Playoff road starts with Spokane

The regular season is over, the playoffs are set to start and the Chilliwack Bruins have one massive mountain to climb in the first round. A season-ending 3-0 win over the Everett Silvertips Saturday night wasn’t enough to keep the Bruins away from the Spokane Chiefs.

The Vancouver Giants beat Everett Sunday night, relegating the Bruins to sixth in the Western conference standings and a date with the third-seed Chiefs, perhaps the least desireable of all the first-round possibilities.

“They’ve got some world class players in (Jared) Cowen and (Tyler) Johnson,” Bruins coach Marc Habscheid said Monday morning. “Cowen should probably  be called up to another league, and Johnson led the league in goals. So they’re good, and they’ve got a real good supporting cast too.”

Cowen is problem number one for the Bruins, who lost three of four regular season games versus Spokane. The massive blueliner (six-foot-five and 220 pounds) is a force at both ends of the ice.

Offensively, he runs the point on the top-ranked Spokane power play, churning out 18 goals and 48 points in 58 games this year. Defensively, his physical play and pterodactyl-like wingspan make him nearly impossible to beat one-on-one.

“It’s going to be tough to free up guys like Ryan (Howse) and Roman (Horak), even at home, so they’re going to see a lot of him,” Habscheid acknowledged. “That’s just the way it is and they’ve got to find a way to overcome it. They’re pretty good players too so it will be an interesting matchup.”

The special teams matchup will be another interesting one as Chilliwack sends its sixth-ranked power play against Spokane’s third-ranked penalty killers. Flip the coin and it’s Chilliwack’s 13th-ranked PK trying to slow down the intimidating Chiefs PP.

“The point is we can’t take a lot of unneeded and undisciplined penalties, yet we still have to stay aggressive, ” Habscheid said. “Our power play has been pretty good, and we’ll have to find a way to score some goals against a real good penalty kill.”

Johnson is obviously the focal point of the Spokane attack.

As good a season as Howse had, Johnson did him two better in the goal-scoring department (53-51) and out-pointed him 115 to 83.

It’s not a simple case of shutting down Johnson either. Spokane has admirable depth, with eight players hitting the 20-goal plateau this season.

“That’s the luxury they have, and you can’t just key on Johnson because of that secondary scoring,” Habscheid said.

Taken together, it’s easy to make the Bruins massive underdogs in this series, and Habscheid knows his crew is in tough.

“The one thing we’ve talked to our players about is, what comes to mind when you think of Spokane?” Habscheid said. “The first thing is how hard they work. We can control how hard we work too and we want to make sure we don’t let the Chiefs out-work us.”

One other factor that could work in Chilliwack’s favour is the wonky series schedule that has the Bruins starting at home. Games one and two go at Prospera Centre, followed by three straight at Spokane’s Veterans Memorial Arena.

“It’s good and bad to be quite honest, because a lot of times it can be an advantage to start on the road,” Habscheid said. “But we don’t mind starting at home either because playing in our building in front of our fans will certainly give us an adrenaline advantage.”

The series could get out of hand quickly if the Bruins don’t make things happen in the home games.

“You go down there for three, and going to Spokane down 2-0 would obviously be really tough,” Habscheid agreed. “I’m not sure you have to get both in Chilliwack, but we have to have some success at home.”

Catch more playoff preview info in Friday’s Progress.

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