With four spots up for grabs in the national championship tournament, eight teams in the Eastern Conference will go head to head to finalize berths in Burnaby this year. This year, more than perhaps any other, every series really could go either way. We will start with the #1 seed and move down from there to lay out what each team must do to be successful in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Montreal Mission (1) vs Waterloo Wildfire (8)
Season series: Montreal 2-0
Setting the scene: The Mission have won big games this year, including a huge one on the last weekend versus Ottawa. They have shown more resilience and more defensive responsibility in this season than in years past. All of this bodes well for a good playoff run and a good run at the national championship tournament.
However, the Wildfire are no slouches. They have experienced players who can make life miserable with a combination of defensive abilities and the ability to put the ring in the net when the opportunity presents itself. Also to consider is that the Wildfire got off to a rough start this season and have been a much stronger team down the stretch drive.
Cambridge Turbos (2) vs Quebec City Cyclones (7)
Season Series: Cambridge 2-0
Setting the scene: After opening the season with a loss, you could be forgiven for wondering if this might be the year that the Turbos take a step back to the pack in the NRL. But, as the season wore on, the wins piled up. Rookie Shannon Barber and second year player Emily Bakker contributed hugely on offense to help make up for the loss of Jennifer Wakefield in the off-season. With all of these pieces in place, the Turbos set up well for the post season.
Quebec City has played playoff spoiler before and have a formula for success. The Cyclones work hard and keep the ring out of their net. They have had a hard time scoring on their own, but can play a stifling defensive game that can not only keep the Turbos at bay, but can also lead to the kinds of mistakes that happen when you get frustrated. Chantal St-Laurent will be relied on to get goals when they have chances and, as always, Julie Fleury-Roy will be called upon to make big saves at big times to give the Cyclones a chance to win.
Ottawa Ice (3) vs Gloucester Devils (6)
Season series: Ottawa 3-0
Setting the scene: Ottawa Ice have had a very good season, with key victories over Cambridge. Getting over the hump and beating the perennial powerhouse is a key step for this still young, but strong team. They will be able to rely on diversified scoring from Jayme Simzer, Katie Lugg and Jenna Love and can always rely on the goaltending of Tori Goble.
The Gloucester Devils started out the season on a horrific 0-6 streak that could very well have sunk their playoff chances all together. But with a record of 15-8-1 since that rough patch, the Devils have been a contender in the East ever since. With no travel disadvantages for the Devils, they can certainly give the Ice a challenge in this series.
Richmond Hill Lightning (4) vs Atlantic Attack (5)
Season series: Richmond Hill 2-0
Setting the scene: Richmond Hill has been a strong team throughout the season, showing the consistency that has eluded them in past campaigns. Beth Hurren continues to be reliable defensively and continues to blow the field away in terms of scoring by defenders. The team is well prepared for each and every game and will be ready to play this weekend. The home ice advantage will definitely be welcomed by the Lightning after their very long road trip to Finland for the World Club Championship this year.
Very few would have expected the Atlantic Attack to be in strong contention this season. As an expansion team with little pedigree on the NRL stage, expectations were very low. But starting with two wins on opening day, the Attack made it clear that they were not just happy to be here and intended to compete day in an day out. The team has demonstrated balanced scoring and strong goaltending all year long and that will help them a great deal as they face a tough Lightning side.