Four teams remain in contention for the Calder Cup. They are the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, Toronto Marlies, Rockford IceHogs and Texas Stars.
Interesting series developments here. In the East, it’s a battle of the top two teams in the Marlies and Phantoms. In the West, it’s the veteran Texas Stars vs. the undefeated in postseason Rockford IceHogs.
Let’s take a crack at predicting each series, starting in the West.
Rockford IceHogs vs. Texas Stars
How the IceHogs got here: They haven’t lost a game yet, sweeping the Manitoba Moose in four games. The Moose led the Central Division for large chunks of the season while the IceHogs toiled at the cut line for most of the season. But as Rockford proved, it’s a new season now.
How the Stars got here: Beat Pacific Division Champion Roadrunners in five games. They got opportune scoring from their forwards and excellent goaltending from Mike McKenna and used experience to dismiss youth in a quick series that lasted just five games.
How they matchup: 1-2-0-1 if you are a Stars fan, 3-1 if you are a Rockford supporter.
How Rockford wins: IceHogs were unfazed by the Central Division Champion Chicago Wolves in Round One and smoked the division champs in a three game sweep. They stared down a Manitoba side that is going to be good next year and swept them. In order to do that to Texas, they will need to get to McKenna early and often, bottle up the Stars offense and make this series look as easy as the two prior. Easier said than done.
How Texas wins: It’s the experience that got the Stars here, and the experience that gets them past a pesky Rockford side that is that, “hot team at the right time” club that you sometimes see in these postseason tournaments in the AHL.
Prediction: It doesn’t end in a sweep, nor does it with Rockford advancing. Texas in six.
Lehigh Valley Phantoms vs. Toronto Marlies
How the Phantoms got here: Beat Providence easily in four games, and Charlotte the same way including the longest game in AHL history. Phantoms are playing tough teams and beating them easily.
How Toronto got here: Survived a scare in five games with Utica, then swept away a Syracuse team that looked at times to push the Marlies for the North Division lead in the regular season.
How they matchup: 0-1-0-1 if you are a Phantoms fan and 2-0 if you are a Marlies fan.
How Lehigh Valley wins: Alex Lyon stole the series for the Phantoms making 94 (yes, ninety-four) saves in Game 4’s five overtime thriller. The Phantoms will be heavily relying on their net minder to get them past the Toronto Marlies.
How Toronto wins: They made it look easy against a team they are familiar with in Syracuse, and will need to overcome their closest challenger in Lehigh Valley who finished runner up in the Conference. These teams played just two games against each other in what can only be described as a small, maybe insignificant, sample size.
Prediction: It’s the unstoppable Lehigh Valley Phantoms who are blitzkrieging opponents vs. the immovable object in the best all around team in Toronto. I haven’t picked the Phantoms to win a playoff series yet in this series I have been doing for the blog because I thought that the teams that they were facing in Providence and Charlotte were better than them. I know that Toronto is the better team here. Marlies have been good all season and know that they are a series away from playing for the ultimate goal. Toronto in five.
That’s how I see it shaking out. If you still have a team in it, enjoy the ride.
Thank you for not picking the Phantoms. While it’s true we beat a formidable Charlotte squad without the league MVP and our most dynamic defenceman, Toronto will be just too much. See you in October.