There are four teams left in the Calder Cup Playoffs. The Penguins (sadly) aren’t one of them, packing up and heading home on Wednesday, but to keep sharp on the blog and to occupy my time, here is my Western and Eastern Conference Final Previews and predictions…
Ontario (P1) vs. Lake Erie (C2)
Western Conference Finals
How the Reign got here: They beat San Jose in Round One and dispatched rival San Diego in just five games. Ontario is a big, bruising team that halfway through, has yet to be challenged.
How the Monsters got here: In what looked like a sure sweep of the Grand Rapids Griffins in the Division Finals, Grand Rapids beat the Monsters in the next two games and forced a Game 6 before Lake Erie put the Griffins to bed in overtime and ended their season.
How they matchup: The two teams did not face each other in the regular season. Ontario won the Western Conference and the Monsters finished second in the Central Division and third in the Conference. Lake Erie played a structured game all season long and never got too high or too low. Perhaps it’s a style that matches up well against the Reign.
Key player so far for Lake Erie: This team was built to be balanced, and that’s what they are, with no player at the top of the scoring board sticking out. Could be an interesting thing to watch in who starts in goal in Game 1. Joonas Korpisalo started Game 6, but was pulled after allowing three goals on nine shots. Backup Anton Forsberg came on in relief and shut down the Griffins from there, not allowing another goal.
Key player so far for Ontario: Peter Budaj. The reigning Goaltender of the Year has a paltry 1.72 GAA and a .918 SV% in the postseason. With how big and bruising Ontario is as a team, no Monster may see the whites of Budaj’s eyes and live to tell about it.
Prediction: Ontario in six. The fairy tale ride that the Monsters has been on turns into a black and silver nightmare. Lake Erie steals one of the first two, then wins at home, but the Reign close out the series before it gets to seven games.
Toronto (N1) vs. Hershey (A1)
Eastern Conference Finals
How the Bears got here: They took rival Wilkes-Barre / Scranton to the limit and won in overtime in Game 7. It was about as evenly matched as two teams could be as playoff opponents.
How the Marlies got here: They, too, went the distance against an Albany side that could have beaten the AHL’s best team all season.
How they matchup: They met twice in the regular season with each team winning by multiple goals.
Key player so far for Hershey: Carter Camper. Chris Bourque’s center man ran wild against the Penguins who did a good job of limiting the AHL MVP to just two goals and two assists in the series, not allowing Bourque a goal at even strength, but it was Camper who stole the show and sent the Penguins packing with seven points (4-3-7) in the series.
Key player so far for Toronto: Connor Carrick. The ex-Bear has 14 points for his Marlies team so far in the postseason. He’ll be playing for something extra, looking to send his old team packing for the summer.
Prediction: Marlies in five. Toronto played their worst game of the season in Game 6 last round against Albany, then battled back from behind in Game 7 and advanced. This team is deep and talented. Hershey took a Wilkes-Barre lineup with an unknown goaltender from the ECHL with a lineup filled with college and junior kids to the limit and won. They now face a Toronto machine that had been the AHL’s best team all season long in the Conference Finals. The Bears steal home ice away from the Marlies in Game 1 or 2 but Toronto adjusts and puts the 11 time Champions away in five games.
If you still have a team in this, enjoy.