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Playoff Previews - "B" Division

"B" Div. Finals: (3) Panthers @ (1) Warhawks

Warhawks Stats

Record Overall:
11-7-0, 80 GF, 57 GA, +23

Record vs Panthers:
1-1-0, 7 GF, 9 GA, -2

Special Teams:
PP: 11 for 31 (35.5 %)
PK: 32 for 47 (68.1 %)

Top 5 Scorers:
Sunny Basi 17-8-12-20
Larry Mey 13-6-12-18
Nick McNicol 16-12-2-14
Mike Craig 6-4-10-14
Amrit Shergill 12-4-9-13

Panthers Stats

Record Overall:
9-8-1, 76 GF, 66 GA, +10

Record vs Warhawks:
1-1-0, 9 GF, 7 GA, +2

Special Teams:
PP: 10 for 46 (21.7 %)
PK: 18 for 28 (64.3 %)

Top 5 Scorers:
Gary Bal 17-21-6-27
Luvdeep Gill 16-12-13-25
Scott Wilshire 17-8-13-21
Justin Koonar 16-9-11-20
Mandip Koonar 10-3-7-10
Series Overview
     This is a match-up of the two most consistent teams in the "B" division this season. The Panthers didn't have a three game losing streak at any point in the season. The Warhawks did have a couple of three game losing skids but one of those was with a couple of "A" teams thrown into the mix, and they did still end up with the best record in "B" against their divisional counterparts, going 11-3. The two teams split their season series with each team winning a game. The Warhawks took a 4-2 decision early in the season, while the Panthers got some revenge with an emphatic 7-3 thrashing of the Hawks in their late season tilt. Both teams also enter this championship final having swept their semifinal opponents in two straight, and appear to be on top of their respective games. This is their first playoff meeting. 
Team Offense
     The Warhawks averaged just below 4.5 goals per game this season, and with 9 goals scored in the first round, they kept true to that average. Bronson Cooper with two goals and a helper and Sean Grewal with a pair of tallies, paced the Warhawks in the opening round. Of course, it just wouldn't be the Warhawks without some goal scoring heroics from Sunny Basi, and he did find the back of the net for a pair of goals himself. Mike Craig has been a big find for this team. He was brought in at the midway point of the season and he has given them that one extra weapon to put them over the top. He collected a goal and an assist in the Ghostriders series. Look for Larry Mey to ratchet things up during this next series with his dynamic playing style that sees him all over the floor, seemingly at the same time. As well, the intensity and scoring ability of veteran Nick McNicol should provide the Hawks with what they need to get the job done. Marquez Ng, another important cog in the Hawks' offense, chipped in the biggest goal of the series, the overtime winner on a nifty deflection in front of the net. The team's powerplay remains a dangerous weapon (35.5% during the year) and though they didn't get to use it much during the opening round, it did go 1 for 2.

     The Panthers were able to find the net with regularity versus the Rage, scoring 10 goals in the two game series. The men that did the damage through the regular season continued to get the job done for the Panthers, as Scott Wilshire paced all scorers, collecting two goals and two assists, while Gary Bal had one of each. The team also got some contributions from some other sources with Bill Gill (2-1-2-3), Avi Bassi, and Gary Hallatte, and Jas Johal all with a multi point series. Indy Jhuti was held off the scoreboard in the opening round, but he still was making lots of things happen out on the floor, and was seeing time at both forward and defense. Look for a breakout final series from him coming up. Young Shaydon Dosanjh only played the first game of the playoffs, but he was outstanding, picking one and one as well as a the game's First Star. Not a bad playoff debut. Although the Panthers have a strong offense, the one area they've had a bit of problem with is the powerplay. They were just over 21% during the regular season, and they went 0 for 3 during the semifinal. In series between evenly matched teams, things often come down to special teams, and they'll need to get the PP working more reliably. 
Team Defense
    The Warhawks were stellar on the defensive side of the ball all season, and further ratcheted up their performance in the opening round. The Warhawks allowed only 22 shots against in Game 2 vs the Ghostriders, and that includes the additional five minutes of overtime. Their performance in Game 1 was even more impressive, as the Hawks surrendered only 13 shots, and just 2 in the second half as the team threw a blanket over the Riders' offensive players. With such an impressive collection of ball handlers on the back end (Larry Mey, Nameet Kumar, Kevin Booth), along with the many defense first defenders, there is plenty of depth for the Hawks in their own end.

Like the Warhawks, the Panthers really turned up their defense in their semifinal series. The Panthers gave up 22 shots in the first contest and a mere 15 in Game 2 against an offensively solid Rage team. It's even more impressive to be able to play that brand of shutdown hockey when matched against a team that is facing elimination. As mentioned in the team's opening round preview, the Panthers will need to stay clear of the penalty box. That was certainly a key component in the victory against the Rage as the team was only shorthanded three times. This Warhawks team will be an even bigger challenge and the Panthers will need the good support from their backcheck to continue and for the forwards to be coming down and giving good outlets to the dmen during the breakout of the defensive zone.
    The Warhawks did indeed show off their goaltending depth in the first round with both Shane Ram and Ami Gill getting starts and recording wins. Ami was hardly tested as he was in the net for the 13 shot game, turning aside 11 of those. Shane Ram was tested more heavily, but he stayed on the form he has shown through the course of the 14/15 season that saw him lead all "B" Div goalies with a 2.69 GAA and .881 Save Percentage. This is one of the best goaltending tandems the "B" division has seen in years, and the team has faith in either stopper that plays. 

Dave Sherwin put on a show in the first round stopping 34 of 37 shots fired his way for an impressive .919 Save Percentage. That equates to a 1.50 GAA, which isn't half bad either. Dave also picked up the 3rd star in the series clincher against the Rage. He has certainly put to rest any qualms that the prognosticators may have had about perhaps starting the teams' other goaltender John Fronek, who looked quite sharp in his two qualification games. He remains in the stable if needed, but this looks like Sherwin's show to finish!
Overall Outlook
     The cream of the "B" crop has risen to the top as it should in a Finals series, and the Warhawks and Panthers are both on top of their game right now. There isn't much to pick between these two teams. They can both score, and they both have terrific shutdown defenses that can smother the opposition. You probably give the edge to the Warhawks in overall goaltending, but Dave Sherwin is on his game and the team in front of him is making it easy for him. If I'm to make a call in this one, I do feel that the Warhawks may have just a bit more depth spread throughout the entire lineup. They've been hungry for a championship for the last few seasons as they have transitioned from pretender to being a serious contender, and they truly believe that their time is now. Having said that, the Panthers are a veteran group that's tasted Finals victory before, and they won't give this series up easily. It should be a quite the battle!  Series Prediction: Warhawks in three

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