One of the goals of any league is to maintain excitement right down to the final day of the season.
In that regard, the 2013-14 Western Hockey League campaign is a success, although for the Brandon Wheat Kings and their fans there might just be a little bit too much excitement as the clock ticks down on the final week of the regular season.
The Wheat Kings are in a fierce struggle with Prince Albert and Red Deer for the final two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference, leading them by two points but with the Raiders and Rebels both holding a game in hand on Brandon. To add a little nuance to the battle, none of those teams face each other in the final days, making the outcome dependent on not only their play, but that of a handful of other teams as well.
The good news for the Wheat Kings is that if they sweep their season-ending series they’re guaranteed no worse than a tiebreaker game for the final playoff spot. The bad news for them is that should they wind up sharing that final spot, the tiebreaker would be on the road, as both P.A. and Red Deer have more wins than Brandon.
Since the current playoff format was instituted in 2008-09, a tiebreaker has been needed only one time — in 2009 when the Edmonton Oil Kings beat the Raiders 2-1 in overtime.
Here are a few other plot lines to watch in the final week of the regular season:
DIVISION RACES: While the Kelowna Rockets and Portland Winterhawks have already wrapped up their division crowns out west, both of the Eastern Conference pennants have yet to be decided.
The Oil Kings are trying to hold off the Calgary Hitmen for first in the Central Division and the entire conference. The Wheat Kings might want to root for the Hitmen to keep that race close. The Oil Kings play a home-and-home against the Rebels on the final weekend, and it would be in Brandon’s best interest to have Edmonton fully motivated for both of its games against Red Deer.
In the East Division, the Regina Pats have a three-point edge on the Swift Current Broncos. The Broncos have the easier schedule, but in order to have a chance they’ll need some help from the Wheat Kings this weekend when Brandon plays a pair against Regina.
WESTERN PLAYOFF RACE: The Prince George Cougars are on their last leg in their bid to return to the post-season for the first time since 2010-11; in fact by the time you read this they might already be out. The Cougars need to win their last two games while having the Tri-City Americans drop four in a row, including last night’s late road game against the Winterhawks.
<B>SCORING RACE: Mitch Holmberg of the Spokane Chiefs carried a five-point edge over Portland’s Nic Petan into last night’s slate of games, but both players can rack up points at such a pace that the battle for the scoring title isn’t over yet. Holmberg already has the
goal-scoring crown locked up, entering Tuesday’s action with 60 — 14 more than anyone else in the league. There wasn’t even a 50-goal scorer in the WHL last season, and Holmberg and former Medicine Hat Tiger Emerson Etem (61 goals in 2011-12) are the only players to reach 60 since Layne Ulmer of the Broncos netted 63 in 2000-01.
@07 agate scoreboard body:<*p(0,0,0,9.6,0,0,g(P,S))><z8.6f$>A look at the remaining games for the three teams competing for the final two playoff spots in the WHL’s Eastern
Conference, plus their opponents’ points percentage in home and away games:
32-29-6-3, 73 points
Wheat Kings’ points percentage — .614 home, .429 away.
Games left — 2.
Home — Regina (.514 away).
Away — Regina (.676 at home).
33-31-3-2, 71 points
Raiders’ points percentage — .586 at home, .441 away.
Games left — 3.
Home — Saskatoon (.294 away).
Away — Regina (.676 at home), Saskatoon (.243 at home).
33-31-1-4, 71 points
Rebels’ points percentage — .500 home, .529 away.
Games left — 3.
Home — Kootenay (.529 away), Edmonton (.765 away).
Away — Edmonton (.671 at home).