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Minor League Hockey

OHL playoffs: Whalers hitting stride at right time

By Mackenzie Liddell, Contributing Editor

Toronto, Canada (Sports Network) -

ONTARIO HOCKEY LEAGUE

WESTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS

OWEN SOUND ATTACK (1) VS. PLYMOUTH WHALERS (6)

The Plymouth Whalers have not been given enough credit for the season they've put together, which continued to get even better after taking down the Kitchener Rangers in their seven-game quarterfinal.

Goalie Scott Wedgewood was the difference-maker for the Whalers in the first round and he gives his team a major advantage against the Attack, who also found a steadying presence between the pipes.

Michael Zador came into the postseason fighting for the backup role with Scott Stajcer.

But after first being thrust into action to relieve struggling starter Jordan Binnington in the late stages of Game 4 - making 12 saves in the same amount of minutes - Zador hasn't given up the reigns ... or a goal.

The former first-round pick of the London Knights closed the door and closed out the series against his former team by posting consecutive shutouts.

Although the Knights showed a lot of fight, the Attack will need to be sharp against a Whalers team that is firing on all cylinders and receiving contributions from every line. They had 13 different goal scorers against the Rangers, tied with Oshawa for most in the playoffs.

Owen Sound will need Joey Hishon and Garrett Wilson raise their play if it plans to extend its playoff livelihood, as the deadly duo combined for an undesirable nine points in six games against London. A similar performance won't be enough to get the job done against Plymouth.

SAGINAW SPIRIT (2) vs. WINDSOR SPITFIRES (4)

With a dramatic 5-4 series-clinching win Tuesday night, the Windsor Spitfires closed out their conference quarterfinal with the Erie Otters and punched their ticket to the semifinals.

After a grueling, back-and-forth series with the plucky Otters, the Spitfires will do battle with the Spirit, which will kick off Friday at The Dow Event Center in Saginaw.

Despite some early struggles in their first-round, six-game set against Guelph, the second-seeded Spirit closed strong and will need to use that momentum if they are to topple the back-to-back Memorial Cup champs, a team they had success against in the regular season.

Saginaw won four of six games against Windsor earlier in the season and outscored its division rival, 26-14, in the process.

Fourth-year winger Josh Shalla was the Spirit's offensive hub in the opening round and sits fourth in playoff scoring with five goals and 11 points. Maintaining this pace shouldn't pose a problem against the Spits and goalie Jack Campbell, who was burned four times by Shalla in a game in late November and was pulled in two of the four games he started against Saginaw.

Facing the mercurial Campbell also will have draft-eligible center Vincent Trocheck licking his chops, as he punished the Spits in the season series and led all players with three goals and 10 points.

Ryan Ellis led all Windsor players with seven points.

And while both Saginaw and Windsor were among the best teams on home ice in the Western Conference, the road team won five of the six contests.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

MISSISSAUGA MAJORS (1) VS. SUDBURY WOLVES (7)

On paper, this should be a breezy walk in the park for the Majors. Unfortunately, the game isn't played on paper.

Just ask the Ottawa 67's.

The Wolves were the biggest underdog to escape the first round by toppling the No. 2-ranked 67's in four straight games.

Led by red-hot center Michael Sgarbossa, who had 12 points in the series, the Wolves used a relentless attack and outgunned a team that had plenty of firepower of its own.

It will be a different pace against the Majors, who used a suffocating defense to snuff out the ill-equipped Belleville Bulls in the opening round, allowing only one goal in four games.

If Sudbury stands a chance at upsetting one of the best teams in the country, it will need its forwards to continue filling the net, but the goals won't come as easy or as often as they did against Ottawa, although that wasn't necessarily the case in the regular season.

In their six-game season series, the Majors and Wolves combined for 61 goals, including seven-, eight- and nine-goal outings from Mississauga, which won all but one of those games.

Despite the lopsided results and the all-around strength of the Majors, there won't be many writing off the Wolves after what they have accomplished in the postseason.

NIAGARA ICEDOGS (3) VS. OSHAWA GENERALS (4)

Perhaps the most intriguing and even conference semifinal, the 'Dogs and Gens will provide plenty of entertainment.

Niagara easily disposed of the Brampton Battalion in Round 1, piling up goals and allowing very few.

And they did it without much help from regular 100-point man Ryan Strome, who was held to three points in the series.

Despite heavy doses of offense, the trigger-happy IceDogs received an outstanding performance from netminder Mark Visentin. He allowed three goals against Brampton despite Niagara getting outshot every game.

The Phoenix Coyotes' first-rounder won't get an easy ride against Christian Thomas and the Generals, who averaged five goals per game against Kingston.

Besides Thomas, who leads all playoff scorers with 13 points, the Generals have seven players who averaged more than a point a game in the opening round, including five with four or more goals.

Having split the season series one game apiece, with each team winning on home ice, there's not much that can be drawn from previous meetings.

But if their respective first-round series are any indication, special teams will play a big role in determining the series winner.

Niagara was perfect while shorthanded against Brampton, killing off all 18 power plays against. They also boast the league's best postseason power play at 33 percent.

Oshawa, on the other hand, struggled a man down and allowed five goals on 24 attempts, which good for 10th in the league at 79.2 percent. That is right around where they finished in the regular season.

Their power play has been solid (26 percent), but the 'Dogs are extremely disciplined and won't give the Generals too many favorable opportunities.

This will be a fantastic series to watch, if not for the good hockey than to keep tabs on some future stars, as the Generals and IceDogs each have two players ranked among NHL Central Scouting's Top 30 North American skaters: forwards Boone Jenner (No. 18) and Nicklas Jensen (20) for Oshawa, and defenseman Dougie Hamilton (No. 7) and the aforementioned Strome (No. 19).

04/07 14:24:13 ET

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