The Winterhawks victory over London puts them in the Memorial Cup Championship Game. Its been an interesting tournament, and the main thing to consider is everything is based off of such a small sample size. That being said, lets look at these teams and where they are trending.
How Portland got here:
Goaltending is critical in any situation, but its never more critical than a single elimination tournament. In 4 games, Carruth allowed 7,3,2, and 1 goals - in that order. The logical conclusion would be to give up zero on Sunday, so you heard it here first. He was bad in that first game, vs Halifax, and he'll be the first to tell you that. Most of us thought he would rebound from that game, and he has.
Dylan Bumbarger made the point coming into this tournament that the round robin portion was essentially a series of "Game 1's" - and the 'Hawks were 2-2 in Game 1's this playoff year. That includes a loss to Everett, who had half the wins that Portland earned. They also were 4-0 in Game 2's, which demonstrates their ability to make adjustments & correct mistakes. London was the only team they've seen twice, and took care of business. They have game tape vs Halifax, and know exactly what mistakes were made.
Special teams have been an issue all week. By my math, Portland's powerplay is clicking at 12.5% right now, after going 24.5% on the powerplay in the WHL playoffs and 23.4% in the regular season. I've heard a lot about bad ice, which really hurts the kind of flashy plays these guys thrive on, but you'd like to think they can adapt. A goal (or 2) would go a long ways in the final.
The penalty kill has been even more of a problem: a 64.3 % kill rate is a failing grade. The PK was 93.7% in the playoffs and 87.9% in the regular season, and its my opinion that killing penalties was the #1 reason for team success this year. The 'Hawks gave up 4 PPG's against in the entire WHL playoffs (while scoring 5 shorthanded), and have given up 5 this week.
A stellar special teams performance, and we are likely celebrating a Memorial Cup win on Memorial Day.
How Halifax got here:
I think the Mooseheads are smoke & mirrors.
They won 2 games, against Portland & London. As we touched upon earlier, Carruth was terrible in that game. Its been thrown around that 5 of those goals were bad - if he stops those, that game is 4-2 the other way.
The London game featured a complete goaltending disaster. To recap, London committed to Stolarz for the OHL playoffs, and he was good. In the league finals, they went down 3-1, and went with Patterson for the final 3 games - which they won. No one knew who they would go with for Game 1 vs Saskatoon. London played 2 round robin games featuring both goalies, and 1 game where the starter finished. Give credit to Patterson for a good game VS Portland in the elimination round, but that's a different topic.
The other game Halifax played, they lost 5-2 to Saskatoon: a team that had lost their last 13 postseason games. What did the Blades have going for them? Competent goaltending. The only game that Halifax was in this week where they saw decent goaltending, they scored 2 goals & lost.
The simple answer is to employ an above-average goalie performance against them, and the 'Hawks have the guy for that.
This game features a team that's played every other day since the tournament began VS a team that last played on Tuesday, going on Sunday. You hear all the time about getting into a rhythm, they love to play every other day.
The loss of Taylor Leier is pretty big, and the good fortune the 'Hawks have enjoyed with few major injuries this season were huge in their success. Bittner hasn't clicked on the 2nd line just yet, but we've seen what he can do when given the opportunity, and the future is really bright with this kid. Portland's depth is solid: they've got kids in street clothes good enough to star on a lot of WHL teams.
This is a matchup where one goalie has 17 league playoff games of experience, and the other has 18 games of league finals experience. Fucale is a much hyped 17, who is getting 1st round draft talk. He might turn out to be something truly special, and that's great - but on Sunday he's still going to be a 17 year old goalie up against an overager with a pro contract in his pocket. I like these odds.