Sunday, May 18, 2008

Into the Drivers Seat

Game 3 was supposed to be the game where the host Kitchener Rangers just about locked up their berth in the Memorial Cup finals. After all the OHL champs had all the cards including a full day off before facing what was supposed to be a tired Spokane Chiefs.

The 2008 edition of the Memorial Cup has been even better than advertised especially now that the Spokane Chiefs are now the team in the drivers seat after their 2-1 win on Sunday over the Kitchener Rangers. While this game lacked the high scoring of the first 2 games it still provided some heart stopping moments of their own.

The main heart stopper has to be the game's First Star, Spokane Chief goaltender Dustin Tokarski who stopped 36 out of 37 shots to earn the win. From our perspective, Tokarski may have won the game back in the 1st period when as the Chiefs were trailing 1-0 and the Rangers on the attack.

The Rangers appeared to have all the momentum having scored a shorthanded goal a few minutes earlier. The Chiefs had been playing a very shaky game turning the puck over, and allowing the Rangers dictate the tempo of play.

During this sequence that we think was the game defining moment; Tokarski made not one but 3 straight key saves that helped his Chiefs regain their composure. They were not spectacular highlight reel saves but rather the kind one expects their star goalie to make.

We said this before as when we looked at the CSB North American Goalie list, we shake our head in disbelief that Tokarski is only the 9th best goalie. We think that by the time the NHL Entry Draft rolls along that Tokarski will rise above several of those rated higher.

We will not cry if the Rangers use a 2nd round pick on Tokarski as this is a prospect who comes from 3 generations of goaltenders (father, uncles and grandfather) but what we love about this prospect is his positioning. Quite simply we do not see Tokarski take himself out of position.

Tokarski is just 5'11 which we think is the top knock on him but we keep seeing is 18 which is the number of wins (against ONLY 2 losses) in both the WHL playoffs and now in the Memorial Cup.

As for his teammates, it was once again the Drayson Bowman show on offense. Bowman who had a hat trick on Saturday netted his 4th goal on Sunday which proved to be the game winner. Bowman also set up Spokane's first goal to give him 6 points in the Chief's first 2 games (and the game's second star.

What we liked about the Chiefs was how they played once they settled down as the Chiefs are the team that is supposed to lack star power so they truly play a team game. We like to call their playing scheme the "trap that really is not a trap" as it is a swarming disruption of the zones between the blue lines.

The Chiefs coverage of the passing lanes along with finishing their checks is why this team is one win away from clinching a spot in the Memorial Cup. If anything it would be the perfect ending to this "rags to riches" story of a franchise that couldn't even make the playoffs for a number of years.

So now the question is what happens next? Here is how we believe it is breaking down:

1- Spokane 2-0-0 4 points +2 goal differential
2- Kitchener 1-1-0 2 points Even
3- Belleville 0-0-1 1 point -1
4-Gatineau 0-0-1 1 point -1

On Monday Belleville faces Gatineau in a game where the winner will jump into 2nd place with one game remaining for each. We believe the pressure will be more on Belleville as if they lose then they have to try to defeat the same team that just defeated them for the OHL championship.

For Spokane it is easy to say; defeat Gatineau on Tuesday and they go right to the Memorial Cup finals with an unbeaten record.

IF our understand is correct then Kitchener has to go though the semi-finals in order to reach the Cup Finals. By losing in regulation they can not over take Spokane.

IF Gatineau defeats both Belleville and Spokane (they must win in regulation though) then they can jump into the final.

IF Belleville defeats Gatineau and Kitchener while Gatineau defeats Spokane in regulation then they will jump past Spokane.

IF you are not confused then you have not been playing attention.

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