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Playoff Previews - "A" Division

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

Giants Stats

Record Overall:
12-4-2, 104 GF, 63 GA, +41

Record vs Wolfpac:
2-0-1, 15 GF, 9 GA, +6

Special Teams:
PP: 5 for 20 (25.0 %)
PK: 25 for 32 (78.1 %)

Top 5 Scorers:
Harp Kalkat 14-15-25-40
Simran Bhatti 11-14-7-21
Justin Matai 13-8-9-17
Bobby Grewal 13-6-11-17
Vishu Singh 9-7-9-16

Wolfpac Stats

Record Overall:
11-6-1, 113 GF, 68 GA, +45

Record vs Giants:
0-2-1, 9 GF, 15 GA, -6

Special Teams:
PP: 11 for 32 (34.4 %)
PK: 22 for 30 (73.3 %)

Top 5 Scorers:
Steve Mulholland 14-26-19-45
Tony Chohan 15-22-17-39
Jordan Chowsen 8-10-8-18
Gugan Gill 9-4-11-15
Dave Fisher 8-3-11-14
Series Overview
     Surprisingly, these teams have never actually met in the Northwest League playoffs before. The Giants had just arrived on the scene in 12/13 season, their first of three consecutive fall titles, just as the Wolfpac were winding down their own good run of championships before going on hiatus from the league for four seasons. As for this season, head to head meetings saw the Giants take two of the three contests with the Wolfpac, with the third ending in a wild 6-6 tie. The Giants also come off of the first round bye which history has shown can be a mixed blessing. They'll have to get up to speed quickly against a Wolfpac team that has a pair of hard-fought playoff wins under their belt already.
Team Offense
     The Giants didn't score as many goals on the season as the Wolfpac, and their typically deadly powerplay from previous seasons was somewhat under whelming this year with just 5 goals scored with the man advantage for a 25 % success rate. However it is safe to say that one area that the Giants have seen no drop-off in is the play of Harp Kalkat. He continues to put up astounding numbers in the league, notching his fourth 40 point season in as many years. His total numbers for 2015/16 were 14-15-25-40, good for fifth in "A" div scoring. The offense still runs through Harp and he is given free reign to roam all over the floor from his starting position on defense. Simran Bhatti also put together another solid campaign, finishing second on the team with 21 points in just 11 games. A big power forward with a nose for the net, Simran is a tough customer to handle for opposition defenders. Justin Matai and veteran Bobby Grewal put up matching totals of 17 points in 13 games, with Matai taking the 8-6 lead on goals between the two. Vish Singh had a nice return to form this season after a challenging 14/15 season that saw him struggling with injury. He once again showed he is a dangerous offensive player for the team, chipping in a solid 16 points. There are numerous players on the Giants this year that just made it under the qualification wire, meaning that they'll be able to put their classic three lines of considerable depth out on the floor. Some of the dangerous players that qualified are Herman Sunner (who fired goals at a remarkable pace of 12 in 6 games), Matt Peters (6-2-9-11), Rajan Boparai (7-6-4-10).

     The Wolfpac had to deal with a bit of a curveball when scoring ace Tony Chohan got injured the night before their playoff opener. With one of the team's top scorers on the shelf, the goals would have to come from somewhere else. Fortunately, Manvir Pooni would step up in a big way for the club. The late season pick-up that was acquired from the Giants would score four goals in the quarterfinal verses a Clappers team that really upped their defensive game. The four goals would represent fully half of the goals the Wolfpac scored in the series, and with an overtime goal and a key insurance marker in the mix, the timing of the goals was also notable. Jordan Chowsen also was a big contributor in the first round with three assists for the 'Pac. He showed his ability to dominate from the back end whether carrying the ball or firing his wicked shot which he can release in the blink of an eye. Mike Sanghara (who saw some time on the point of the powerplay), Peter Chohan and the hard-working Ajeet Bains each chipped in a goal and an assist for the Wolfpac. Despite the team only registering four goals in each game, they did put up pretty solid shot totals of 33 and 40 in the two games, equal to a shooting % of 10.3 during the series. It should be noted that the Wolfpac also struggled with goal scoring during the regular season in head-to-head games with the Giants. They were held to a single goal and then a pair of goals, but did put up a six spot in the game they tied. Heading into the playoffs, this team was absolutely firing on all cylinders offensively, so it isn't much off a stretch to think they can find that form again. Steve Mulholland and Dave Fisher will be relied upon to kickstart the offense and the team is expecting to get Tony back for this series, which should supply a big boost as well. 
Team Defense
    The Giants have an intimidating group of defensemen to stock their back line with. As if it's not enough to deal with Harp Kalkat, who can carry a team at both ends of the floor, the Giants also have Alex Bosma, the massive rear guard with an incomparable reach. He is also an excellent offensive presence and can run a powerplay with the best of them. The team added Jagpal Sandhu to the mix this year, one of the few new pickups the club has made as they have largely returned their championship winning rosters from previous seasons. Sandhu is another good ball handling defensemen that is tough in his own zone. The Giants also received a big boost this year when Gary Chahal returned to the lineup. He is a true force out on the floor with his large frame and lively legs. One of the fiercest battlers in the league, Gary will have to manage the line between discipline and competitiveness in these playoffs. The team also has Shaun Kalkat and Kyle Johal available, both of whom are excellent in their own zone and can also chip in some offense. The Giants had a strong penalty kill this season, finishing with a 78.1 % success rate, and a league high 4 shorthanded goals goals. Overall on the year, this Giants team tied the Jaguars for the fewest goals allowed with 63, and if they can get their full lineup out for this series as expected, they will be awfully tough to score on once again.

Wolfpac defense really held the fort against the Clappers when the team needed it most. In the opening game of the series with the pivotal first goal up for grabs, the team wouldn't surrender a Clappers score until 31 minutes into the game. Likewise in the Sunday game, with the team trailing 3-1 at the half, the 'Pac would shut the door, outshooting the Clappers 24-13 through 27 minutes of the second period and overtime. Though he didn't end up with big point totals (0-1-1), Gugan Gill was particularly dominant for the Wolfpac in his own zone in this series, and was awarded the game's second star in game two. His ability to step up and put pressure on opposition wingers, while also firing bombs from the point all night, gave the Clappers players fits. Jordan Chowsen also showed off his two way play, notching three points.  
    The goaltending situation for the Giants is something of a mystery, perhaps even to them. The team hasn't really anointed a starter since Dave Lewis went down with an injury a couple seasons ago. Deep Toor did play 10 games for them this season, posting a decent 5-3-2 record. His other numbers are pretty respectable as well (4.14, 8.35). Adam Butler is probably the man they would most prefer to have in the playoffs. He is well regarded as one of the top goaltenders in the game at the moment. He only made a pair of starts for the team, splitting his record at 1-1, but with a pretty good GAA of 3.00 and Save % of .864. It was only a year ago that Butler would win Playoff MVP honours, as he helped the Giants sweep their way to the "A" div championship. The club was involved in numerous player transfers this year involving their stoppers, with Vince Mudaliar and Harvy Takhar both playing for the Giants before moving on to other teams this season, while Mark Cayer, who started on the Mercenaries roster, was brought over as a late acquisition. He won both of his games handily for the Giants., including a tough test versus the Pirates that saw him hold their explosive lineup to a single tally.

Jason Sidhu was something of a surprise starter for the Wolfpac in the quarterfinals, as he started both games on the weekend. He was excellent in both games and in total stopped 49 of 53 shots for a sparkling .925 save percentage. The Wolfpac were heavily tested by a scrappy Clappers team in the opening round, and Jason spent large portions of the series knowing that the next goal he surrendered would be a back-breaker. This is particularly true of the second game that would see the Wolfpac trailing for a bulk of the action, and eventually going into overtime. The status of Rick Baker is unknown at this time. Whether he was absent over the weekend due to injury or scheduling conflict is a question to be considered, though there is little doubt he would have seen one or both starts had he been able to play.
Overall Outlook
     This should prove to be one heckuva series, with two dynasty level clubs meeting in playoff battle for the first time. The Giants are once again the team with the most depth in the NWBHL. With 19 talented runners eligible for playoffs, they will attack in waves. The big question mark for them, once again remains their ability to get going quickly after the week off. The Wolfpac will need to get that offense restarted and firing as it was in the previous several weeks, as well as to come up with an answer for Harp Kalkat. That's always easier said than done. This series is also interesting to watch in regards to how the goaltending plays out, with both teams having interesting decisions to make. Any way you slice it, look for this match-up to be a beauty! Series Prediction: Giants in three

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