Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Playoff time! 1st round preview

On Wednesday, two best-of-five series begin to determine which teams will join the top six in the Czech Extraliga's quarterfinals. Czech Hockey Report previews the two series for you.

(7) Slavia Praha vs (10) Energie Karlovy Vary:

Battling for position in front of the net will only get harder in the
playoffs. Photo: Pavel Vrtiška, hc-slavia.cz.
This is a rematch of the league finalists from 2008 and 2009. This is also a meeting between tight-checking Slavia and run-and-gun Karlovy Vary. Slavia had trouble scoring at times, but were tied for the second-best-ranked defence in the league. Karlovy Vary had trouble keeping the puck out of their net this year and Lukáš Mensator didn't have his best season in goal, but he's only two years removed from backstopping Vary to the championship. At the other end, Miroslav Kopřiva sported a 2.39 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage, so the series could turn into a good goaltending duel.

The teams split the four meetings this season, with each team winning once at home and once on the road. In their last meeting, on January 30, Karlovy Vary tied the game late and won on home ice in a shootout. We'll say the teams again split the first four before Slavia takes the rubber match at home. Slavia in five.

(8) Benzina Litvínov vs (9) Plzeň 1929:

Martin Straka battles in front of the Litvínov goal, December 12.
Photo: Milan Podpera, hcplzen.cz.
These two teams each finished the season with 77 points, with Litvínov earning the tie-breaker by earning more points in the season series. However, that is deceiving information, as Plzeň was actually stripped of 19 points by the league, including 6 points against Litvínov, which caused them to lose the tie-breaker. If they hadn't lost those points, they would have tied Třinec for first place. They have the leagues top two scorers, Tomáš Vlasák and Martin Straka, and late in the season they vastly tightened up their defence and goaltending, which were question marks earlier. After the points penalty, it looked like making the playoffs would be a longshot, but they went 11-2-1-2 in their last 16 games.

Does that mean it will be a sweep? Well, Litvínov was headed in the wrong direction in mid January and also looked to be in tough to make the playoffs, but made a coaching change and turned things around, going 7-0-1-2 in their last 10. The turnaround began with a crucial 1-0 win over Plzeň on January 23.

We'll say that the teams split the first two games before the Indians finish off the series at home. Plzeň in four.

Both series play their first two games on Wednesday and Thursday, then change venues for games Saturday and Sunday, if necessary. A decisive fifth game, if necessary, would be played next Tuesday, March 1. So far, Wednesday's first game between Litvinov and Plzen is the only game scheduled to be televised on ČT4. However, as in the regular season, most games will be available online at tv.hokej.cz. It should be noted that during the season Slavia home games were unavailable on that platform, so they will likely continue to be unavailable in the playoffs.

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