If the WHL playoffs started today:
Winnipeg (1) vs. Swift Current/Calgary/Brandon (8)
Red Deer (2) vs. Medicine Hat (7)
Saskatoon (3) vs. Regina (6)
Moose Jaw (4) vs. Lethbridge (5)
Seattle (1) vs. Kelowna (8)
Kamloops (2) vs. Vancouver (7)
Portland (3) vs. Everett (6)
Prince George (4) vs. Tri-City (5)
With 10 game days remaining in the 2022-23 regular season, the WHL playoff picture is starting to sort itself out. We know which eight teams will be in the Western Conference playoffs, but there still are 11 teams in the hunt in the Eastern Conference.
In the Western Conference, the Seattle Thunderbirds are likely to be the top seed when the playoffs begin; they are nine points ahead of the Kamloops Blazers, who have seven games remaining. And both teams are burning it up — Seattle has points in 16 straight (15-0-1); the Blazers have won six straight and 17 of 18.
At this point, neither Seattle nor Kamloops knows who it will meet in the first round. The Vancouver Giants are seventh, three points ahead of the Kelowna Rockets. The Giants have six games remaining; the Rockets five. And they will finish the regular season by going home and home — in Langley, B.C., on March 24 and in Kelowna on March 25.
The Rockets also have to go to Prince George for a single game with the Cougars, and face the Blazers twice — in Kamloops on March 17 and in Kelowna the next night.
Before facing the Rockets, the Giants have two games left with the Everett Silvertips, one in Kennewick, Wash., with the Tri-City Americans and another in Portland with the Winterhawks.
The eighth-place team draws the first seed in the first round, with No. 7 facing No. 2.
While Portland has settled into third place in the conference and Prince George looks headed to a fourth-place finish, Tri-City and Everett are separated by one point as they scrap for fifth place. The fifth-place team will face the No. 4 seed, which at the moment is Prince George. So is it better to finish six and meet up with Portland in the first round, or get into fifth and ride the bus to Prince George to get things started?
Meanwhile, in the Eastern Conference, the Winnipeg Ice will go in as the No. 1 seed, with the Red Deer Rebels in the No. 2 slot and the Saskatoon Blades the third seed. Saskatoon is likely to finish with more points than Red Deer, but the Rebels, as Central Division champions, will be the second seed. (Keep in mind that the WHL reseeds after the first round.)
The Moose Jaw Warriors and Lethbridge Hurricanes appear headed to a first-round clash as the Nos. 4 and 5 seeds. The Warriors are fourth, seven points ahead of the Hurricanes, who have six games remaining.
The Regina Pats, who have lost four in a row (0-3-1) and also have six games left, are six points behind Lethbridge. The Pats very well could meet up with Saskatoon in the first round.
After that, things are really heated with the seventh-place Medicine Hat Tigers holding a three-point edge on the Swift Current Broncos, Calgary Hitmen and Brandon Wheat Kings, who are tied for that eighth and final playoff spot.
Calgary, which is 3-6-1 in its last 10, has seven games remaining, with Swift Current (3-6-1) having six left, and Brandon (4-5-1) five.
The Prince Albert Raiders, who have six games remaining, have a slim chance of catching eighth, but they are five points out and would have to pass three teams to get there. Three of those remaining games are against Winnipeg, too.
The seventh-place finisher will face Red Deer in the opening round, with the eight-place club opening against the Ice in Winnipeg.
SUNDAY’S WHL HIGHLIGHTS:
The Moose Jaw Warriors jumped out to a 3-0 first-period lead and went to a 7-3 victory over the visiting Swift Current Broncos. . . . This game was to have been played on Saturday but was postponed because of nasty weather conditions in southern Saskatchewan. . . . D Denton Mateychuk had two goals and two assists. Mateychuk, who last scored a goal on Nov. 29, has 60 points, including 52 assists, this season. . . . Swift Current F Caleb Wyrostok likely can expect to hear from the WHL office after he took two majors (fighting and headshot) and two game misconducts at 13:12 of the third period. . . . Since losing four teammates to suspensions, the Warriors (38-22-3) are 6-6-0 and have won three in a row. They are settling nicely into fourth place in the Eastern Conference. . . . Swift Current (28-30-4) has lost four in a row (0-3-1) and is tied with Calgary and Brandon for the conference’s last playoff spot. . . .
In Saskatoon, the Prince Albert Raiders scored the game’s last six goals as they dumped the Blades, 7-1. . . . F Evan Herman (16) broke a 1-1 tie at 14:02 of the first period, and the Raiders took control with three second-period goals. . . . F Keaton Sorensen scored twice (25) and added an assist. . . . F Sloan Stanick, playing in his 200th regular-season game, had a goal, his 23rd, and an assist. He has career highs in goals, assists (32) and points (55). . . . Prince Albert (26-33-3) snapped a four-game skid. It is five points from an Eastern Conference playoff spot with six games remaining. . . . Saskatoon (44-14-5) had points in its previous 12 games (11-0-1). The Blades will be the conference’s No. 3 seed when the first-round begins. . . .
The Winnipeg Ice clinched its second straight Eastern Conference title with a 4-1 victory over the visiting Brandon Wheat Kings. . . . The Ice took a 4-0 lead into the third period. . . . F Zack Ostapchuk scored once (26) and added two assists. . . . F Owen Pederson got his 30th goal, giving the Ice five skaters with at least 30 scores. . . . G Daniel Hauser stopped 30 shots to earn the victory. This season, he is 34-4-1, 2.32, .915. He finished last season at 34-3-1, 2.00, .914. . . . Winnipeg (52-9-1) has won four straight. . . . Brandon (26-29-8) had won its previous three games. It is tied with Swift Current and Calgary for the last playoff spot in the conference. . . .
F Jackson Berezowski scored the lone goal of the shootout to give the host Everett Silvertips a 4-3 victory over the Spokane Chiefs. . . . Berezowski scored that goal to open the second round. . . . F Jesse Heslop scored twice (11) and added an assist in the first period as Everett took a 3-0 lead. . . . The Chiefs got to within one, at 3-2, only to have F Roan Woodward (6) restore Everett’s two-goal lead at 6:32 of the third period. . . . Spokane tied it with two goals in the period’s last minute — F Chase Bertholet (26), at 19:07, and F Tommaso De Luca (15), at 19:25. . . . Bertholet also had three assists. . . . F Raphael Pelletier had three assists for the Silvertips. . . . Everett (31-29-3) ended a five-game losing streak. It is sixth in the Western Conference, one point behind Tri-City. . . . Spokane (14-39-9) has lost three in a row (0-1-1). . . .
F Marcus Pacheco scored the only goal of a five-round shootout to give the Kelowna Rockets a 5-4 victory over the Tri-City Americans in Kennewick, Wash. . . . F Max Graham (12) scored two goals, 28 seconds apart, in the second period as Kelowna took a 3-1 lead. . . . Tri-City evened the score on goals from D Alex Serraglio (4), at 18:34 of the second, and F Tyson Greenway (26), at 4:34 of the third. . . . Greenway was playing his 200th regular-season game. . . . F Andrew Cristall (36) put Kelowna back out front at 8:56, but D Ethan Peters (3) tied it, on a PP, at 13:40. . . . The Americans got a goal (16) and two assists from F Deagan McMillan. . . . G Talyn Boyko stopped 37 shots in earning the victory against his former club. . . . The Rockets were without F Carson Golder, who missed his second game with a TBD suspension for a headshot major and game misconduct he took on Friday night. . . . Kelowna (26-34-3) has won three in a row. It is eighth in the Western Conference, three points behind Vancouver. . . . Tri-City (29-26-8) is fifth, one point ahead of Everett. . . .
F Ty Thorpe scored a PP goal in OT to give the Vancouver Giants a 3-2 victory over the Prince George Cougars in Langley, B.C. . . . F Julian Cull (4) gave Vancouver a 1-0 lead at 2:15 of the second period. . . . F Zac Funk (23) tied it at 5:28. . . . F Connor Dale (6) restored Vancouver’s lead at 7:13. . . . D Hudson Thornton (21) pulled the Cougars even again, on a PP, at 11:53. . . . Thorpe won it with his 34th goal at 1:10 of OT. . . . Thornton also had an assist as he set the Prince George franchise record for single-season points by a defenceman. He now has 69 points; the previous record was set by Christian Chartier in 2000-01. . . . Vancouver got 34 saves from G Brett Mirwald. . . . The Giants were without F Samuel Honzek, who left a Friday game in Kelowna after taking a high hit from Rockets F Carson Golder. . . . Vancouver (25-29-8) had lost its previous two games (0-1-1). It is seventh in the Western Conference, three points ahead of Kelowna. . . . Prince George (33-24-6) has points in six straight (4-0-2). It looks to be headed to a fourth-place finish in the conference.
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