The first round of the Ontario Hockey League playoffs did not see a single upset. Seeds one, two, three and four advanced in both conferences. Look for that trend to continue in two of the second-round matchups. The series that pit 2 vs. 3 should be a little bit different in both the East and the West.
Kingston vs. Barrie
Both teams might be entering the second-round kind of like a shaken martini — with just the right amount of bruising. Both got pushed, but not pummeled by the first opponent.
Kingston lost the first game of their series to North Bay and then had to go through nearly three extra periods to finish off the Battalion on a Gabe Vilardi goal in triple overtime of Game 5. He and the rest of the Frontenacs’ big guns produced. Cliff Pu, Jason Robertson, Sean Day and Linus Nyman all averaged better than a point per game and helped Kingston to win four straight games. Jeremy Helvig was as good as he needed to be in goal.
Barrie needed six games to dispose of the more experienced Mississauga Steelheads. The Colts scored 18 goals in their final three games as their offence ignited. That was only helped by the return of Andrei Svechnikov from a four-game suspension. The top prospect for the 2018 NHL Entry Draft had five points in the final two games of the series.
These two teams met four times during the regular season and Kingston won three of those. None of them was particularly close. In the two that came following both teams’ moves at the trade deadline, the Frontenacs beat Barrie 5-2 in Kingston and the Colts won big in Barrie by a score of 8-3.
Expect the trend of high-scoring games and big offence to continue even with the veteran duo of Jeremy Helvig in net for the Frontenacs and Leo Lazarev for Barrie. They can both be very dangerous on special teams and each possesses game breakers. Kingston has the pedigree and experience and the win in round one should have whet their appetite for more. Expect to see them outlast Barrie in this one.
Niagara vs. Hamilton
If you look at this matchup based on the season series, it is advantage: Niagara. The Ice Dogs went 5-0-1 against the Bulldogs. Take into account the games that came after the trade deadline and things still fall Niagara’s way with a regulation win, an overtime win and an OT loss.
Hamilton scored 27 goals in five games against the 67’s, so their offence is nicely warmed up. The Ice Dogs got by Oshawa in five games. They were the stingiest teams in the Eastern Conference in round one and Stephen Dhillon of Niagara and Kaden Fulcher of Hamilton will play the ultimate roles in deciding a winner in this matchup.
Niagara had a balanced attack against the Generals.
Brandon Saigeon accounted for over one-quarter of Hamilton’s goals. He scored seven times for the Bulldogs against the 67’s.
Hamilton tied Sault Ste. Marie with 10 power-play goals and matches up against what was a very strong Ice Dogs’ penalty kill.
For the Bulldogs, it will be about finding ways to score on Dhillon. Niagara will find themselves on the defensive side of the puck more often against Hamilton than they were against Oshawa. They will have to take advantage of their opportunities when they come to give themselves a chance. Despite the regular season results, the Bulldogs enter this series as the favourite.
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Owen Sound vs. Sault Ste. Marie
Both clubs are coming off opening-round sweeps. The Attack managed four, one-goal victories against the London Knights while the Greyhounds seemed to toy with the Spirit.
Sault Ste. Marie is a force. They were in the regular season. They should continue to be in the post-season.
Owen Sound did give themselves a late shot of confidence against the Sault with a 6-5 shootout victory on the second-last Sunday of the regular season. The Attack took a 5-2 lead in the first minute in the third period of that game before the Greyhounds poured in three goals in 1:06 to tie it.
Those bursts of goals by their opponents were a little too common for Owen Sound before the playoffs began, but the Attack didn’t allow any of those moments against London. Olivier Lafreniere’s save percentage did sit below the magic .900 mark at .884 and that number will need to be a whole lot higher for Owen Sound to be successful.
The Attack had the depth to get by the Knights, but will find that Sault Ste. Marie has the kind of depth that championship teams are made of and that will allow the Greyhounds to come out on top in this one.
Sarnia vs. Kitchener
Technically, the Rangers are the No. 2 seed and will have home-ice advantage, but Sarnia had the better year.
The Sting found out the true meaning of frustration in the first round as they fired 253 shots at the Windsor net over six games (an average of 42.1 per game) and scored on just 6.3 per cent of them.
Still, Sarnia kept coming. They would end periods in which they had badly outshot the Spitfires, but would be tied or trailing and they stuck to their plan and came out on top.
Kitchener’s series against Guelph was a bit of a roller-coaster ride. Two wins at the start, followed by two losses to the Storm and then two very convincing victories to clinch.
In the regular season, three of the four meetings between the clubs came after the trade deadline and the Rangers won two of those.
Take those kinds of statistics into account and you would have some solid ammunition to pick a Kitchener win. They aren’t going to roll over, but Sarnia is built for the playoffs.
They play tough and they are skilled. They had to work harder to beat Windsor than the Rangers did to beat Guelph. That should give them an early leg up and it should be enough to keep them in front through to the end of the series.