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Halifax's Marchand ready to deliver in the postseason

by Brad Holland
Forward Brad Marchand was a standout player last year in the QMJHL playoffs, and is poised for another big run
as the Halifax Mooseheads head to the postseason.
Halifax forward Brad Marchand loves this time of year.

Yes, it's playoff time again throughout the Canadian Hockey League.

Last season, Marchand (BOS, 2007) was an integral part of the Val-d'Or run to the QMJHL final. His 16 goals, 24 assists and 40 points were all league-high marks, he finished tied for first with a plus-11 rating and seven power-play goals, and tied for second with three game-winning goals.

To say he was a big part of his team's playoff success would be an understatement of near-insulting proportions.

"I was always taught growing up that great players show up to big games," Marchand said, making that statement minutes after leading Team Canada to its fifth straight -- and his second straight -- World Junior Championship gold medal.

He appears poised to put up another set of big numbers in the 2008 postseason, especially after finishing the regular season with points in nine consecutive games, totaling six goals and 24 points.

To say he will be integral in the Mooseheads' run in the 2008 QMJHL playoffs could also be seen as an understatement considering just how important he is to Halifax.

This time around, he will have help from another big-game player in Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Jakub Voracek, who finished only behind Claude Giroux in points-per-game average in the regular season and fourth-overall in league scoring with 33 goals and 101 points in 53 games.

Last season, Voracek finished fifth in QMJHL playoff scoring with 24 points, despite playing in only 12 games, before falling to the same team that would eventually defeat Marchand's Fleurs, the Lewiston MAINEiacs.

This year, with the first-overall seed, and the dynamic duo united, you can bet both Voracek and Marchand have their focus squarely on the Q Championship and a berth in the Memorial Cup, where their big-game attitudes will have a chance to shine under junior hockey's brightest lights.

And if they have a chance to knock out the Eastern Division's fifth-seeded team, the MAINEiacs, and exact some collective revenge, well -- so much the sweeter.

Around the QMJHL --
The QMJHL playoff format is as follows: the top nine teams from the Telus Division and the top seven from the East Division make the playoffs, with the ninth-seeded team in the Telus Division switching to the East Division and ranked according to points with the other seven teams. Teams will then play seven-game series, and will be re-seeded in the second round, with the top remaining seed in each division playing the lowest remaining seed in each division. In the Division Finals, the teams will cross over, with the higher seed in each series receiving home ice. In the final, higher points equals home ice advantage. … Lewiston, the QMJHL defending champions in 2007, will face off against Cape Breton, a team they only narrowly missed out on facing in last year's championship run. The Eagles were defeated by Val-d'Or in seven games, with Marchand and Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang each picking up one goal and one assist in the deciding seventh game. … Gatineau once again enters the playoffs as a third seed, facing off against Shawinigan, but it will be looking for a far different outcome than last season's 4-1 opening-round defeat at the hands of Rouyn-Noranda. … Washington Capitals sixth-round pick Mathieu Perreault, who earlier this season enjoyed a 27-game points scoring streak -- the longest streak in the Q this season -- earned the league scoring title with 114 points through 65 games, fending off Gatineau forward Claude Giroux (106 points) and Chicoutimi forward Francis Pare (102). Pare, however, took the goal-scoring title with 54 goals in 69 games, 10 more than the two runners-up, Acadie-Bathurst forward Tomy Joly and Rouyn-Noranda forward Michael Dubuc, who finished tied for second with 44.

Western Hockey League

The defending champion Medicine Hat Tigers picked an appropriate time to head out on the prowl.

In dramatic fashion, the Tigers sewed up fourth overall in the highly-competitive Eastern Conference by winning seven of their final 10 regular season games and six of their final seven in earning home-ice advantage through at least the first round of the 2008 playoffs.

Medicine Hat will face Kootenay in the first round of the WHL playoffs.

Despite losing a huge chunk of the team that took the 2007 WHL Championship and came within a game of winning the Memorial Cup, the Tigers have shown amazing resiliency this season.

They lost Kris Russel, the WHL's top defenseman for two years running, to the Columbus Blue Jackets, and their top scoring winger, Darren Helm (who recently skated in his first NHL game with the Detroit Red Wings), their third-leading scorer, Derek Dorsett, and No. 1 goaltender Matt Keetley to their respective AHL teams.

In addition, David Schlemko and forward Chris Stevens are each playing minor pro in the CHL and ECHL, respectively, meaning the Tigers lost their No. 1 goaltender, top two defensemen, and top three scorers after last season.

It is impossible to fill those shoes, but young forwards have been stepping up to fill the holes, and a new team-first approach has replaced the game-breaking style of last year's team to earn wins in the close games.

The Tigers may not have the same quick-strike ability as last season, but they haven't been completely declawed, and they seem to be heating up at just the right time to make a repeat run of last season a very distinct possibility.

Around the WHL -- The WHL has changed its playoff format, and will use a conference- seeded playoff for the first round, identical to the NHL's current format. The top two teams in each conference will be ranked 1-2, based on points, and the remaining six teams will be ranked 3-8, again based on points. The top-seeded team will play the lowest-seeded team, and so on for the remaining teams, a format that will continue through the remaining rounds. The highest-remaining seed in each round will face off against the lowest, all the way to the final, when the team that had more points in the regular season will earn home-ice advantage. … The matchup everyone wanted to see, Vancouver against Chilliwack, is a matchup that nobody will have to wait for. The two teams will face off in the first round for the second year in a row, only this time there is more than a little bit of bad blood between the two teams. Last year's deciding game ended with a fracas that resulted in 72 minutes in penalties handed out at the 20- minute mark. … The Eastern Conference looks to be the more balanced of the two, as the eighth seed, Moose Jaw, earned 88 points, good enough for fifth in the West. However, the West is incredibly top-heavy, with three teams having cracked the 100-point barrier, including last season's Memorial Cup champions, Vancouver. … After a stretch of 10 wins in 11 games, Everett limped into the WHL playoffs on a five-game losing streak, and will face third-seeded Spokane, which finished the regular season with 107 points, good for second in the league.

Ontario Hockey League

The most balanced of the first-round matchups in the OHL just might be out West, where No. 4 London will play No. 5 Guelph in the continuation of a regular-season series that has been highly entertaining and in which neither team seems willing to give an inch.

The season series between the two teams stands at 3-3, though the Storm have outscored the Knights by a combined score of 21-12 this season, including a pair of lopsided victories -- 5-0 and 8-2 -- early in the season.

What bodes well for London is that it has won two of the past three meetings, each by a very playoff-like 2-1 margin.

The season series was not indicative of either team's style of play, however, as the Knights outscored the Storm this season by 37 goals, but allowed 43 more.

The strength of the Knights is a high-octane attack led by rookie sensation Pat Maroon while the Storm play a defense-first system led by 2008 top prospects Drew Doughty on defense and Thomas McCollum in net.

The season series has been so back-and-forth, at least partially due to the fact that the strength of each team runs headlong into the strength of the other. Regardless of the reason, it makes for one heck of a first-round matchup.

Around the OHL -- The playoff format of the OHL matches that of the WHL and the NHL, as the top seed in each round will face the lowest-remaining seed until the Final, when the Eastern and Western Conference champions will meet, and the team with the highest regular-season points total will earn home-ice advantage. Each series will be played in a best-of-7 format. … The two No. 1 seeds, the Belleville Bulls and the Kitchener Rangers, each enjoyed their finest season in franchise history, respectively. The Bulls finished with 48 wins and 102 points while the Memorial Cup-hosting Rangers earned 53 wins and 110 regular-season points. … Justin Azevedo took the OHL lead in points just after the new year, and never let go. He finished with 124 points in 67 games, five more than Oshawa forward Brett MacLean and six more than last year's CHL Player of the Year John Tavares.

United States Hockey League

While the CHL has finished its regular season and is looking forward to playoff matchups, the USHL has arrived at the wire, with less than three weeks remaining in the regular season.

In the Wild West, Omaha officially clinched the West Division title, and will face Sioux Falls, Lincoln or Sioux City in the first round. Those three teams are separated by only six points in the standings.

Last year's champions, the Stampede, are picking up their game at just the right time, and with a 2-1 shootout victory against division-leading Omaha, have now won five consecutive games. USHL leading scorer Chris Connolly was held off of the score sheet in the game, but he had recorded points in the four previous Stampede wins, totaling three goals and 10 points along the way.

Out East, only the Indiana Ice have officially clinched a playoff spot, but with nine points separating the Chicago Steel from the fifth-place Ohio Junior Blue Jackets, it appears that the playoff teams are all but set. In addition, the Ice lead the East Division by 11 points, and should clinch the crown in the coming weeks.

It appears as if Waterloo and Cedar Rapids RoughRiders will be engaged in a fight to the finish for home-ice advantage between the two teams in the first round, which could be very important as the Blackhawks (18-4-4) and the RoughRiders (16-6-2) are each very successful on home ice.

However, things are never quite as they seem when playoffs are concerned. The Jr. Blue Jackets could get hot at just the right time, and surprise everyone by charging into the playoffs. The Steel's magic number is 10 points; but the Steel and the Jr. Blue Jackets will face off five more times in the final nine games of the season for each team.

A 5-0 record for the Blue Jackets will be quite a statement in the discussion of who will earn the East Division's fourth seed.

Around the USHL -- The USHL playoff format is as follows: top four teams in each division make the playoffs, in a 1 vs. 4 and 2 vs. 3 schedule. The two teams that advance will face one another for the division crown, and the champion of each division will meet for the Clark Cup in the USHL championship. Each series will be played in a best-of-5 format, though individual series scheduling is left up to each individual team. … Chicago forward Brian O'Neill had a big week, and helped his team inch closer to the postseason, as he scored three goals and four assists in two games, both Steel wins. He currently sits tied for No. 11 in league scoring with 18 goals and 49 points through 51 games this season. … Goaltender Kent Patterson of Cedar Rapids played big in two big games this week, defeating Sioux City by a 3-0 shutout, following that up with a 4-2 win at Lincoln. In all, he made 62 saves, and played to a 1.00 GAA and a .963 save percentage in the two wins.

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