The 2016 Calder Cup Playoffs are upon us. I’m shaking things up this year on the blog and just doing one preview for the blog instead of breaking down the Western Conference one day and the Eastern Conference the next.
Pretty much self-explanatory. I go out on a limb and offer predictions in each series (except the Penguins / Bruins series, which gets the full work-up Tuesday) and give a thumbnail sketch on each team.
So let’s get to it…
Hershey (A1) vs. Portland (A4)
How the Bears got here: When Wilkes-Barre got off to its strong start, it was looking like the Penguins were going to run away with things, but then injuries befuddled the Penguins organization and the Bears remained steady in winning games and staying on pace. The rest of the division was too inconsistent. Bears won the division easily.
How the Pirates got here: Portland played slightly better than Bridgeport and Hartford down the stretch for fourth place in the final weeks of the season, going 6-3-1 to Bridgeport’s 4-5-1 and Hartford’s 5-5.
How they match up: The Bears went 5-5 against the Pirates, including one overtime win. Hershey is the third highest scoring team in the AHL, Portland was 11th in defense.
Key Player for Hershey: Chris Bourque, league MVP is the obvious choice.
Key Player for Portland: Rob Schremp. The Pirates All-Star led Portland in games played and points.
Prediction: Bears in five. Of all the series in the East, this one goes the distance.
Providence (A2) vs. Wilkes-Barre / Scranton (A3)
How the Bruins got here: When parent Boston missed the playoffs, the Bruins offense was injected with Frank Vatrano who has scored a goal per game for the Bruins. Providence won their final five games in a row to edge past the Penguins for the two seed.
How the Penguins got here: Started the season strong, lost personnel to recall to Pittsburgh as well as their head coach. Have played at or near .500 since. Could not withstand Providence’s late charge in final weeks.
How they match up: Wilkes-Barre won the first two games in the six game season series, but Providence rattled off the last four wins. The P-Bruins have the leagues best power play but only scored once in 29 tries against the Penguins. They also have the leagues second best penalty kill.
Key Player for Providence: Co-Rookie of the Year Frank Vatrano, who scored 36 goals in 36 games.
Key Player for Wilkes-Barre / Scranton: Carter Rowney. The little known Rowney played his way into an NHL contract with Pittsburgh next season and led the Penguins in points.
Prediction: I am not giving it away here. Check back Tuesday for the full series breakdown.
Toronto (N1) vs. Bridgeport (A5)
How the Marlies got here: By being the best team in the AHL from wire to wire.
How the Sound Tigers got here: Qualified on the last weekend of the regular season. Couldn’t win to improve their seeding and drew the odds on favorite to win the Calder Cup.
How they match up: These two teams did not face each other so it’s the classic David vs. Goliath matchup.
Key Player for Toronto: Defenseman of the Year T.J. Brennan, whose +/- was +34. He overshadows fellow defenseman Andrew Campbell, who had a +/- of +39.
Key Player for Bridgeport: Bracken Kearns led the Sound Tigers in scoring.
Prediction: Toronto in three. Marlies will make this round look easy.
Albany (N2) vs. Utica (N3)
How the Devils got here: They played in the wrong division. Albany would have won the Atlantic if they played there. They flew under the radar all season on strong defense and timely scoring.
How Utica got here: Comets feasted on the bottom feeders in the division, going a combined 20-10-3-1 against Syracuse, St. John’s Rochester and Binghamton.
How they match up: The Devils went 6-0-2 against Utica this season. Albany is the stingiest team in the AHL for shots allowed, suppressing opponents to 24.41 shots per game. The Comets led the AHL in shorthanded goals for with 17.
Key Player for Albany: Strength in numbers. Nearly every Devils player has a positive plus minus. Scott Wedgewood went 14-3-3 with a minuscule 1.55 GAA and a .933 SV%.
Key Player for Utica: Carter Bancks. Heart and soul of this Utica team and a guy that appeared in every game for the Comets.
Prediction: Albany in four. Comets steal a game early, but the Devils correct, lock down and don’t let go.
Admittedly, didn’t see much Western Conference this season, maybe but for the occasional game here or there on AHL Live. Buyer beware on these predictions…
Milwaukee (C1) vs. Grand Rapids (C4)
How the Admirals got here: Winners of the Central Division, consistently stayed well above average the other contenders in the division. Only other team with 100 or more points was Toronto.
How the Griffins got here: A team primed at the start of the season to run away with the Central and be a strong contender for the Calder Cup stumbled out of the gate. Streaks chased this team all season long.
How they match up: Every game was decided in regulation. The Admirals went 3-5 against the Griffins this season. Milwaukee has the leagues second best power play. Grand Rapids is 5th in the AHL in offense and 6th in the AHL in defense.
Key Player for Milwaukee: Goaltender Juuse Saros. The rookie Saros went 29-8 and was overshadowed in the West when it came to awards.
Key Player for Grand Rapids: Eric Tangradi 28 goals and 28 assists in 72 games for the power forward.
Prediction: Milwaukee in five. One of two series out West that goes the distance.
Lake Erie (C2) vs. Rockford (C3)
How the Monsters got here: Remained consistent in the face of inconsistency around them with the likes of Rockford and Grand Rapids.
How the IceHogs got here: Fizzled in the final month but finished strong.
How they match up: The Monsters were 4-4 over the IceHogs this season, with one overtime win. If Lake Erie scores first, forget about it. The Monsters went 28-2-3-3 when scoring first. The IceHogs were 3-10 in the gimmick known as three on three overtime.
Key Player for Lake Erie: Group effort. T.J. Tynan led the Monsters with 46 points. Lake Erie was the third stingiest team in the AHL on defense. It’s no one player that can beat you, which makes the Monsters so dangerous.
Key Player for Rockford: Vinnie Hinostroza. The rookie center led the IceHogs in scoring.
Prediction: Lake Erie in five. Monsters methodical, come at you from all sides tactics is enough to dismiss Rockford in the short five game series.
Ontario (P1) vs. San Jose (P4)
How the Reign got here: The reincarnate Calder Cup Champions never missed a beat and remained a force in the Pacific Division, where they led wire to wire.
How the Barracuda got here: Got in on the last day of the playoffs. Their .537 winning percentage is lowest amongst qualifying playoff teams.
How they match up: The Reign went 9-3 against the Barracuda this season, with three overtime wins. Ontario was the top defensive team, allowing just 2.03 goals to opponents per game.
Key Player for Ontario: Peter Budaj. The AHL’s best goaltender went 42-14-4 with a 1.75 GAA and a .932 save percentage. He will be the difference maker.
Key Player for San Jose: Ryan Carpenter. San Jose’s leading scorer was also a team best +20.
Prediction: Ontario in three. It won’t be pretty for San Jose.
San Diego (P2) vs. Texas (P3)
How the Gulls got here: Defended home ice, 20-10-3-1 at Valley View Casino Center.
How the Stars got here: If the Stars played in a division where everyone played the same amount of games, in this division they still face San Diego, but would have home ice.
How they match up: The last team the Gulls wanted to face were the Stars, who they only beat once.
Key Player for San Diego: Rookie Defenseman Brandon Montour. 57 points that tied him with Chris Mueller in the team lead in points.
Key Player for Texas: Stars had nine players with 40 or more points. They can come at you from all angles.
Prediction: Stars in four. San Diego steals one, probably in overtime, but the matchup heavily favors the Stars to advance.
Let me know if you are agree or disagree here. My full Preview of Pens / P-Bruins with an actual prediction hits the blog Tuesday.