For the second straight season, the Vancouver Giants and Kamloops Blazers will do battle in the WHL playoffs. While last year’s series took place in the second round, with Kamloops winning in Game Six, this year’s head-to-head matchup will be the first time these two B.C. Division rivals have faced off in the first round since the 2010 playoff, where the Giants swept Kamloops and made it all the way to the Westen Finals. Here is a look at the impending series and what the Giants have to do to pull off an upset win for the second straight season.
Head to Head
This season, the Kamloops Blazers won the season series 6-1-0-1, which helped them capture the B.C. Division title. The two teams played each other hard all season, with only one game having a goal differential of more than three goals. Despite a gap of 39 points between the two teams in the regular season, this series could end up being a lot closer than some believe.
Like most series, special teams are going to be key for both teams. The Kamloops Blazers enter the playoffs with the best power play in the league, clicking at 30.1%. In comparison, the Giants finished the season 21st out of 22 teams at 16.7%. A big reason for the Giants’ poor power play this season has been the absence of Samuel Honzek, so the hope is his return to the lineup can give that unit a boost and pot some goals during the postseason.
As for the penalty kill, this is where the Giants have the advantage, as they finished ninth in the league with a 79.3% kill rate. The Blazers, on the other hand, have struggled a bit this season, posting a 77.2% kill rate which ranked 14th across the league. The penalty kill is going to be vital for both teams throughout the series, with a misstep potentially changing the momentum of not just a game but also the series.
Giants’ Three Keys To Victory
1) Shut Down Stankoven
Logan Stankoven has been a thorn in the Giants’ side these last three seasons and remains the Blazers’ biggest threat on the ice. The Dallas Stars prospect finished the season with 97 points in 48 games and was a key part of Team Canada’s World Junior Gold Medal-winning team in January. He also has 17 points in six games for Kamloops this season against Vancouver and will be looking to add to that total over the length of the series. While keeping him off the scoresheet is somewhat unrealistic, the Giants need to find a way to limit his production if they want to escape with an upset.
2) Vikman Must Put On A Show
In what will be his final WHL playoffs, Jesper Vikman must emulate his play from last year’s postseason. The Vegas Golden Knights goaltender was phenomenal last season, highlighted by 50 save shutout in Game Five of the first round to put the Giants up 3-2 over Everett in the series. He also was a key factor behind Vancouver pushing Kamloops to six games last season, allowing three or fewer goals in four of the games. He was voted to the B.C. Divisions First All-Star Team this season for a reason, and will be looking to lead his team as he also looks for an NHL contract.
3) Honzek’s Play Will Make The Difference
Honzek’s play will decide the outcome of this series. The 2023 NHL Draft prospect has the ability to take over games and will need to demonstrate his talent for Vancouver to pull off the upset. Overall, he has performed well against Kamloops this season with seven points in five games but will need to get on the scoresheet every game for the Giants to succeed. This is a prospect who loves to win, and this is a perfect opportunity for him to show off to the scouts as he takes on a team that will be playing for the Memorial Cup come May.
A Tough Battle For The Giants
The puck drops Friday, April 1st, in Kamloops for what is sure to be an exciting series between these rivals. While the Blazers are a stacked team, Vancouver has a fantastic opportunity to prove they can compete with the league’s best. Expect big playoff performances by Ty Thorpe, Ty Halaburda, Jaden Lipniski and Mazden Leslie as the Giants once again look to prove everyone wrong and win their first-round matchup.