After last night’s victory for the Eagles over the Icebucks in the first round of playoffs, the Semifinal picture is set up.
Sakhalin vs Oji Eagles
Anyang Halla vs Tohoku Freeblades
Sakhalin vs Oji Eagles:
3/10, 3/11 & 3/12- Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk
3/17, 3/18 – Tomakomai (if needed)
Sakhalin is coming into the playoffs after a very long break. The last competitive game they had was on December 8th, and they had already cemented top spot in the league by then so the game didn’t count for anything.
Oji, on the other hand, will be coming into these games on the back of the Japan Cup and a tightly contested first round of playoffs.
On paper, this should be an easy win for Sakhalin. In the regular season, Sakhalin picked up 4 wins from 4 games against the Eagles. In regular season scoring, Sakhalin posted a +30 goal differential compared to Oji’s +1 GD.
Oji Eagles will be relying heavily on their high scoring third line of Captain Shuhei Kuji, Daisuke Obara, and Seiji Takahashi, who posted a combined total of 79 points in the regular season. Sakhalin’s first line will be expected to do most of the damage for them with Alexei Eremin, Kirill Startcev, and Nikolai Zhilin putting up a combined 82 points during the season.
While the Eagles will have some momentum going into the game and Sakhalin look like they will have some rust to shake off, I can’t look past Sakhalin making it to the final for the 3rd year in a row. I can see the Eagles maybe picking up a victory but and forcing at least one game in Japan, but I feel that the Sakhalin machine is too big and well organized to be threatened in any meaningful way.
Prediction: Sakhalin progress to the final (3-1)
Anyang Halla vs Tohoku Freeblades:
This should be the more interesting of the semi-final ties. Both teams, in this case, should have no rust issues as the Freeblades played in the competitive Japan cup in February and the majority of the Anyang Halla team were part of the Korea National team that took part in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.
Games between the 2014-15 finalists are always tightly contested affairs with plenty of hits. Freeblades hold an advantage over Halla in the regular season, winning 3 of the 4 games. Scoring wise, Halla holds a +19 goal differential to the Freeblades +3, most of this down to Hallas superior defensive record.
Individually, neither team had any stand out scorers this year, with Scott Barney leading the Halla scoring charts with 9 goals and the Freeblades Go Tanaka and Kota Shinohara both on 10 goals. It was a case of depth throughout the lines that pushed both teams towards the higher end of the league table with some of the higher scorers coming from the third lines.
With the return of the national team players, after their heroics at the winter Olympics, the ball seems to be firmly in Anyang Halla’s court to make it to the finals. With a full team and all of the big names in prime condition after months of Olympic training, Halla will be favorites going into this series. That’s not to say that that the Freeblades won’t give them a game. If Halla doesn’t go at these games at full tilt then the Freeblades are more than capable of taking advantage. Any Olympic hangover or cockiness from the Halla players could be a death sentence for them in terms of making the final.
This will most likely come down to the battle of the goalies between Yuto Itoh and Matt Dalton. Whichever is on the better form in the series could be the difference maker.
Prediction: Halla progress to the final (3-0)