Dawson Creek and Spirit River will add another chapter to the story of their bitter rivalry as the two teams meet for the third straight time in the first round of the NPHL playoffs, with Game 1 set to get underway tonight on the Rangers home ice.
“It’s the start of a new season, you could say, and against Spirit River we expect it to be a hard series,” said Canucks captain and player-coach Adam Loncan on Saturday, following the club’s season finale loss to the Grande Prairie Athletics.
In the previous two postseason meetings, the Rangers eliminated the Canucks from the West Divison semifinals in four straight games in the 2011 playoffs, and by six games in 2012.
Over the course of the regular season, the Canucks have fared no better, dropping all four games versus the Rangers, who enter the playoffs as the second seed out of the west, ten points ahead of the third seed Canucks.
And it’s no secret that either team has fond things to say about one another. In their first meeting this year, the two teams set the season record for shared penalty minutes in a single game with 144 PIM’s.
If the Canucks expect to advance past the first round, keeping the Rangers off the man-advantage is an absolute must.
“The key for us is we have to play smart hockey and stay out of the penalty box,” said Loncan who was named to the NPHL’s West Division All-Star Team as a defenceman.
“They’ll [Spirit River] embarrass us every time on the powerplay and they’ve done that, and we seem to get sucked into that.”
The Rangers powerplay this season has been one of the most potent in league history. Before their final home game Saturday against Hythe, in which the Rangers won 17-2, Spirit River had the highest recorded powerplay percentage (41.82) since detailed stats began being collected in the 1991-92 season.
“They have a lethal powerplay. They can all move the puck, whether it’s down low or at the point,” said Loncan.
The Canucks are no slouches either when it comes to the man-advantage; their powerplay percentage (36.15) ranks them ninth best since ’91-’92.
“If we can stay smart and play five-on-five with them, and with the roster we are going to have, I think we’ll do just fine,” added Loncan.
The Senior ‘Nucks added Trevor and Carl Dahlen to the postseason lineup. Both are utility players that Loncan says are able to lead the rush or help support the back end when need be.
“Every game is huge. It’s four games and your done and we’re not ready for that,” added Loncan. “It’s about playing smart. They [Rangers] have guys that can get under your skin and suck you in – get you to retaliate – and we have to stand there and take their punches and play five-on-five. Most of all we have to play our game, we can’t sit back and let them take it to us.”
Elsewhere in the West Division, first-seeded Grande Prairie Athletics take on fourth-ranked Hythe Mustangs.
Game 2 of Spirit River versus Dawson Creek will be played Thursday at Memorial Arena.