The final full week of the Canadian Hockey League’s regular season offers a solid preview of the 2018 playoffs, which begin the weekend of March 23 – 25. NHL top prospects will be on display, including current Western Hockey League leaders Kieffer Bellows (Portland Winterhawks), Jayden Halbgewachs (Moose Jaw Warriors), Glenn Gawdin (Swift Current Broncos) and Carter Hart (Everett Silvertips).
2018 WHL Playoff Picture: The name is Bellows, Kieffer Bellows
Friday Night Lights
On March 9, the Calgary Hitmen took centre stage with a 5-4 overtime win over the Saskatoon Blades. The final score sheet tells the story. Tied 3-3 at the end of the first period, neither team could find the back of the net in the second period. The Blades took an early lead 41 seconds into the third period. 18-year-old forward Carson Focht scored the game-tying goal for the Hitmen at the 8:35, forcing the overtime. The Hitmen’s power source was Focht’s linemate Tristen Nielsen, who is also eligible for the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. He scored his first WHL career hat trick, including the game-winner 1:58 into overtime. Nielsen ended the night with four points — including an assist on the game-tying goal — and the First Star of the Night.
It’s hard to reconcile the “Snow Must Go” motto of New York Islanders fans with the stellar season Kieffer Bellows is having in Portland. He is the king of the two-goal game and/or the game-winner. He might have to give up the throne after scoring his first career hat trick on March 4 in a 7-4 Winterhawks win over the Seattle Thunderbirds. Bellows has one weakness and it’s starting to get him in trouble. He complains to the referees a little too often for his own good. With playoffs less than two weeks away, he will need to tone it down.
The Everett Silvertips blew a chance to clinch the U.S. Division title on March 11, when they lost to the Portland Winterhawks 2-0. The magic number for the Silvertips to clinch the title is three points. Portland is four points behind Everett, and both teams still have three more games to play. The battle for the U.S. Division title may come right down to the wire this weekend. Everett has the upper hand, but as evidenced by the loss in Portland there are no guarantees.
A similar battle is shaping up in the B.C. Division, where the Victoria Royals kept their playoff hopes alive with a win over Prince George on March 11. The Royals are now only three points behind the Kelowna Rockets. Victoria has two games left to play in their season and Kelowna has three games left.
Meanwhile, the Moose Jaw Warriors are inches away from clinching the Scotty Munro Trophy for the WHL’s best season record. Their current record is 51-14-1-2. They have 105 points with three games left to play. They are five points ahead of the Swift Current Broncos, who have 100 points with three games left to play in their season.
Check out the OHL Playoff Picture Here.
Check out the QMJHL Playoff Picture here.
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