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The Home Stretch

by Matt Leacy

Last night the Kitchener Rangers fell to the Barrie Colts, 5-3 at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium. Maybe it was all the construction dust in the air near the Rangers dressing room, but did they ever run out of gas in the final couple minutes. With a 5-on-3 powerplay with about 2 minutes to go in the third, Kitchener was unable to do anything as Ryan Murphy looked like he was playing with a 50 lb weight tied around his waist. You can't really blame the kid, as he played a ton of minutes. It was just unfortunate he couldn't get it done.
As we stand right now, Kitchener has 14 games remaining in the 2011-12 season. It has certainly been a surprising season for Kitchener who is sitting in third in the Western Conference. They are one win or a Greyhound loss away from clinching a playoff spot, which really shouldn't be too hard. Based on their play as of late, the Rangers should have 3rd place all locked up for them. If they playoffs started today, Kitchener would face Saginaw in the first round. However, don't be surprised if it's Owen Sound, Windsor, Sault Ste. Marie or even Sarnia should they have a bad finish to the season.
Kitchener will have a hard time against all these teams come the playoffs. The only team they've dominated from that list has been the Windsor Spitfires, who the Rangers are currently 3-1 against this season. Regular season stats don't mean much come playoff time, but they certainly can be a confidence boost.
The Greyhounds are Kitchener's final opponent of the season. I'll admit I'm not very familiar with the Greyhounds, but I did see them play at the Aud on thanksgiving Monday and wow, did the Rangers ever get outplayed in that tilt. If memory serves me right, the final score was 6-2 for the Soo, in a game that included a line brawl after the second period and a certain Ranger using, lets say colourful, language in our post game chat. I have no doubt that a SSM-KIT playoffs series would be entertaining, but I'm not sure it'll be successful for the boys in blue.
Saginaw would be another tough test for Kitchener. They've struggled against them all season. Despite a lineup depleted at the deadline, the Spirit have hung on and played their hearts out every chance. Come playoff time that'swhat every team needs, 100% mental commitment. Saginaw will be tough for whoever they play in the first round.
The Attack have taken quite the fall from grace, after winning the Western title last season and the OHL crown, they now sit in 5th in the western conference, but are riding a 5-0-1 streak. Again they're another team with young talent that can play the role of up-setter in the first round. Lets just hope it's against London or Plymouth instead of Kitchener.
All that being said, this is the first season in recent memory where the Eastern conference appears to be a much tighter race than the West. Not to take away from any teams, but only 13 points seperates 8th from 3rd in the East. The playoff race in that conference will certainly be interesting.
It may be a little early, but here's my picks. Plymouth will take the west, Niagara the East, and Kitchener and Barrie will be the dark horses in their respective conferences. You can agree or disagree, i'm sure there are some valid points to say that i'm wrong, but this is my gut feeling (listen to your sports gut!).

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