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Playoff Previews - "A" Division

"A" Div. Semifinals: (3) Giants @ (2) Thrashers

Thrashers Stats

Record Overall:
13-5-1, 90 GF, 74 GA, +16

Record vs Giants:
2-2-0, 17 GF, 16 GA, +1

Special Teams:
PP: 16 for 35 (45.7 %)
PK: 38 for 48 (79.2 %)

Top 5 Scorers:
Jay Dove 18-13-17-30
Dave Fisher 13-12-17-29
Roy Cabrita 14-14-13-27
Ravind Rana 12-15-10-25
Sanjeev Haer 13-8-11-19


Giants Stats

Record Overall:
13-6-0, 105 GF, 54 GA, +51

Record vs Thrashers:
2-2-0, 16 GF, 17 GA, -1

Special Teams:
PP: 13 for 36 (36.1 %)
PK: 26 for 37 (70.3 %)

Top 5 Scorers:
Harp Kalkat 16-17-27-44
Simran Bhatti 15-13-27-40
Justin Matai 13-8-14-22
Matt Peters 11-11-9-20
Alex Bosma 11-8-10-18
Series Overview
     The Giants and Thrashers split their season series, with each team winning a pair of games. Furthermore, each team would have a two goal victory as well as a lopsided win to their credit. The Giants started the season in a deep hole, losing their first three contests. They would eventually go on a tear and get themselves back into the playoff picture, in the end edging out the Crooks for the final spot. The Thrashers, conversely, began the year on fire, posting a perfect 5-0 start before hitting a mid-season rough patch. However, they would win some big games down the stretch and pull themselves into contention for top spot, just coming up short against the Jaguars. This is the third playoff meeting between these two clubs. The other two series took place in the Finals of the last two Fall seasons. The Giants defeated the Thrashers in a sweep in 2012/13, with the cup winner coming in overtime, off of the stick of Justin Matai. A year later in the 2013/14 Final, the teams would need all three games to decide things, but the Giants would again come out on top, and Justin Matai would again score the series clincher, this time in the dying minutes of the third period. An interesting side note to consider is the fact that the Giants' last two scheduled games of this season were forfeits from their opponents, meaning the team hasn't seen any actual game action in the league since the last day of January. They may have to shake off some considerable rust in Game 1.
Team Offense
     As always, the Thrashers are stacked offensively. The team has loads of veteran scorers, though Ravind Rana does help bring some youth into the lineup. He is one of the best young scorers in the game and he can do it in style, cutting through defenders with ease to score a brilliant solo dash, almost at will. He was better than a goal per game, and finished with 25 points in 12 games. Had he played the full season, he definitely would have been among the scoring leaders. The real heart and  soul of the team, however, remains Dave Fisher. He plays an unparalleled style, meshing talent with desire. There is nobody in the league that can outwork him on the floor, and yet his finish is also among the tops in the league. Dave finished with numbers of 13-12-17-29 which equates to 2.23 points per game. Interestingly, neither of those aforementioned scoring machines was the team point leader. That distinction goes to Jay Dove, who had another great year driving the offense for the Thrashers. He hit the 30 point plateau in a season for the 13th time. That's an incredible accomplishment for anyone, let alone a defenseman. Also a reliable point producer, Roy Cabrita, put up yet another successful campaign, finishing with 27 points in 14 games played. He also eclipsed the 600 point mark this season. Sanjeev Haer provides another good goal scoring option for the Thrashers, particularly on the PP. I would be remiss if I didn't also talk about Zach Kelm. He flew under the radar a bit this year, but did get enough games to qualify for the playoff run, and will be a big piece of the puzzle for the team heading forward. There's an interesting side story in this series involving Chip Gill, who actually started the season with the Giants, but moved over to the Thrashers part way through the year. Between the two clubs he put up a total of 10 points in 7 games. The Thrashers feature a devastating powerplay. They had a staggering 45.7 % efficiency rating on the man advantage (Tops in the league), finishing with 16 PP goals overall. Look for Jay Dove and Jeff Heer to man the points as usual, getting off their patented bullet slapshots after a couple of quick passes.

     The Giants finished the season with an official average of over 5.5 goals per contest. However, if you take the two 1-0 forfeit wins out of the equation, the team actually averaged better than 6 goals per game. After their losing skid to start the season, the team really teed off on some of the "B" teams in the crossover, getting to the mercy mark as soon as possible in some games. Harp Kalkat ran the show for the Giants once more. For the third time in as many full seasons in the league, he put up jaw dropping offensive numbers (16-17-27-44). However this season he had to settle for the silver medal in the scoring race, as Brenden Ham would win the scoring title with 51 points. Harp's point shot is an unbelievably potent weapon, though he scores as many goals off the rush with his patented mid-stride snap shot that consistently overpowers opposition goaltenders. The Giants don't strictly rely on Harp to provide their offense though, having a deep and talented pool of players to draw from. The club also had another 40 point man in the fold this year in Simran Bhatti. He averaged 2.67 points per game, to finish fourth in the overall scoring race, and register a career high in points. Third on the club in scoring was Justin Matai. The athletic Matai collected 22 points in just 13 games, and adds plenty of speed to the Giants' attack. The underrated Matt Peters was a goal-per-game player for the club. He has tremendous agility and a real nose for the net. Herman Sunner just hit the six game qualification mark, but if he can be coaxed to come out for the playoff run, the Giants will have another speedy sniper to add to their collection. First year player, Daniel Purewal also performed well this year with 10 points in 6 games. The talented Vish Singh had a tough year offensively, but if the team can get him back on track, he has shown he has the ability to be a game changer for the team. Other forwards of note include the veteran Bobby Grewal along with Peter Chohan and rookie Kyle Johal. Aside from Harp, the team has another solid point producer on the back end in big Alex Bosma. He put up some terrific stats this season (11-8-10-18), finishing in the top five of team scoring despite missing a number of games. 
Team Defense
    The Thrashers had their issues keeping the ball out of the net this year. They finished dead last in the "A" division, surrendering nearly 4 goals per contest. They'll definitely need to tighten things up a bit once this series gets under way. Things should be a bit more solid with the team having their full compliment of players out for the second season. Zach Kelm will make a huge difference in his ability to possess the ball and backcheck hard. On top of the usual suspects on the back end for the Thrashers (Heer, Dove, Bhandher), the team has picked up Mitch Miller, who despite his young age, has already taken a quick tour of the league, having played with four other teams so far. He is an excellent ball handler, but also knows when to make the safe clearance. The Thrashers also have big Slovakian rearguard Peter Gajdos on the team. He is great at clearing those bodies out from in front of the net, but doesn't have the penchant for taking bad penalties which can often be this team's Achilles' heal. Though the Giants' powerplay wasn't quite as deadly as the Thrashers' this year, it was still pretty solid, and the Thrashers must recognize this and stay away from the chippy aspect of the game.

    The Giants really clamped down on the goals allowed in the second half of the year. In one late season stretch, the team allowed 2 goals or fewer in 7 of 8 contests. Despite the rough start they endured, the Giants still finished with a sparkling 2.84 team GAA (Minus the forfeit games, the number was actually 3.18). The team almost always comes out with a full lineup, meaning they will have to change very little of their game-to-game strategy, unlike some other teams that must now accommodate a suddenly full bench. Knowing how to run three solid lines, full throttle at your opponent will always pay dividends in these grinding playoff games. Harp Kalkat and Alex Bosma will get the lion's share of the workload on the back end. They are both big bodies with tremendous reach, which is big asset among blueliners. Harp's brother Shaun is also an intense battler, and can dominate along the boards and in the corners. The team is actually a little light on natural defenseman at the moment, but Ron Sandhu often splits time as a defensive centreman or a straight out dman, as befitting the team's needs. The Giants did a pretty good job of not going shorthanded too much this season, averaging just over a couple of times per contest. As previously mentioned, that becomes a key factor in this series against a deadly Thrashers powerplay unit. 
Goaltending
    Rick Baker went almost the entire way for the Thrashers this year, playing in 16 games for the team. He is undoubtedly one of the best goaltenders in NWBHL history and has the numbers to prove it. With that said, he definitely had a down year in stats. His 4.17  GAA and .830 Save Percentage are the worst of his career, outside of a four game stint in the Spring 2012 season when he played for a slightly overmatched Vancouver Kings team that folded part way through the schedule. Despite the sub par numbers this year, he did manage to keep his team in the games and in classic Grant Fuhr style, not let the backbreaker in for the club. As a result, he would still post a solid 10-5-1 record. Look for Rick to be able to put that regular season behind him and start things fresh in the playoffs. He is a big game goaltender and at his best when the games really matter. The team technically does have a backup eligible for this playoff run as Josh Cabrita played one game and then earned a game credit during a Thrashers forfeit win. This will likely not come into play, however the team can breathe a little easier knowing there is a contingency in place, in case of injury.  

    
The Giants have had a somewhat crowded crease ever since Dave Lewis went down with injury last season. Six different goalies saw time between the pipes for the club, including sniping forward Vish Singh who won his only start. However, if Vish sees any time as a goalie in this series, you'll know something has gone horribly, horribly wrong! The Giants actually qualified four different men for playoff action, all with solid playoff pedigrees. However, if you thought there was any question as to the goaltending plan going forward, you are mistaken. Adam Butler was a late season pick-up by the Giants, and he has proven his reputation to be well earned. He posted a 4-1 record while putting up an unreal 1.85 GAA to go with a .908 Save Percentage. Adam also posted a pair of shutouts, which is always a difficult task in an Arenex building that lends itself to high scoring games. One of the best young goalies in the game at the moment, Adam Butler has really solidified a position that was perhaps a question mark at the start of the year for the Giants. Jas Basra also posted some good numbers for the club, going 4-0 with a terrific 2.78 GAA and .867 SV %. He remains a solid second option for the team. Jeff Fernquist and Tony Ferreira are on standby, but will be long shots to see any action this series. 
Overall Outlook
     This series should give us one of the great goaltending match-ups in recent memory as two of the Ndub's best, Rick Baker and Adam Butler, go toe to toe. Those goaltenders will have to contest with some of the best shooters around, however, and both of these clubs can score goals in bunches. The Giants and Thrashers are pretty evenly matched, as both the standings and the season series between them can attest. Having said that, both clubs were up and down this season and it might just be a case of which team can pull it together the best this weekend. Don't forget that this semifinal starts with a Saturday/Sunday doubleheader, and if necessary, Game 3 the following week. It's also worth mentioning once again that the Giants will have to shake off some considerable rust in their return to action for the series opener. I'm calling a weekend split with the Giants taking the series clincher in dramatic fashion, possibly even overtime. Series Prediction: Giants in three







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