This set up is different from your traditional best of 7 series where you will play the same team up to 7 games in a span of 9 nights.
This set up will see the Express play in Vernon Sunday, then face the Island division champion Victoria Grizzlies for a pair of games Tuesday and Thursday starting in Coquitlam. If a second game vs. Vernon will be needed it will be played on Monday April 7th in Coquitlam. A tie-breaker game may also be needed on April 9th to determine the top two teams in this round robin to see who will have a chance to play for the Fred Page Cup.
While this format is different, there is one principle that remains the same, and that is win you move on, you lose and you go home.
This round robin will move quickly with teams playing as few as 3 games and possible up to 5 games to settle this whole thing.
A teams preparation is different when you know you're not going to play the same team at least 4 straight games and quite possibly as few as one time or at most 3 times. This format could be unforgiving for the team that gets off to a slow start.
The round robin began Friday with Vernon taking the first game with a 5-4 win over the Victoria Grizzlies in Victoria.
It's been awhile since any of these teams have seen each other. The Express haven't seen Vernon since January 11th a 3-1 Vipers win. Before Friday, Vernon and Victoria hadn't gone head to head since December 6th.
Both opponents the Express will see in this round robin have used the dramatics of a third period come back and an overtime goal in game 7 to advance. Vernon erased a 3-1 deficit on the road before prevailing 2:06 into overtime on a goal by Michael McNicholas to advance to the round robin and eliminate Penticton. Victoria needed to erase a 3-1 series deficit vs. Alberni Valley then in game 7 needed 3 goals in the third period including two in the final 2 minutes just to force overtime. Then needed a double overtime goal to finally put to rest the pesky Bulldogs.
Victoria then eliminated Powell River in 6 games in the Island final. Vernon in the first round needed 6 games to dispatch West Kelowna.
Both teams have top lines that will be a challenge for the Express to handle. They will certainly counter the argument with they're more than just a one line team. And to get to this point in the playoffs there is some truth to that. The Express can certainly make that claim.
Vernon's top line has been arguably the hottest in the playoffs. Colton Sparrow, Brendan Pearsley and Brett Mulcahy have teamed up for 26 goals and 46 points in the playoffs. Mulcahy who was the captain of the Fred Page Cup champion Surrey Eagles a year ago is on a tear with 13 goals in 14 playoff games.
For Victoria it starts with the Fitzgerald triplets Myles, Leo and Gerry then works it's way down the lineup. They're 1-2-3 in Grizzlies scoring in these playoffs. But they have been able to spread the attack around with 7 players with 4 or more goals in the playoffs.
The Express have spread their offense around throughout these playoffs as well.
Ryan Rosenthal leads the way with 9 goals and 12 points in the playoffs. But contributions from the top 3 lines have been a consistent theme for the Express in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
None of these teams would be in the position they're in without great goaltending. Gordie Defiel has been as rock steady as any goaltender in these playoffs for the Express. Austin Smith has carried the load the entire way for Vernon.
Victoria has been going with a platoon system. They've split their goaltending duties as equally as you can. Alec Dillion and former Express property Nic Renyard are both 4-3 in in these playoffs. Dillon has played 10 more minutes, faced one more shot, and has allowed one fewer goal than Renyard in these playoffs to date.
If the regular season head to head match ups mean anything at this point in the playoffs, the Express were 1-1 vs. Vernon winning at home 4-2 on December 8th. And losing 3-1 in Vernon on January 11th.
Victoria took both meetings with the Express winning 4-3 in Coquitlam on November 17th and 3-1 in Victoria on February 8th.
In my opinion, the head to head meetings don't mean much this deep in the playoffs. Especially when you consider there's so much water that has gone under the respective bridges of all 3 teams at this point in the playoffs. And when there's just 2 head to head meetings all season long between the two clubs.
All three clubs will be well rested with a week off after the second round after playing 12 or 13 games in a 19 day span in the first two rounds of the playoffs.