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Minor League Hockey

OHL Playoff Preview: Top-Heavy East

By Mackenzie Liddell, Contributing Editor

Toronto, Canada (Sports Network) - The Ontario League regular season wrapped up Sunday and final playoff positioning was decided.

Although there is a top-heavy power balance in the East, the West is wide open and should provide some of the best post-season hockey in years.

With festivities set to kick off Thursday, here's a breakdown of the quarterfinal match-ups.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Owen Sound Attack (1) vs. London Knights (8)

Regular season record: Owen Sound (46-17-1-4); London (33-29-4-1)

Season series: Split 3-3

Players to watch

Joey Hishon, C, Owen Sound

One of the purest offensive players in the OHL, Hishon's performance will determine the fate of the Attack this spring. Although Owen Sound has other game-breaking threats, the Attack's attack runs through the Colorado Avalanche first-rounder.

Jared Knight, RW, London

Knight was a beast in last year's playoffs, scoring 10 goals in 12 games. He is the most experienced player on the team and its leading scorer and will need to carry the bulk of the offensive load against the high-scoring Attack.

The Skinny

In a battle of the lowest- and highest-scoring teams in the West, the Knights will need to lock it down defensively if they stand a chance against the high- octane Attack - they simply don't have the firepower to go toe-to-toe.

And while London proved they can hang with Owen Sound early in the season, the Attack are one of the hottest teams coming into the post-season (8-1-0-1) and have beat the Knights twice in the past 10 days.

Saginaw Spirit (2) vs. Guelph Storm (7)

Regular season record: Saginaw (40-22-4-2); Guelph (34-27-4-3)

Season series: Split 2-2

Players to watch

Brandon Saad, LW, Saginaw

With most of the defensive focus likely to be fixed on 47-goal man Josh Shalla, the Spirit will need Saad to take some of the pressure off the first- line sniper.

Taylor Beck, RW, Guelph

The big winger put up back-to-back 90-point seasons, but he only has six points in 16 playoff games and hasn't been able to lead the Storm out of the first round in his three-year junior career.

With 17 points in his past 10 games, Beck will need to step it up and prove he can get it done when it matters most.

The Skinny

Guelph has been abysmal on the road this season and failed to beat the Spirit in Saginaw in two contests this season.

While the Storm have plenty of big guns up front, the Spirit have more firepower and can match Guelph in virtually every category. Speed, skill, size, goaltending -- Saginaw has it all in abundance. The Spirit also boast the league's most proficient penalty kill at 85.2 percent.

Kitchener Rangers (3) vs. Plymouth Whalers (6)

Regular season record: Kitchener (38-20-4-5); Plymouth (36-26-2-4)

Season series: Kitchener 3-1

Players to watch

Ryan Murphy, D, Kitchener

The smooth-skating rearguard is a well-known commodity in the OHL and has the ability to wreak havoc from the blueline. With plenty of support up front, the Rangers will rely on Murphy to lead the rush and set the pace from the back end. He had 17 points in 20 playoff games a season ago, but only had two points against the Whalers this season.

Scott Wedgewood, G, Plymouth

He hasn't been at his best against the Rangers, losing all three of his starts while compiling a 3.33 goals-against average and .895 save percentage. Plymouth is a serious dark-horse candidate and has the tools to upset, but it'll need Wedgewood to be its best player to get it done.

The Skinny

Kitchener hit a wall down the stretch and lost seven straight to close out the season, including a 4-1 loss to Plymouth Friday night.

When playing at full capacity, the Rangers are among the league's elite and a certain Memorial Cup contender. But Plymouth has proved there is life after Tyler Seguin and have surprised many this year, riding the backs of sophomore forwards Stefan Noesen and Robbie Czarnik, who each had 77 points.

The Rangers have had the Whalers' number this season, but that could change quickly if they don't snap out of their current funk.

Windsor Spitfires (4) vs. Erie Otters (5)

Regular season record: Windsor (39-23-3-3); Erie (40-26-1-1)

Season Series: Split 2-2

Players to watch

Ryan Ellis, D, Windsor

A four-point performance Saturday night, including the game-winner in overtime, capped an illustrious season for the tiny blueliner who blasted his way to 100 points and became the first D-man to do so since Bill McCauley cracked the century mark with the Detroit Jr. Red Wings in 1994-95.

He was the Spits leading scorer by 23 points this year and has 69 points in 44 career playoff games.

Brett Thompson, C, Erie

While captain Greg McKegg is the lifeblood of the Otters, Thompson has owned the Spits this season as a member of the Greyhounds and in his one contest with the Otters after coming over at the trade deadline.

He has 11 points in five games against Windsor, including a six-point performance (4 goals, 2 assists) with the Otters in an 8-2 win in early February.

The Skinny

Erie is surging into the post-season as winners of eight straight. Over that span they have averaged five goals per game, while only allowing 2.6 against.

Windsor has been almost as impressive down the stretch, going 7-2-1 in their final 10 games.

Although both teams have an excess of firepower, this series could be decided between the pipes.

Erie's Ramis Sadikov has been lights out at times this season, and like former Otters' standout Jaroslav Janus, has the potential to steal a game, if not a series. Jack Campbell, on the other hand, has disappointed in his rookie campaign after coming in as a highly-touted first round NHL draft pick.

Although Campbell has struggled, he is always at his bet when the pressure is on and if he gets in a zone, he's nearly impossible to beat.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Mississauga Majors (1) vs. Belleville Bulls (8)

Regular season record: Mississauga (52-13-0-2); Belleville (21-43-0-4)

Season series: Mississauga 3-1

Players to watch

Justin Shugg, RW, Mississauga

The Majors acquired Shugg from the Spitfires last summer to add a threatening scorer with playoff experience. After leading the league's best team with 41 goals and 87 points, it's now time to see what the Niagara Falls, Ont., native can do outside Taylor Hall's and Ryan Ellis' shadow.

Tyson Teichmann, G, Belleville

Prior to getting yanked after giving up five goals in his last meeting with the Majors, Teichmann had played superbly in his three previous starts against the OHL regular season champs.

While only winning once, he had a 2.67 GAA and .934 SP against the league's most potent attack.

But if he falters, look for 17-year-old Malcolm Subban, the younger brother of Montreal's P.K., to get some looks.

The Skinny

It would be surprising to see the Bulls take one game from the Majors in this quarterfinal matchup, let alone four.

Outside of the Majors utter league-wide dominance this season, the Bulls limped into the post-season with 46 points, the lowest total for a playoff- bound team since the Windsor Spitfires matched that mark in 1995-96, albeit in 66 regular season games as opposed to the current 68.

Anything is possible in the realm of competitive sport, but realistically, this one is all but in the books.

Ottawa 67's (2) vs. Sudbury Wolves (7)

Regular season record: Ottawa (43-19-3-2); Sudbury (29-34-2-2)

Season series: Ottawa 2-0

Players to watch

Tyler Toffoli, RW, Ottawa

He's been the most dominant player in the league this season on one of the most dominant teams. He scores in bunches and should have no problem maintaining his pace against an inferior Sudbury side.

Michael Sgarbossa, C, Sudbury

The main piece coming back from Saginaw in the John McFarland deal, Sgarbossa has been a man on fire with his new club and gives the Wolves a bona fide go- to guy.

In 37 games with the Wolves, the 18-year-old has 61 points and is a big reason why Sudbury owns the league's best power play (24 percent).

Saginaw would have been wise holding onto the speedy centre, as McFarland only has 28 points in a Spirit uniform.

The Skinny

It's not fair to write off any team before a series even starts, but it will be an arduous uphill climb for the Wolves in the first round.

Besides Ottawa's deadly forward group that includes Toffoli, Shane Prince and Ryan Martindale, they have a clear advantage in goal playing in front of unheralded Czech �tender Petr Mrazek, who led the OHL with a .920 SP.

Barring any unforeseen, ground-shaking circumstances, Ottawa shouldn't have any problem disposing of the Wolves.

Niagara IceDogs (3) vs. Brampton Battalion (6)

Regular season record: Niagara (45-17-2-4); Brampton (29-32-1-6)

Season series: Niagara 4-2

Players to watch

Ryan Strome, C, Niagara

With 106 points on the year, Strome has the ability to win games single- handedly, whether it's dishing to his linemates or going solo. Currently ranked 19th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting, a strong playoff performance will certainly bring him into the top-10 come June.

Michael Santini, RW, Brampton

The Battalion didn't produce much offence against Niagara this season, but when they did Santini was usually involved.

He scored four goals in four games against the IceDogs and will need to keep filling the net to give Brampton a chance.

The Skinny

Although this appears to be another lopsided matchup, the Battalion did not back down or roll over in their season series with the IceDogs.

Despite Niagara taking four of six games in the regular season, three were decided in overtime and two by shutout (one each). In total, the IceDogs only outscored the Battalion by one goal (16-15).

But with Niagara's potent forward corps, stable blueline and Mark Visentin manning the crease, the Battalion will have a tough time out-gunning the �Dogs in a seven-game series.

Oshawa Generals (4) vs. Kingston Frontenacs (5)

Regular season record: Oshawa (38-19-4-6); Kingston (29-30-4-5)

Season series: Oshawa 5-3

Players to watch

Christian Thomas, RW, Oshawa

Thomas enters the playoffs as the OHL's second-best sniper following a 54-goal campaign and is poised to break out in his first post-season appearance.

Stumpy's son has scored at will in his third season and it will be interesting to see what he can do on the big stage.

Taylor Doherty, D, Kingston

The hulking 6-foot-8 blueliner will play hard minutes against Oshawa's top line and will be responsible for keeping them off the board. If that's not challenging enough, the Fronts will lean heavily on Doherty in the offensive zone as well.

The Skinny

Much like the Battalion and IceDogs, the Generals and Frontenacs have gone blow-for-blow this year. Five of the eight games were won in overtime or the shootout, six were decided by a single tally, and the largest margin of victory was two (twice).

Despite finishing 19 points ahead in the standings, Oshawa cannot take Kingston lightly, regardless of its second-half struggles.

But if they get the expected production from Thomas, who has 12 goals against the Fronts this year, including two hat tricks, and netminder Peter Di Salvo doesn't forget how to play the position, the Gens should handle the Fronts in Round 1.

03/22 15:18:39 ET

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