In keeping with what I did last year, I am rolling one preview into this blog piece, and that is giving you a snapshot of each team in the playoffs, how they match up, a key player to watch for both teams and offer a prediction. The prediction for Penguins / Providence series will be broken down into it’s own blog piece tomorrow at noon.
So here goes nothing, starting in the Western Conference….
San Jose Barracuda (P1) vs. Stockton Heat (P4)
How the Barracuda got here: Really were the class of the Western Conference all season, piloted by Head Coach Roy Sommer. They outpaced defending Conference Champion Ontario and San Diego, who is a very strong side.
How the Heat got here: Someone had to finish fourth in a division which is really three headed. Bakersfield’s 4-6 run at the end of the season was met with the Heat’s 11 game unbeaten in regulation streak. Stockton made it close, but they edged the Condors.
How they match up: Season was pretty split between the two. 12 games, 7-5 if you are a Barracuda fan, 5-5-2 if you are a Heat fan.
Key player for the Barracuda: Troy Grosenick, on a team that plays on 68 games, won 30 of them. That is impressive.
Key player for the Heat: Linden Vey was second on the Heat with 55 points, one off Mark Jankowski. Vey comes with playoff experience needed during these times.
Prediction: San Jose in five. This is the one matchup that the Barracuda didn’t want. Stockton steals one or both in overtime, but are ultimately beaten by the better, more consistent team here in this conversation.
San Diego Gulls (P2) vs. Ontario Reign (P3)
How the Gulls got here: Played out of the two seed from right after New Years and held on solidly to the position.
How the Reign got here: Played out of the three seed from right after New Years and held on solidly to the position.
How they match up: Both teams went 6-4-1-1 against the other. I’m still trying to figure that one out.
Key player for the Gulls: Corey Tropp’s 54 points in 62 games paces the Gulls.
Key player for the Reign: Jack Campbell is an all-star goaltender who has won 31 games in net for the Reign and their iron horse. No other net minder has appeared in more games (52)
Prediction: San Diego in four. Gulls come at you from all sides attack will be too much for Ontario to overcome in a short five game series.
Chicago Wolves (C1) vs. Charlotte Checkers (C4)
How the Wolves got here: Rewarded for being the Central’s most consistent team. Despite the deficit of two or three games in hand on Grand Rapids at the time, the Wolves remained at the top of the Central for pretty much the entire season.
How the Checkers got here: Outlasted the Cleveland Monters and Iowa Wild in the regular season’s final weeks. Checkers won out on regulation or overtime wins and beat out the Monsters, who they were in a tie with in points and points percentage.
How they match up: Wolves went 6-1-0-1 against the Checkers this season.
Key player for the Wolves: It’s two. Kenny Agostino won the scoring race (83 points) and Wade Megan had the most goals (33) this dynamic duo terrorized an overall strong Central Division on a night in and night out basis.
Key player for the Checkers: Charlotte’s Tom McCollum joined the team late and took the reigns and went 12-2-4 with a 2.17 GAA and a .917 SV%.
Prediction: This one ends with a sweep, Chicago in three.
Grand Rapids Griffins (C2) vs. Milwke. Admirals (C3)
How the Griffins got here: 4-5-0-1 in their final ten games, it’s what ultimately cost the Griffins a shot at the Central Division title.
How the Admirals got here: Equally as dire, Milwaukee went 4-5-1-0 in their last ten but were out of the championship picture about a month or so ago.
How they match up: Griffins went 7-5 against the Admirals, with one overtime victory. Call it pretty even.
Key player for the Griffins: Martin Frk finished fourth on the team in scoring overall but led the team in goals with 27.
Key player for the Admirals: Adam Payerl was a castaway with Wilkes-Barre a few seasons ago, but was consistent piece with the Milwaukee Admirals all season, appearing in every game. He doesn’t lead in any category, but he always seemed to find the scoresheet at the right time whenever I caught a glimpse at what was going on out West with the Admirals.
Predication: Probably the most evenly matched series in the Western Conference, Admirals in five.
Syracuse Crunch (N1) vs. St. John’s IceCaps (N4)
How the Crunch got here: Despite being pillaged on an almost daily basis by call-ups to parent Tampa Bay, the Syracuse Crunch stayed the course throughout the entire 2016-17 season and led the division for huge chunks of it. They rightfully took home the division championship on the last day of the season.
How the St. John’s IceCaps got here: With this being the last season of professional hockey in Newfoundland, the IceCaps played inspired hockey down the stretch and got in as the four seed, beating out the Utica Comets.
How they match up: 4-1-2-1 went the Crunch against the IceCaps this season.
Key player for the Crunch: Cory Conacher and Matt Taormina paced Syracuse with 60 points each.
Key player for the IceCaps: Offense ran through Chris Terry all season, Terry put up 68 points.
Prediction: Scare for Syracuse, but they outlast the IceCaps in five games.
Toronto Marlies (N2) vs Albany Devils (N3)
How the Marlies got here: Played reinvigorated hockey in the final third of the season after most left them for dead and wrote them off.
How the Devils got here: Were never able to overcome Syracuse for the top spot in the division and lost personnel at the end of the season to recall to New Jersey and fell to the three seed.
How they match up: Devils went 5-3 against the Marlies this season with an overtime and shootout win sprinkled in.
Key player for the Marlies: Garret Sparks played 31 games in goal for Toronto and went 21-9 with a 2.16 GAA and a .922 SV%.
Key player for the Devils: Brian Gibbons and Carter Camper each came from successful teams in the past and are consistent Devils players.
Prediction: Like Grand Rapids and Milwaukee out west this is probably the most every matched series in the Eastern Conference. Devils advance in five if the Maple Leafs remain alive in the NHL playoffs.
W-B / Scr. Penguins (A1) vs. Providence Bruins (A4)
How the Penguins got here: But for a few bumps along the way, the Penguins remained the best overall team in the AHL all season long.
How the Bruins got here: Were a two seed as early as a few weeks ago, but a 0-3-1-0 run to close out the season dropped the Bruins to a four seed in an ever competitive Atlantic Division which saw the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, a team which would have ran away with the North Division Championship this season, miss playoffs.
How they match up: Penguins beat the Bruins four times in the regular season, including once in overtime.
Key player for the Penguins: Tom Kostopoulos. At age 38, time isn’t slowing the grizzled captain down. His 54 points leads the team.
Key player for the Bruins: There was a time when Zane McIntyre just didn’t lose when he went in between the pipes for the P-Bruins.
Prediction: Check back tomorrow for a full series preview of this one.
Leh. Val. Phantoms (A2) vs. Hershey Bears (A3)
How the Phantoms got here: Never really a challenger for the Penguins top spot, the Phantoms played consistently as a two seed all season in the AHL’s best division.
How the Bears got here: Left for dead on a number of occasions, the Bears used the final two weeks of the season to propel out of the five seed where they were all the way to a three seed.
How they match up: Phantoms got the better of the Bears, 7-4-1-0 in the 12 game season series, but a lot of those games played when the Bears were a struggling five seed.
Key player for the Phantoms: Alex Lyon is the man in goal now that Anthony Stolarz went down with season ending knee surgery.
Key player for the Bears: Pheonix Copley was a trade deadline acquisition who went 11-5 for Hershey when the Bears biggest deficiency was the man between the pipes.
Predication: This is a tough one to predict on the basis of the hot and cold play that Hershey exhibited all season long. Going out on a limb here and saying Lehigh Valley in five.
If you see it any other way, let me know in the comments.