Chirps from Center Ice

A fan blog about the AHL's Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins

Penguins / Thunderbirds Series Snap

The Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins outlasted the Hershey Bears in the best of three First Round Series over the weekend. The Penguins advanced in three games, in thrilling fashion after blowing a two goal lead late in Game 3. Alexander Nylader, who came over from the Rockford IceHogs in a midseason trade, scored the overtime game winning goal propelling the Penguins into a series with the two seed Springfield Thunderbirds. It was the first series win for the Penguins since 2016, when they ousted the Providence Bruins, but were beaten in overtime in Game 7 by Travis Boyd and the aforementioned Bears.

Springfield, meanwhile, earned a First Round bye on account of finishing in the top two in the Atlantic Division, thereby getting the second highest seeded remaining team to make it out of the First Round. The Thunderbirds have not played since April 29, blanking the Providence Bruins 3-0. They come into the playoffs on the heels of back to back to back shutouts of their opponents.

Infographic time. If you can’t make it out on the screen you are looking at the blog on, click the image and it should enlarge for you. The infographic also has the series schedule for you as well.

It’s going to be Tommy Nappier for the Penguins again in net and most likely Charlie Lindgren, whom the Penguins did not see in the regular season at all in the nets for the Thunderbirds. Nappier’s backup to start the series is likely to be Samuel Harvey, until Tristan Jarry heals up from his foot injury and the Penguins get Alex D’Orio back. Lindgren is going to likely be backed up by Joel Hofer (or vice versa) so it’s going the Thunderbirds way in goal in this department.

What the Penguins need to do to beat the Thunderbirds: Stay out of the box. Springfield’s power play is lethal with names like James Neal, Sam Anas, Matthew Peca. Despite this, it has run into problems playing against the Penguins as the infographic above shows. Yet, that is fire I do not want to play with. Also, if the Penguins want to beat the Thunderbirds, they are going to have to beat them once at the Mass Mutual Center since it’s best of five now and the Pens do not have home ice.

What the Thunderbirds need to do to beat the Penguins: Defend home ice, get your power play going, be the better team in all areas. Look at the infographic again. Springfield’s top three scorers have more points than the Penguins highest scorer and this isn’t even factoring in James Neal who joined Springfield around mid-year and missed some games due to injury. However, despite all that, this is a matchup problem for the Thunderbirds. They were Aces against everyone else, but the Penguins who were the ones who gave them problems.

X-factor for Wilkes-Barre: Radim Zohorna. Three games, five points for the Penguins in the Hershey series.

X-factor for Springfield: Either Charlie Lindgren, who had impressive numbers for the Thunderbirds in goal or James Neal, an elite NHL sniper playing at the AHL level. The Penguins haven’t seen Lindgren yet this season, so he’s a big, big unknown.

What they are saying:

If you see any other predictions, leave them in the comments below.

I still like the Penguins in five. Here’s why. Foregone conclusion that they probably lose Game 1 tonight against the Thunderbirds based off of the amount of games, the type of games and the travel to and from Hershey, Wilkes-Barre and Springfield which they endured. The Penguins win Game 2. It comes back to Wilkes-Barre where they split and Springfield wins one in overtime or something in Game 4 forcing it back to Massachusetts. Head to head, I like the Penguins chances. I’m not confident that it goes the distance here because I could absolutely see a scenario where Springfield drops both at home and the Penguins either sweep or finish the Thunderbirds in four. Vice versa on that too, if the Thunderbirds power play stays hot and gets ripping against the Pens and Lindgren becomes an impenetrable wall for the Pens, it easily could be Springfield in a sweep or moving on in five or less games.

Still, styles make fights and that will be evident in the series. A series which in my opinion still favors the Penguins, all considered.

Who is running the show? Games 1 and 2 officiating crews are out. Nothing for Game 3 yet. It will be Jeremy Tufts and Conor O’Donnell with Justin Johnson and Brent Colby on the lines in Game 1 and Casey Terreri and Conor O’Donnell with Justin Johnson and Kevin Briganti on the lines for Game 2.

More tonight after Game 1.

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