BOSTON, MA -- The EHL postseason is down to the final round before shifting gears to Providence, Rhode Island, and it’s the wild card round.
Following the division finals, the runner-up for each of the four divisions will have a second chance at punching a ticket to the Frozen Finals. The New Hampshire Avalanche, Walpole Express, Railers Jr. Hockey Club and Philadelphia Little Flyers have all reached the Frozen Finals by winning their respective division title, and two more teams will join them through the wild card games.
The matchups will feature the North Division vs. East Division as well as the Central Division vs. South Division, and the team with the better record earns home-ice advantage in a winner-take-all game. Here is a preview of each matchup that includes their records, the regular season series and why each team will take advantage of their second chance to reach the Frozen Finals.
Boston Jr. Rangers (34-9-3) vs. New England Wolves (23-19-4)
Regular season series: Both teams 2-2-0 against each other
Why the Jr. Rangers will win: The Boston Jr. Rangers were upset by the Walpole Express in a two-game sweep, losing Game 1 by a score of 2-1 in double overtime and Game 2 by a score of 3-1. Despite losing the East Division Final, Nathan Mueller put on a show between the pipes by stopping 73 of the 77 shots he faced and maintains a .968 save percentage through the first two rounds of the postseason. If the two-time EHL Goalie of the Year can carry over that performance into the Wild Card Round, the Jr. Rangers will be in good shape to return to the Frozen Finals. Generating offense will be crucial for the Jr. Rangers, and they’ve had late-season success against the Wolves in that category. Boston hosted the Wolves twice in the final week of the regular season and outscored them 11-1. The Jr. Rangers will also have home-ice in the Wild Card matchup, and they have a 15-1-3 record at Breakaway Ice Center between the regular season and playoffs. Overall, the defending champions know how hard it is to win an EHL title, and it’s safe to say this team will not take a second chance at reaching the Frozen Final for granted.
Why the Wolves will win: Following a wild three-game series against the Vermont Lumberjacks, the New England Wolves had the unenviable task of going up against the number one seeded New Hampshire Avalanche. Though the North Division Final ended in a sweep, both games went down to the wire with scores of 3-1 and 4-3 in Games 1 and 2 respectively. Liam Kilgallen may not have Mueller-like numbers, but they aren’t too far off either. The Wolves goaltender has a .932 save percentage in the playoffs and made 41 saves on 43 shots in Game 1 against the Avalanche. Edijs Grigorjevs scored in Game 2 and now has four points (3g, 1a) in five postseason games, and Ricards Jelenskis broke his goal drought by scoring in Game 2 as well. Heading into the Wild Card Round, the Wolves have a higher goals-per-game total than the Jr. Rangers (2.40 vs. 2.25). If they can get one or two pucks past Nathan Mueller, it might just be enough to knock off the defending champions.
New Jersey 87’s (30-12-4) vs. Connecticut Chiefs (18-23-5)
Regular season series: 87’s 2-0-0 over Chiefs
Why the 87’s will win: The New Jersey 87’s went toe-to-toe with the best offense in the league in the Philadelphia Little Flyers, but were knocked out the South Division Final after two games. Both contests were decided by one goal, with scores of 3-2 and 2-1, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see those two teams facing each other again in Providence. Matt Zdanowicz had a goal and two assists in the series against Philadelphia and now has 10 points (3g, 7a) in four postseason games. Devlin O’Kane picked up an assist in Game 1, giving him seven points (4g, 3a) in four playoff contests. While the 87’s scored just three goals in the South Division Final, it was not for a lack of effort. They peppered 71 shots on goal between the two games and just happened to run into a hot goaltender in Joseph Henson. New Jersey will have home-ice advantage in the Wild Card game, and if they keep playing the way they have all postseason, there’s a good chance the 87’s will return to the Frozen Finals.
Why the Chiefs will win: The Connecticut Chiefs went up against the Railers Jr. Hockey Club, the top team in the Central Division, and took the series to Game 3. After dropping Game 1 by a score of 4-1, the Chiefs responded with a 4-2 victory in Game 2 before losing the deciding game 7-0. Despite the tough loss in Game 3, the Chiefs will have a few days of rest where they can reset and get ready for a winner-take-all contest at Jersey Shore Arena. Jack Devine (3g, 3a) and Hunter Rossi (1g, 5a) both lead the Chiefs with six points in five playoff games, while captain Dominic Chirico has five points from the blue line. If there is one aspect of the game where the Chiefs have an edge over the 87’s, it’s their short-handed play. Connecticut is one of three teams to record two short-handed goals so far in this postseason, and they have come from Devine and Gavin Glaubitz. This will certainly be a tough matchup for the Chiefs, but if their aggressive play on the penalty kill can result in a timely goal, it could knock the wind out of the 87’s sails while leading the Chiefs to Providence.
Anthony Di Paolo covers the EHL for HNIB and can be followed on Twitter @DiPaolo_016
Anthony Di Paolo has spent the last four seasons with the New Jersey 87's organization. Anthony's familiarity with the junior hockey landscape at the Tier II and Tier III levels will help him dive right into covering the EHL.
Anthony will cover our league showcases and events, as well as write weekly features and player spotlights throughout the 2021-22 season.