Welcome back to Day Two of the Calder Cup Previews. Yesterday I previewed the Western Conference. Today, I return to familiar territory and examine the Eastern Conference.
In keeping with what I have done since I started this blog, I am saving the prediction for Penguins / Checkers for its own more detailed post. Look for that Thursday at noon.
Let’s get right to it.
Toronto Marlies (N1) vs. Utica Comets (N4)
How the Marlies got here: Were class of the field the entire year. No one really got close to challenging the Marlies 112 points that won them the Macgregor Kilpatrick trophy for the best overall record in the AHL.
How the Comets got here: The North was ridiculously top heavy. Utica was just better than terrible Binghamton, Belleville and Laval teams.
How they match up: 5-2-0-1 for the Marlies over the Comets and 3-4-1-0 for the Comets over the Marlies.
How Toronto wins: Don’t fall for the slashes after the whistles and ignore all the noise coming out of the Comets players mouths. Really should be business as usual.
How Utica wins: They need to steal a game in Toronto and split at home and go balls to the wall in Game 5. The Marlies are a team that only comes around once in a while, it’s going to take a herculean effort to take them out.
Prediction: Only series I see that ends with a sweep. Toronto in three.
Syracuse Crunch (N2) vs. Rochester Americans (N3)
How the Crunch got here: Defending Eastern Conference champions picked right up where they left off. 100 points for Benoit Groulx’s group, who ran roughshod over a bad North Division.
How the Americans got here: Re-tooled from the front office all the way down, Sabres GM Jason Botterill knows a thing about playoff teams in the AHL. Botterill hired Chris Taylor and brought in the right type of players and again, played above average hockey in a below average division.
How they match up: 6-2-1-1 if you are a Crunch fan, 4-5-1-0 if you are an Amerks fan. It’s a, “they have our number” type of series.
How Syracuse wins: They have been here before. Rochester should be a walk in the park, given the season series coming in.
How Rochester wins: Going to need to scrap for every inch. Syracuse stayed lockstep with Toronto all year, one bad week for the Marlies and it could have easily been Syracuse as the division champ. That said, Syracuse may be vulnerable and can be beat.
Prediction: Part of me wants to say that Syracuse outlasts Rochester in a series for the ages, but the other part of me sees a hungry, determined Syracuse side that disposes of a Rochester side that will learn to lose first before it wins. Either way, the Crunch advance. Syracuse in four.
Leh. Val. Phantoms (A1) vs. Providence Bruins (A4)
How the Phantoms got here: Took over the top spot in the Atlantic at the start of the new year and never looked back. Lehigh Valley’s 104 points is second best overall to only Toronto.
How the Bruins got here: Sort of faded at the end of the season, but built up enough of a cushion on fifth place Bridgeport that missing playoffs was never really a concern.
How they match up: 4-1-1-0 for the Phantoms over the Bruins and 2-4 for the Bruins over the Phantoms.
How Lehigh Valley wins: Running out to a multi goal lead and riding out the storm that the Bruins bring edges the Phantoms past the Bruins.
How Providence wins: The Phantoms and Bruins played much of their series in the final month of the season where Providence wasn’t at their best. Playoffs are a different animal, however. Series begins in Providence, so a split is a necessity for the Bruins to advance.
Prediction: Providence knocked out overall number one Wilkes-Barre last year in five games. I see the same thing happening here in a knock down, drag out series that includes multiple overtime games. Providence in five.
W-B / Scranton (A2) vs. Charlotte Checkers (A3)
How the Penguins got here: Were never worse than second place all season after leading the Atlantic for much of the first half of the season.
How the Checkers got here: Used a late run when they felt some heat from Bridgeport and pushed past a Providence team that stumbled at the end to nudged into third place. Valentin Zykov led the AHL in goals scored with 33 goals in 63 games.
How they matchup: 1-3 if you are a Penguins fan and 3-1 if you are a Checkers fan.
How Wilkes-Barre wins: Defense has to shut down Zykov, Lucas Wallmark, Warren Foegele and ex-teammate Greg McKegg. That’s going to be a tough task for any team, not just the Penguins.
How Charlotte wins: Full compliment of players with NHL parent Carolina’s season over. Points in last ten games, there isn’t a team hotter right now in the division. Checkers need to continue to ride that momentum.
Prediction: I will give it to you Thursday at noon with a more in depth breakdown.
That’s how I see the East shaping up. Disagree? Comments are open. Check me out tomorrow for a full breakdown of Wilkes-Barre / Charlotte.