34 goals. El Dorado’s Tuukka Rask boasts an all-star-worthy .933 save percentage, albeit in just 30 starts. Boston’s Ben Bishop leads all goaltenders in wins (28) and shutouts (4).