Wednesday night, the Allen Americans defeated the Rapid City Rush, advancing to the Western Conference Final. Waiting for them is the Ontario Reign, setting up a Texas vs California series.
The two teams met back in January and were pretty evenly matched. They split the two game series with Ontario taking the first game 4-1 and Allen taking the second game 5-3. Neither team dominated each game for any length of time.
The biggest difference this time around will be Ontario’s goaltending situation. When Allen came to town, Olkinuora was called up to St. John’s and Cannata was injured. The Americans challenged first Daniel Spence, then Spencer McLay in net. Now the Reign have the goaltender who is posting a 0.918 save percentage in the post season and has no trouble playing back-to-back games. In contrast, the Americans have been alternating veteran Riley Gill (0.891 SV%) and rookie Joe Rumpel (0.876 SV%).
Olkinuora will need to be in top form as the Americans boast three of the top 10 point scorers and two of the top 3 goal scorers in this year’s playoffs. Opposing them will be the Reign’s depth. Ontario is now icing two scoring lines and one shut-down line. Game 7 of Round 1 showed, however, that the shut-down line of Sheen-Carzo-Ezekiel (with cameos by Kopitar) can pick up the scoring should the other two lines get shut-down. We expect to see Blackwater draw back into the line-up this series, we’re just not sure where.
One judgement of the defense for each team is shots on goal. The Reign have allowed an average of 23.75 shots per game over 12 games for the playoffs. The Americans have allowed 22.76 shots per game over 13 games. While a difference of 1 shot per game may seem large to statisticians, it doesn’t take into account that Olkinuora is one of those goaltenders who does better the more shots he sees. The stat also doesn’t take into account the quality of shot, but we work with what we can get.
Looking at the plus/minus stat (yes, we know this is out of favor, but it helps contrast the teams, so we’ll use it), only two Americans are posting a minus rating for the playoffs, neither of which is a defenseman. Locally, eight Reign players are in the minus category, including two of their blueliners.
Beyond the teams, the states themselves have a bit of a rivalry. Two of the largest states (we know there is Alaska, but they’re not even connected to the main continent, so they don’t count) known for opposing philosophies, independent attitudes (Californians think the rest of the US can’t understand us) and believing their state is the best state.
Bragging rights are on the line.