Giants wrapping regular season but playoff possibilities remain

This weekend will decide whether Vancouver meets Prince George, Portland, Everett or Wenatchee in first round

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It might be quicker to explain who the Vancouver Giants won’t be playing to open the WHL playoffs next week than to list who’s still in the running to be their first-round opponent.

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Vancouver sits in fifth spot in the WHL’s Western Conference with two games left in the regular season and they can still finish anywhere between fourth and seventh in the 11-team loop. And they are far from alone in that lack of certainty with just days remaining in league play. The eight playoff qualifiers in the West have been determined, but the third-place Everett Silvertips are the lone one that has their final placing locked in.

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In other words, things are still messy enough in the standings that Vancouver could face off with any one of the Silvertips, Wenatchee Wild, Portland Winterhawks or Prince George Cougars in that best-of-seven opening round of the post-season.

The playoffs are set to begin on the March 29-30 weekend on various fronts.

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Vancouver (32-30-4-0) finishes the regular season this weekend with their traditional home-and-home closing set with the Kelowna Rockets (31-30-4-1), who also happen to be one point behind them in the standings in sixth spot. 

The teams meet Friday at the Langley Events Centre and then wrap their 68-game regular seasons Saturday at Prospera Place.

Kelowna is 5-1-0-0 against Vancouver so far this season, and has got six goals and 14 points from star winger Andrew Cristall in those games. 

The Giants woke up Wednesday two points behind Wenatchee for fourth, with the Wild holding a game in hand. Wenatchee carried a 33-28-4-0 record into a road game Wednesday night with the seventh-place Victoria Royals and their 28-29-5-4 mark. Victoria was two points behind Kelowna and one up on the eighth-place Spokane Chiefs (29-31-5-1) to start the day.

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Fourth place has home-ice advantage in a meeting with fifth place in the first round. Wenatchee can clinch fourth with three points in their final three games. They’re at Victoria again on Friday and then visit Everett on Saturday.

Wenatchee currently holds the tiebreaker advantage in both wins and goals differential with the Giants so Vancouver will need to jump them in points to take over fourth spot. 

Vancouver staff and players have been open of late to chasing fifth spot at the very least. Giants winger Ty Halaburda, for one, said last week that “it’s no secret that our goal is to get fifth.” 

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The math is much more in their favour in that regard. Sixth place faces Everett in the first round. While there were a mere six points between fourth and eighth going into Wednesday action around the league, there were 21 points between the fourth-place Wild and the third-place Silvertips (43-18-2-3). The second-place Winterhawks (46-15-3-1) are five points up on Everett, and the first-place Cougars (47-15-1-3) are two ahead on Portland, with the Winterhawks holding a game in hand. 

First place has home-ice advantage throughout the West playoffs. Portland (26-6-1-0), Everett (24-5-2-1) and Prince George (24-7-1-1) have the three best home ice records in the West. Wenatchee (21-12-1-0) was next in line.

Prince George finishes off the regular season this weekend with a home-and-home with the last-place Kamloops Blazers (20-40-3-3). Portland wraps with a three-in-three weekend, starting with a visit to the 10th-place Tri-City Americans (22-40-2-1) on Friday and then a home-and-home with the ninth-place Seattle Thunderbirds (26-37-2-0).

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Seattle has three games left is 10 points behind Spokane.

The Cougars are looking for their first Western Conference title since moving to Prince George from Victoria for the 1994-95 season, and their first 100-point season since they went 60-11-1 in Victoria in 1980-81.

Vancouver has gone 19-9-2-0 since Jan. 1. They added four forwards in their 19-year-old seasons in that span, bringing in Connor Levis and Tyson Zimmer in two separate trades and having Kyren Gronick and Samuel Honzek return to action from injury and world junior tournament commitments, respectfully.

Honzek
Forward Samuel Honzek takes part in the 2023 Calgary Flames Prospects Training Camp at WinSport in Calgary on Thursday, September 14, 2023.Gavin Young/Postmedia Gavin Young/Postmedia

Vancouver was in eighth spot at the Jan. 10 trade deadline, sitting two spots before the Chiefs, who had three games in hand as well. Vancouver general manager Barclay Parneta said then that he wanted to add veteran presence for his young players to learn from, and wanted to give his existing players and the fan base a push at the playoffs after Vancouver were sellers at the trade deadline the previous two seasons. Those earlier moves did give Parneta extra draft pick capital and meant that he didn’t have to empty the prospect cupboard to bring in Levis and Zimmer.

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Vancouver has been led offensively of late by rookie Cameron Schmidt, who has 14 goals and 27 points in his past 16 games. He bagged his 30th goal of the season on Sunday in a 6-3 loss to the Prince George Cougars, becoming just the seventh player in the past 30 years in the WHL to reach that plateau in his 16-year-old season.

@SteveEwen

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reference: theprovince.com

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