The OHL playoffs continue this week, getting down to the semi-final round, featuring a rematch from last season.
Erie Otters (1) vs. London Knights (3)
The last time the Otters and Knights met in the postseason, Connor McDavid led the former to a sweep of the latter in the second round of the 2015 Ontario Hockey League playoffs. Of course all eyes were on McDavid and Dylan Strome as the dynamic duo was on a roll offensively in the playoffs, but the Knights were pretty close in terms of offensive talent. Nonetheless, they were outscored by three goals or more in all four games during the second-round series, failing to win a single game.
This time around, though, the guys in green are going to put up way more of a fight, enough perhaps to lead them to a series victory and a berth in the OHL Final.
In the month of March, the two faced off against each other three times, with London emerging victorious in two of those meetings. The Otters grabbed the last victory, defeating the Knights by a score of 4-2 in each team’s season finale at the Erie Insurance Arena, so home-ice advantage could be a factor in this upcoming season.
Regardless, the edge goes to London for their incredible depth, something Erie simply cannot match.
Sure, the Otters relied heavily upon their depth scoring in the opening round, before the top line of Strome, Alex DeBrincat and Taylor Raddysh really got going, but the Knights have way more to work with up front. Plus, they will be getting Max Jones — currently serving a 12-game suspension — back for Game 3 of the third round, so an already dominant team will only be getting better mid-way through the conference final.
Erie finished as the first seed in the Western Conference during the regular season while London — who matched them for the league lead in points (105) — placed third due to a playoff format conflict. It clearly served them well.
In the opening round, the Knights struggled a bit to find their game against Owen Sound, but they quickly found their way and wrapped the series up in six games. In the second round, they made quick work of a stacked Kitchener Rangers team, sweeping their division rivals and advancing to the third round.
London is going to have a lot to handle with Erie rolling right now, and it’s not going to be easy to get through the third round. Strome led the Otters to their series-clinching win in Game 5 of the second-round series, netting a hat-trick and tallying two assists against the Soo Ste. Marie Greyhounds, but even his break-out performance will likely be contained by the tough, deep Knights team. And London’s Mitch Marner and Matt Tkachuk are first and second (respectively) in playoff scoring through two rounds, so they have all the necessary offensive tools to deal with Erie.
This one won’t be decided easily, and don’t be surprised to see quite possibly the most intriguing, exciting and intense showdowns in recent history if both teams are on top of their respective games throughout the series.
Prediction: London wins in 7
Barrie Colts (2) vs. Niagara IceDogs (4)
The Barrie Colts had quite the scare in the opening round of the playoffs. In Game 1, they looked more than ready to take on the inferior Mississauga Steelheads; in Game 2 and beyond, after Alexander Nylander returned to the opposition’s lineup, they struggled tremendously, having to take it to Game 7 to emerge victorious. Barrie won that last game by a score of 5-1 after suffering a devastating 7-0 Game 6 loss, so the Colts’ confidence increased tremendously heading into the second round.
Both the Colts and Niagara IceDogs swept their respective second-round series and each team looks to be playing their best hockey, so picking a clear-cut winner is impossible.
Barrie struggled in the first round while Niagara excelled in the second, sweeping the first-seed favorite, the Kingston Frontenacs. Judging by that, you’d assume the IceDogs are the favorites to win it here, but that’s not the case.
Barrie has an edge in this match-up because of their experience. The team’s top three scorers in the postseason thus far — Kevin Labanc, Andrew Mangiapane and Justin Scott — are all set to graduate to professional hockey next season, so this is their last chance to push for playoff success. Led by such dominant key figures, the Colts have what it takes to defeat the relatively young, inexperienced IceDogs.
Niagara’s Josh Ho-Sang has been on fire as of late, with 15 points (3G, 12A) in just nine games, but teams cannot rely solely on one player in the postseason. There are a few stars right behind him on the scoring leaders list, such as Vince Dunn and Pavel Jenys, but there’s not enough depth to support them. Therefore, they will have a hard time outscoring the high-octane offensive Colts (Labanc is tied for second in playoff scoring with 22 points).
Barrie’s first-round struggles will not come back to haunt them this time around, and although they may falter a bit against Niagara, they will emerge victorious nonetheless.
Prediction: Barrie wins in 6