Minor League Hockey

OHL playoffs: Conference finals preview

By Mackenzie Liddell, Contributing Editor

Toronto, Canada (Sports Network) - Two rounds in the books, two more to go.

Familiar faces and expected combatants will take center stage on Tuesday as the Ontario Hockey League conference finals get underway at Owen Sound and Mississauga.



Despite losing last year's co-MVP Taylor Hall, first-rounder Cam Fowler, coach Bob Boughner and essentially the core of their two-time Memorial Cup championship team, the Spitfires just keep on winning.

With a six-game upset of the second-place Saginaw Spirit, Windsor has won 10 straight playoff series and will be shooting for its 11th against the resilient Owen Sound Attack.

Much like the previous two years, the Spits are rolling over opponents with heavy a dose of offense and lead the league in scoring through two rounds.

But unlike the regular season, where the goals came nearly as often, the Spitfires are finally receiving steady, consistent goaltending from Jack Campbell.

Yes, he's had his struggles, allowing four or more goals in six of 13 playoff games, but he also posted two shutouts against the Spirit, leads the league in saves and seems to crank up his play as the pressure mounts.

He'll need to keep trending upward against the Attack, who regrouped after a subpar performance against the London Knights to sweep the Plymouth Whalers in the semifinal.

Owen Sound has looked like a different team in the postseason than they were in the 68 games prior.

After averaging 4.2 goals-per-game in the regular season - second-most in the OHL - the Attack are down nearly a goal a game, lighting the lamp only 3.3 time per contest.

They also don't have a player with more than 10 points and their stars, Joey Hishon and Garret Wilson, have combined for a paltry 15 points, one less than Windsor's leaders Tom Kuhnhackl, Stephen Johnston and Ryan Ellis.

Although they have played three more games, Windsor has nine players with more points than Owen Sound's top scorer, Robby Mignardi.

But that's of minor consequence the way the Attack have pounded out wins, having allowed only 22 goals despite using three different goalies.

New York Rangers draft pick Scott Stajcer is now in the driver's seat, thanks to a 4-0 record with a 1.07 goals-against average and .963 save percentage.

It will be interesting to see if the Attack are forced to ramp up the offence against the high-scoring Spits or if they can bring them down to their level and immerse in a tight-checking, low-scoring style of play.



With only one loss between them - that being Niagara's Game 2 loss to Oshawa - the East final is a showcase of the league's two most dominant teams.

Although both teams have plenty of talent throughout their lineups, the headliner in this series will play out between the pipes.

Niagara's Mark Visentin has been virtually unbeatable in the postseason, as demonstrated by his 1.89 GAA and mind-boggling .947 SP.

But the numbers, while astounding, don't do justice to how good Visentin has been when his team needed him most.

He's made clutch saves, stoned shooters on breakaways, shut down the opposition's power plays and outdueled the league's most dangerous sniper and playoff leading scorer, Christian Thomas.

The Majors had no problem walking through Sudbury and Belleville, but neither team had a goaltender capable of stealing a game like Visentin.

At the other end of the rink, the Majors have a steadying presence of their own in J.P. Anderson.

Anderson has been good, but the Majors lean on their air-tight defense to limit chances more than they rely on Anderson to make the big save.

Despite coach Dave Cameron's penchant for defense-first hockey - as most good coaches do - the Majors are more than capable of going toe-to-toe with anybody offensively.

In the regular season, they showed Niagara why they were the league's most potent offensive team and most stingy defensive team: beating the 'Dogs seven of eight times and holding them to one goal or fewer six times, while lighting them up for 10 goals in forgettable February contest.

Aberration aside, the Majors and IceDogs are likely headed for a long, low- scoring series with the winner being the team which makes the fewest mistakes.

Both have the troops capable of putting up big numbers, both have lights-out goaltending and both are among the league's best on special teams.

So unless you want to use regular season results as a tell-all sign, you might as well flip a coin because this series is about as even as they come.

04/18 14:13:34 ET

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