Wheat Kings confident

KIRK PENTON -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:46 AM ET

Despite getting battered 10-1 in Game 1, the Brandon Wheat Kings can finish off the Calgary Hitmen tonight.

Then again, the Hitmen have a chance to take out the Wheaties for the third game in a row.

Brandon hosts Calgary this evening at the Keystone Centre in the seventh and deciding game of their WHL Eastern Conference semifinal series. The winner will meet red-hot Winnipeg goaltender Rejean Beauchemin and the Prince Albert Raiders in the conference final.

If recent history is any indication, the Wheat Kings have a good shot at terminating the Hitmen. Since 2002, Brandon is 2-1 in Game 7s, while Calgary is 0-2.

Does that give Brandon the edge tonight?

"No," Wheaties head coach, general manager and owner Kelly McCrimmon stated matter-of-factly yesterday. "We've got some players that have been in this situation, so hopefully that little bit of extra experience helps us be prepared for the game, but I don't think any of those things are difference-makers.

"I don't think the fact that it's in Brandon is a difference-maker. I don't think the fact that we've got guys that have been in that situation is going to, on its own, lead us to victory.

"All those things can help, but the bottom line is we have to play our best game. We're playing a good team."

The Hitmen may be a good team, but they must be on the ropes mentally. They were all ready to rub out the Wheat Kings last week when they took a 3-1 series lead, but Brandon battled back with a 6-4 win in Game 5 and a 3-1 triumph in Game 6 on Monday night in Calgary.

McCrimmon said his team is feeling good, but not much will be different tonight at what is expected to be a jam-packed Keystone Centre.

"We've had our backs to the wall here for a while, and, realistically, we can't forget the fact that that hasn't changed," McCrimmon said.

"We're still in a win-or-else position, but clearly we've gained some confidence by winning the last two games."

Wheat Kings rookie netminder Tyler Plante is likely sure of himself after a 32-save performance in Game 6 and strong showings in general. The Wheat Kings, who finished with 11 more wins and 13 more points than the Hitmen during the regular season, have been out-shot in all six games by a combined total of 205-147.

"What I've said about Tyler all along is he's not only a good goalie, but his makeup is what really makes him special," McCrimmon said.

Winkler's Eric Fehr, who led the WHL in regular-season scoring, has been relatively silent in the series, with just three goals and an assist, while Ryan Stone, who was second, has only four helpers.

Winnipeg's Lance Monych, with five goals and three assists, has led the way offensively for the Wheaties.

AROUND THE GLASS: If the Wheat Kings win tonight, they will play in the Eastern Conference final for the third time in four years ... The Hitmen haven't appeared in the Eastern Conference final since 2000, when they fell to the Kootenay Ice ... Fehr and Calgary forward Ryan Getzlaf, who will see a healthy dose of Wheaties defenceman Riley Day tonight, are tied for the playoff scoring lead with 17 points in 11 games.


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