It may appear there is a potential huge upset in the making in the opening round of the Ontario Junior Hockey League playoffs.
The Stouffville Spirit, seeded seventh in the league’s North-East Conference, currently find themselves enjoying a 2-0 lead in their best-of-seven series against the second-ranked Markham Royals.
But if Stouffville does indeed go on to capture the series, it won’t be much of an upset. That’s because the Spirit ended up a mere two points behind the Royals in the regular season standings.
With 64 points, Markham actually would have placed fifth in the conference standings. But the Royals were awarded the Number 2 seed since they finished highest in the North Division.
Stouffville, which registered a 28-20-3-3 record, ended up 62 points, just two points behind division-leading Markham.
So it wasn’t much of a shocker when the Spirit eked out a 5-4 overtime victory in their playoff series opener this past Friday in Markham. Stouffville then doubled the visiting Royals 4-2 in Game 2 on Saturday.
Stouffville coach Jeff Perrin realizes this series is far from over. Because of the proximity of the two rivals in the regular season standings, he was anticipating a lengthy series, perhaps even going the maximum seven games.
By capturing the first two contests, Perrin likes his team’s chances of winning the series even more now.
“If we can outwork them and out-compete them, then I think we’ll be okay,” he said.
Game 3 is scheduled for Tuesday night in Markham. Should the Spirit emerge victorious in that contest, they will have the chance to wrap up the series at home on Thursday.
The Stouffville side will in all likelihood enter Tuesday’s match with some confidence.
“Our last game I thought was the best game we’ve played all year,” Perrin said of Saturday’s triumph.
That came on the heels of Friday’s road victory – something the Spirit squad needed to achieve in order to prevail in the series.
“It was big,” Perrin added of Stouffville’s win in the series opener. “It gave us home-ice advantage. Coming into the series we knew if we wanted to win we’d have to win at least one game on the road.”
Besides being separated by just two points in the regular season standings, the Spirit and Royals were fairly even in other areas as well.
Over the course of the 54-game schedule, Stouffville scored 198 goals, 11 more than Markham. And the Spirit allowed 168 goals, two less than the Royals.
Perrin believes his side does have an edge in one area though – goaltending. He’s confident 20-year-old Aaron Taylor can backstop his charges to a series victory.
“He played well,” Perrin said of Taylor’s efforts in the first two games of the series. “If you ask him he can play better. But he’s getting the job done.”
The question that remains is whether Taylor and his teammates can now win a couple of more times against the Royals in the series.
Just don’t call it much of an upset, however, if that happens.
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