Expect favourites to roll in Round 1

SCOTT FISHER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:08 AM ET

On paper, 16 WHL teams are dreaming of a trip to the 2009 Memorial Cup in Rimouksi, Que.

Realistically, less than half of those squads have a legitimate shot.

Here's how the opening round unfolds:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

CALGARY HITMEN (1) VS. EDMONTON OIL KINGS (8)

Edmonton beat Calgary on the second night of the regular season way back on Sept. 20 -- in other words, before the Hitmen realized how good they were.

After that setback -- the only time the Hitmen blew a third-period lead all season -- the Hitmen dominated, winning by scores of 4-1, 7-2, 4-1, 7-1 and 6-2.

The Hitmen are coming off a monster season that saw the club rewrite a large chunk of its record book.

The Oil Kings are coming off an overtime win Tuesday night in Prince Albert in a one-game showdown to get into the playoffs.

The provincial rivals were separated by 55 points in the standings. That doesn't begin to tell you how lopsided this series will be.

Prediction: Hitmen in four.

SASKATOON BLADES (2) VS. LETHBRIDGE HURRICANES (7)

If there's a dark horse who scares everyone, it has to be the Hurricanes.

Their star-studded roster has under-performed all season. But if they catch lightning in a bottle, the defending Eastern Conference champs could do some serious damage.

The Blades, however, have been on the same page from Day 1.

Prediction: Blades in six.

BRANDON WHEAT KINGS (3) VS. KOOTENAY ICE (6)

The Wheat Kings' top six forwards are as offensively gifted as any team's in the league.

The Ice will need to stay out of the penalty box or this series will be over quickly.

Despite unloading some major talent at the WHL trade deadline, the Ice are in the post-season for the 11th consecutive year.

Prediction: Wheaties in five.

SWIFT CURRENT BRONCOS (4) VS. MEDICINE HAT TIGERS (5)

It might finally be the Broncos' turn.

The Tigers have won three previous playoff series between the two, winning 12 of 13 games along the way.

But the Broncos have the edge this time, thanks to a potent offence and stingy goaltending from Travis Yonkman.

Prediction: Broncos in six.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

VANCOUVER GIANTS (1) VS. PRINCE GEORGE COUGARS (8)

The G-Men stumbled down the stretch, going 2-3-1 in their final six games.

But they finished off the season with a 6-0 blanking of the Cougars.

Expect more of the same.

Prediction: Giants in four.

TRI-CITY AMERICANS (2) VS. EVERETT SILVERTIPS (7)

Which Silvertips team will show up?

The world-beaters who downed powerhouse Vancouver 5-3 last weekend, or the sad-sack squad that got thumped 10-0 in Seattle two nights later?

It probably doesn't matter.

Prediction: Ams in five.

KELOWNA ROCKETS (3) VS. KAMLOOPS BLAZERS (6)

The Blazers beat both the Hitmen and Giants in the final two weeks of the schedule.

But so did the Rockets during a season-ending eight-game winning streak.

Kelowna is arguably the hottest team in the league right now.

Prediction: Rockets in six.

SPOKANE CHIEFS (4) VS. SEATTLE THUNDERBIRDS (5)

This could be the tightest opening-round series.

The Chiefs won five of the nine regular-season matchups and the defending Memorial Cup champs boast the league's top defence.

The T-Birds' 18th-ranked powerplay needs to step up.

Prediction: Chiefs in seven.

PLAYOFF SKED

FIRST-ROUND MATCHUPS

EASTERN CONFERENCE

CALGARY HITMEN VS. EDMONTON OIL KINGS

Thurs: At Saddledome, 7 p.m.

Sun: At Saddledome, 2 p.m.

Mon: At Rexall Place, 7 p.m.

Wed: At Rexall Place, 7 p.m.

x-Fri: At Rexall Place, 7 p.m.

x-Sun: At Saddledome, 2 p.m.

x-Tues: At Saddledome, 7 p.m.

SASKATOON BLADES VS. LETHBRIDGE HURRICANES

Fri: At Saskatoon

Sat: At Saskatoon

Tues: At Lethbridge, 7 p.m.

Wed: At Lethbridge, 7 p.m.

x-Sat: At Saskatoon

x-Mon: At Lethbridge, 7 p.m.

x-Wed: At Saskatoon

BRANDON WHEAT KINGS VS. KOOTENAY ICE

Fri: At Brandon

Sat: At Brandon

Tues: At Kootenay

Wed: At Kootenay

x-Fri: At Brandon

x-Sun: At Kootenay

x-Tues: At Brandon

SWIFT CURRENT BRONCOS VS. MEDICINE HAT TIGERS

Fri: At Swift Current, 7:30 p.m.

Sat: At Swift Current, 7:30 p.m.

Tues: At Medicine Hat, 7 p.m.

Wed: At Medicine Hat, 7 p.m.

x-Fri: At Swift Current, 7:30 p.m.

x-Sun: At Medicine Hat, 6 p.m.

x-Tues: At S. Current, 7:30 p.m.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

VANCOUVER GIANTS VS. PRINCE GEORGE COUGARS

Friday: At Vancouver

Saturday: At Vancouver

Tues: At Prince George

Wed: At Prince George

x-Fri: At Vancouver

x-Sun: At Prince George

x-Tues: At Vancouver

TRI-CITY AMERICANS VS. EVERETT SILVERTIPS

Fri: At Tri-City

Sat: At Tri-City

Wed: At Everett

Fri: At Everett

x-Sat: At Tri-City

x-Mon: At Everett

x-Wed: At Tri-City

KELOWNA ROCKETS VS. KAMLOOPS BLAZERS

Fri: At Kelowna

Sat: At Kelowna

Tues: At Kamloops

Wed: At Kamloops

x-Fri: At Kelowna

x-Sat: At Kamloops

x-Tues: At Kelowna

SPOKANE CHIEFS VS. SEATTLE THUNDERBIRDS

Fri: At Spokane

Sat: At Spokane

Tues: At Seattle

Wed: At Seattle

x-Fri: At Spokane

x-Sun: At Seattle

x-Tues: At Spokane

x- if necessary


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