WHL Championship: (1) Edmonton Oil Kings vs. (3) Portland Winterhawks
East meets West in the WHL Championship, with the top-seeded Edmonton Oil Kings hosting the high-flying Portland Winterhawks.
There's also some historical familiarity here. The Portland Winterhawks were founded as the Edmonton Oil Kings and appeared in seven Memorial Cups before moving to Oregon in 1976. Since then, Portland has won two Memorial Cups.
Edmonton got their Oil Kings franchise back in 2006, and this is their first appearance in the WHL Championship series.
The Edmonton Oil Kings are as prepared as any champion could be. They finished first in the WHL during the regular season with 107 points, and they've won 23 of their last 24 games dating back to Feb. 22.
Goaltender Laurent Brossoit leads the playoffs with a 1.62 goals-against average and .945 save percentage, and Curtis Lazar leads the forward corps with 16 points in 13 games.
Since being founded in 2006, the Oil Kings have yet to make a WHL final or a Memorial Cup. To date, the club's only NHL alumnus is Dallas Stars prospect Tomas Vincour.
An expansion afterthought only a few seasons ago, the Oil Kings have been one of the best stories of 2012, and it could get even better with a victory here.
The Winterhawks have been perhaps the best team in the Western Hockey League for a while now, having an outstanding second half and boasting two of the WHL's most explosive players in Sven Bartschi and Ty Rattie.
Lately, however, their depth has been their story. Brad Ross was just honoured with the WHL's Player of the Week, and forwards Brendan Leipsic, Cam Reid, and Marcel Noebels were oustanding in a four-game sweep of the top-ranked Tri-City Americans last round.
Against the league's best, Portland has proven its worth. They swept the Kelowna Rockets and the Americans and defeated the Kamloops Blazers in round two, although that affair lasted seven games.
This is Portland's second straight WHL Championship appearance, and they come in knowing that they've already beaten two favourites on their way to facing the third.
Players to Watch:
Marcel Noebels (Portland)
Sven Bartschi, Ty Rattie, and Brad Ross have all been named Players of the Week in these playoffs, but Noebels has produced just as consistently. Number 17 has put up five goals and 17 points in 15 games so far, and was a force to be reckoned with against Tri-City. They'll need his game against Edmonton.
Curtis Lazar (Edmonton)
Edmonton's top scorer has led by example this postseason in a short 13 games. He drives hard to the net, sets up plays, and isn't afraid to take a beating to get a win. Other players break down as the playoffs move along, but Lazar hasn't wavered. If Portland can't stop him, the Oil Kings may cruise to Shawnigan.
This is one of the tougher series to predict. Edmonton has been near-perfect all playoffs, with their only loss coming last Wednesday against Moose Jaw. Fanboys will tell you that this is the WHL's best team, while critics will point out that the East is not nearly as good as the West.
That's where Portland comes in. The Winterhawks beat a very strong Rockets team in round one, closed out a streaking Blazers squad in round two, and then made short work of Tri-City in the Western Conference final. Tri-City and Edmonton play a similar game, and Portland exploited it for what it was.
If their scoring depth holds – and there's no reason to believe it won't – the Winterhawks should be back in the Memorial Cup for the first time since 1998.
Winterhawks in six.
Game 1: Portland at Edmonton, Thursday, May 3 (6 p.m. PST)
Game 2: Portland at Edmonton, Friday, May 4 (6 p.m. PST)
Game 3: Edmonton at Portland, Sunday, May 6 (6 p.m. PST), Rose Garden
Game 4: Edmonton at Portland, Tuesday, May 10 (7 p.m. PST), Rose Garden
*Game 5: Portland at Edmonton, Thursday, May 10 (7 p.m. PST)
*Game 6: Edmonton at Portland, Saturday, May 12 (6 p.m. PST), Rose Garden
*Game 7: Portland at Edmonton, Sunday, May 13 (5 p.m. PST)