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Playoff Previews - "B" Division

"B" Div. Semifinals: (3) Panthers @ (2) Rage

Rage Stats

Record Overall:
9-8-1, 72 GF, 77 GA, -5

Record vs Panthers:
2-1-0, 14 GF, 11 GA, +3

Special Teams:
PP: 5 for 18 (27.8 %)
PK: 13 for 22 (59.9 %)

Top 5 Scorers:
Floyd Jewell 18-18-13-31
Amolak Gill 17-14-15-29
Jonathan Yueh 14-6-15-21
Jay Taylor 14-5-8-13
Henry Lu 14-3-9-12


Panthers Stats

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

Record vs Rage:
1-2-0, 11 GF, 14 GA, -3

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
     These teams are about as close as two teams can possibly be, in fact, finishing the season with an identical 9-8-1 record. Though the Panthers actually had a better overall goal differential, it was the Rage that took the season series, two games to one. Each team had a one goal victory in the series, with the difference coming in the season opener for both clubs, an 8-5 win for the Rage. The Panthers are probably playing the better hockey of the two clubs at the moment, with a couple of wins in their past four (over the Warhawks and Mercenaries, and a pair of hard fought, one goal losses to the Ghostriders and the "A" Div Giants. The Rage were terrible in their last outing, managing only a tie with a Chiefs team that was on a twelve game losing streak heading in. Prior to that, the team had a respectable one goal loss to the Thrashers in crossover play, and a 6-5 loss to the Ghostriders that saw the Rage blow a late lead. The team's last win was a key 2-1 victory over this very Panthers team which has now earned the Rage the higher seed in this match-up. With the Panthers in their debut season in the NWBHL, this is the first playoff meeting between these clubs.
Team Offense
     The Rage can definitely score, finishing the season with an average of exactly four goals per game. There is little doubt who the big threat is on the team. Floyd Jewell had a career year with 18 goals and 31 points to win the "B" div scoring title. He also finished third in the race for the goal crown. Floyd is known for his big shot that he likes to unleash from the left wing, but he is equally adept in front of the net. He is one of the league's best at parking in front of the goalie, while still managing to stay out of the crease. The team has another big power forward in Amolak Gill, who himself had a stellar season. Amo finished just behind Floyd in the divisional scoring race with 17-14-15-29, all of those numbers career highs. He has a deadly toe drag that allows him to weave past defenders at will. Jonathan Yueh combined well with Floyd and Amolak this year. He was primarily an assist man to the two big shooters as his numbers will attest (14-6-15-21). Jonathan has a great battle level on the floor and often outworks the competition. After a tough spring season, it was a nice bounce back year for Jay Taylor, who finished just under a point-per-game pace for the team. Another big power forward, the towering Steve Dhillon, also was a regular contributor to the offense for the club. He finished with 9 points in 8 contests, though the team would like to see him in the lineup more consistently now that the games really matter. A bit surprisingly, the tandem of Paul Heer and Gary Dhillon that was so deadly in the Spring campaign, suffered from the dreaded sophomore slump this season. Dhillon's production was cut in half, while Heer dropped from 20 points to just 7, despite playing more games this year. The Rage will need them to add some key secondary scoring to take the pressure off the big line in this series. The team has some offense from the back end as well to consider. Dave Snyder always brings an offensive element to his game. He was over a point a game, and is the primary point man on the Rage powerplay. The team went into a midseason tailspin losing five straight when he was out of the lineup. Henry Lu may have been the biggest surprise on the Rage this year. He added 12 points from the blueline to finish fifth in team scoring. His offense was a big bonus as the rest of the club's defenders are primarily defense first players. 

     The Panthers were the second highest scoring team in "B" this year after the Warhawks. The first half of the season saw them spread the scoring around evenly, but the big guns on the club really started to take care of business in the second half. Gary Bal finished on a goal scoring tear that saw him win the division goal scoring title with an impressive 21 goals. With just the 6 assists, he is also definite Cy Young material! Gary found himself leading the division in another category as well, taking the Three Stars crown with an impressive 90 points, highlighted by 5 first stars. He is a definite favorite for the "B" div MVP this season. The Rage will have to be all over his wicked one timer, particularly on the man advantage. Luvdeep Gill also turned some heads this year for this Panthers team. He put up some strong numbers in his first year in the league, finishing fifth in scoring with 25 points in 16 games. He also scored some of the most spectacular goals of the year, often cutting through multiple defenders on solo dashes. There was little doubt the team was also going to get some big offensive contributions from Scott Wiltshire, as he has made a name for himself around the Arenex for several years as a big time point producer. His 21 points was third on the club and he tied with Luvdeep for the team assist lead with 13. He has long been a premiere set up man and a lot of the Panthers' possession will go through him. Just behind him with 20 points is the first of the Koonar clan. Justin Koonar is a hard working, skilled forward that has factored greatly into the team's offense. There's a bit of a drop off on the team scoring chart as the next highest scorer has only 10 points, however it's worth noting that had Mandip Koonar played the full season, he would have been among the other team leaders. A man that has somewhat flown under the radar this season is the legendary Indy Jhuti. He was limited in games this season, playing only 7, and he certainly isn't the same player that was a former Arenex "A" division all-star on a yearly basis, but Indy is still a big component of this offense, and he should be able to provide the club with that solid secondary scoring you need to win a tough series such as this. Though the Panthers didn't have the best powerplay percentage in the league this season (21.7%), they were often able to draw their opponents into being short, leading the division with a whopping 46 attempts on the man advantage. 
Team Defense
    The Rage have generally been considered throughout the years to be a solid team in their own zone. Like many of the "B" teams this year, they did get some inflated numbers while going head to head in the crossover games, but put up a pretty good 3.21 team GAA in games against their division rivals. In addition to the aforementioned Dave Snyder and Henry Lu, The Rage have a host of other experienced defensemen. In deference to the players on the Rage blueline, I won't mention the average age of the defenders, but suffice it to say they aren't spring chickens any more. There is always an upshot to that, in that these guys have been through the wars before and know what to expect.  Rod Hilborn, Bob Haddon, Jeff Lim and Brian Kennedy are all guys that know how to play well positionally, and when to carry the ball as compared to when to just do a safe clearance. The club also has the option to move back Darren Palmieri if they find themselves short on the back end in any given game. The Rage Penalty Kill was a big problem this year. The team finished ahead of only the Chiefs with a 59.1 % success rate. That's just not good enough to get the job done. The saving grace was that the team was able to stay out of the penalty box for the most part. It should be an interesting clash between the least penalized team in the league and the team that draws the most powerplays in the div, the Panthers.

    The Panthers finished second in the division behind the Warhawks in fewest goals allowed per game (3.67), as well as fewest shots allowed per game (24.0). They play an aggressive attacking style that always keeps their opponents off balance. The back end is anchored by Mandip Koonar, who is the best offenseve dman an the team, as well as the highly athletic Jasmeet Koonar, who adds a great element of speed to the team's back end. The veteran, Zoran Babic, also gives the team another option on the point of the powerplay. Gary Hallate, Bryan Sakata, and former Stingrays mainstay Jas Johal, provide the team with some good solid defensive blueliners as well. The Panthers' PK wasn't much better than the Rage this season, finishing with the third worst rating of 64.3 percent. In general, the Panthers looked to be the better of the two clubs on the defensive side of the ball this season, and also shut down the opposition with a bit more consistency throughout the schedule, so I would give them the edge in this category. 
Goaltending
    With long time Rage goaltender Andy Vandenberg on the sidelines this year with an injury, there was little doubt who was the man for the team this season. Cliff Stayner played every minute of every game for the Rage this season. Not surprisingly he saw a league high 707 minutes of action and led the division with 10 wins. At times he was spectacular, and his three First Stars are evidence of that. Cliff finished the year with a 4.36 GAA and .854 Save Percentage, both numbers much lower than in his first season with the Rage in the Spring. Overall his numbers took a bit of a hit with a late season swoon that saw the team give up some goals. Cliff definitely seemed to be fighting his confidence over the last three contests, starting with the now infamous late collapse against the Ghostriders. Fortunately, the playoffs are a new season and an opportunity for the slate to be wiped clean. A good start for Cliff in the series opener should put him right back on track. It's worth noting, however, there is literally no backup plan for the Rage in this playoff run.

    With 15 starts to his credit,
the Panthers leaned heavily on Dave Sherwin this season between the pipes. As he was also running, the team, that comes as little surprise. What may have caught some people off guard this year, however, was the quality of his play. Dave was one of the more solid goalies in the division this year, as he posted a 3.40 Goals Against to trail only the two Warhawks netminders. His save percentage of .853 isn't spectacular, but not bad either. His record was a couple of games over the .500 mark at 8-6-1. He does still tend to get victimized by at least one bad goal a game however, and he would certainly like to minimize that in this playoff run. The team does also have another intriguing option open to them. They made the conscious effort to give John Fronek a late season start in order to get him his second game and therefore be eligible for the playoff run. John was nothing short of spectacular in his two games, though the numbers won't tell the story on that as he was facing some pretty daunting opposition in both games in the form of the Thrashers and Giants. Crossover stats are rarely pretty for "B" div goaltenders, but Fronek almost stole the Giants game for the team, and played well in the other contest as well. Should the Panthers decide to give the reigns to Fronek for this run, he could be a difference maker. Either way the team appears to be in good hands in the crease.
Overall Outlook
     The Rage had a roller coaster ride of a season in 2014/15, putting together extended periods of excellent play, followed by lengthy slumps. The fact that they head into the postseason on one of those slumps doesn't particularly bode well, but the team has also shown an ability to turn things around in a hurry. Many people forget that the Rage are defending champs, having won their first championship in many years in the Spring season. The Panthers are in the Northwest League for the first time this year, but they are still an experienced Arenex team and have tasted championship glory themselves in the recent past. Of the two teams, the Panthers seemed to be the more consistent, and they are heading into the playoffs on a relative high. Though this is one of the closer match-ups to call in recent memory, I am giving the Panthers the nod to come out of this and reach the final. I do expect this one to go the distance, however. Series Prediction: Panthers in three







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