Sunday, February 21, 2016

UNB vs. UPEI - Preview, Prediction, Poll

Although many probably predicted that the #1 University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds would have a date with the #4 Saint Mary's Huskies in the best 3-of-5 AUS semi-finals, the #6 UPEI Panthers shocking upset of the #3 Acadia Axemen means that it will be the V-Reds and Panthers tangling with a berth at the University Cup on the line.

The Huskies will face the #2 St. FX X-Men in the other series. Since the AUS will once again have three teams at the University Cup, and the Huskies are guaranteed a spot due to being the host, if the X-Men emerge victorious they will also receive an automatic berth at the University Cup. If the Huskies come out on top then the X-Men will face the loser of the UNB/UPEI series for the 3rd, and final, berth.

The AUS released the semi-final schedule yesterday. It looks like this:

Thursday, February 25th - UPEI @ UNB
Friday, February 26th - UPEI @ UNB
Monday, February 29th - UNB @ UPEI
Tuesday, March 1st - UNB @ UPEI (if necessary)
Friday, March 4th - UPEI @ UNB (if necessary)

The X-Men/Huskies series will follow a Thursday - Saturday - Monday - Wednesday (if necessary) - Friday (if necessary) schedule, with St. FX hosting games 1, 2, and 5.

All games are scheduled for a 7PMpuck drop and can be streamed live at AUStv.ca.

This will mark the 10th time since 1989/1990 that the V-Reds and Panthers will tangle in a playoff series, with UNB winning 6 of the previous 9 encounters. Here is the breakdown:

1989/1990 - UPEI defeated UNB 2 games to 1
1991/1992 - UPEI defeated UNB 2 games to 0
1992/1993 - UNB defeated UPEI 2 games to 0
1993/1994 - UNB defeated UPEI 2 games to 0
1995/1996 - UPEI defeated UNB 2 games to 1
1997/1998 - UNB defeated UPEI 2 games to 1
2001/2002 - UNB defeated UPEI 2 games to 0
2011/2012 - UNB defeated UPEI 3 games to 0
2012/2013 - UNB defeated UPEI 3 games to 1 

Although the Varsity Reds defeated the Panthers in all four of their match-ups this season, all except for the first game was close. In the home opener on October 10th UNB received 3 points from Philippe Halley and Philippe Maillet as they rolled to an 8-2 victory. On November 7th the V-Reds scored three goals in the 3rd period to rally for a 4-2 win on the island. Back at the AUC on January 29th UNB squeezed out a 2-1 win despite firing a season-high 55 shots on goal. Finally, in the regular season finale in Charlottetown on February 12th the Varsity Reds, playing without several key players, skated to a tidy 4-1 win.

The Panthers offense relies heavily on their top line of Marcus Power (32 points, 5th in the AUS), Brent Andrews (13 goals, 25 points), and Mason Wilgosh (20 points). They combined for 9 points in their 2 game sweep of Acadia, including the series-winning goal by Power, as the Axemen didn't have an answer for them in the offensive zone. Defenseman Nelson Armstrong (20 points) was their only other player with more than 15 points. By comparison UNB features 12 players who had at least 15 points this season as they scored 52 more goals than the Panthers this year.

The Panthers will also have to count on their goaltending to have a big series if they want to pull off the upset. Although Matt Mahalak (2.77 GAA, 0.914 save percentage) had the better regular season numbers, 5th year netminder Mavric Parks (3.70, 0.885) took back the number one role after he came back from a lengthy injury that basically kept him out from November 21st until February 10th. Parks played the final two regular season games and then got the call in both games against Acadia in the quarter-finals, so it appears he is their go-to-guy right now. Parks posted a 2.89 GAA and 0.915 save percentage in the series against the Axemen.

One area where the Panthers might have the advantage over the V-Reds, although ever so slightly, is on special teams. UPEI had the 2nd best penalty killing in the league (and 5th best in the country) at 86.2% while UNB sat 5th in the AUS and 11th in the CIS at 84.8%. The two teams were fairly evenly matched on the power play this year with UNB holding a slight advantage (17.1% to 16.2%).

At the end of the day, the Panthers, with their trademark hard-working, team-oriented approach, have already pulled off one massive upset so the Varsity Reds can't take them lightly, and it is bound to be a tough, hard-fought series. However, the Varsity Reds appear to have the advantage at every level - their forward group is deeper and more potent, they allow fewer scoring chances, and their goaltenders posted better numbers. Of course, we have seen the Varsity Reds come up short a couple times in recent years after being huge favourites, but given the way UNB has played since Christmas it would not be surprising to see them sweep the Panthers in 3 straight games. UPEI might be able to grab a game at home as playing on the island is never easy, but UNB's depth and skill should prove to be too much for the Panthers to contain over the course of a playoff series.

PREDICTION - UNB in 3

 

Your Prediction?

UNB in 3
UNB in 4
UNB in 5
UPEI in 3
UPEI in 4
UPEI in 5
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