A fan blog about the AHL's Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins
April 21, 2018Posted by on
The keys to the game I gave you last night in Game 1 were as follows in bullet point. What follows in parenthesis was the result tonight in Game 2.
- Stay out of the penalty box. (The Penguins took two penalties. They were both in the third period.)
- Maintain your composure. (The Penguins took no after whistle penalties and there were no pull apart would be brawls.)
- Limit mistakes. (In what was seemingly relentless pressure, the Penguins didn’t make many mistakes that cost them goals when the game mattered.)
So why did the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins lose the game 4-1 and now face must win Games 3, 4 and 5 back at the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza next week?
In a close game, like this game in particular was, one play against you costs you. Josiah Didier’s shot through traffic with 5:42 left in the third period was the match on a dry pile of leaves that ignited two empty net goals for the Checkers with the Penguins were in desperation mode.
The Penguins had three opportunities to score on the power play tonight; one in the first after Charlotte had tied it at one, one in the second when the Checkers were coming in droves and one in the third when the Checkers had just scored to go up 2-1.
It usually takes a well rounded team to win a Calder Cup. The Penguins are a tough team that are hard to play against, but the power play is a joke and it cannot come through when it matters the most. In a close game against two evenly matched teams, it’s one bounce (last night in overtime and tonight through traffic) that has the Charlotte Checkers one game away from sweeping and eliminating the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins from the Calder Cup Playoffs.
They have done it before, down 0-3 to Providence a few years ago, the Penguins came back to win four straight to stun the Bruins. They need three against a Checkers team that is, in parts, a mirror image of the players skating with a muscular penguin on skates in front of an upside down yellow triangle.
But that team back in 2013 was a well rounded team that stunned a Providence team that fell apart at the sign of disparity and, once realized they were beat, withered away and that Penguins postseason team mounted a historic comeback. This version of Penguins postseason can’t score a power play or even enter the zone from the neutral zone, when they need it for their playoff lives.
Garrett Wilson – J-S Dea – Daniel Sprong
Adam Johnson – Gage Quinney – Ryan Haggerty
Joseph Cramarossa – Jarrett Burton – Josh Jooris
Anthony Angello – Teddy Blueger – Tom Kostopoulos
Chris Summers – Kevin Czuczman
Andrey Pedan – Lukas Bengtsson
Jarred Tinordi – Zach Trotman
Tristan Jarry – Alex Nedeljkovic
Lineup Notes: Jarrett Burton and Anthony Angello were in for Tom Sestito and Christian Thomas. Donatelli said pregame that Burton is good on the kill and Angello is a big guy whose size they want to use.
Here was Charlotte’s lineup, I was going to add this new feature and debut it last night, but wasn’t able to because I was called away…
No changes from Game 1 for Charlotte.
First Period: Penguins wasted little time in establishing a lead, taking just :22 seconds for Joseph Cramarossa to score his first of the playoffs with this goal…
Penguins had two chances burning Checkers defenseman Trevor Carrick tries by Anthony Angelo and Adam Johnson by Nedeljkovic, who struggled with the first shot he saw in Game 2, locked it down the rest of the period for his side.
Charlotte is a quick team, so all of the icing that they were doing of the puck early on wasn’t helping them. But they finally figured the clearances out and through a relentless forecheck, finally solved Jarry when defenseman Haydn Fleury banked a shot off of Jarry that went in…
Jarry was stopping what he was seeing, including this two on one chance that the Checkers had…
Wilkes-Barre had the only power play of the period and that was a total mess. They failed to crack through the zone to get anything of value set up.
Second Period: Charlotte was coming with each shift with aplomb but Jarry kept closing the door. The Penguins were then awarded a power play and didn’t do anything with it and in fact allowed Warren Foegele to get a shorthanded opportunity that Jarry denied.
Penguins had a good chance to re-take the lead when Teddy Blueger stripped Nedeljkovic when the Charlotte goaltender went out of his net to play the puck. Blueger passed to Tom Kostopoulos who fanned on the shot on what would have been on the open net.
Third Period: The Penguins lost Jarred Tinordi to and injury and Kevin Czucaman played most of the third with one arm. Penguins killed two Charlotte penalties with relative ease. Penguins hit a post shorthanded.
Then Josiah Didier scored on a seeing eye shot through a screened Jarry that gave the Checkers the lead…
Daniel Sprong was stopped point blank by Nedeljkovic right after. Then the Penguins were gifted a power play with the game on the line.
They failed to score. Immediately, Tristan Jarry came off for the extra attacker and as soon as that happened, the Checkers scored on the empty net to make it 3-1. They then made it 4-1 after another Wilkes-BArre attempt at the extra man.
Three Stars: 3) Joseph Cramarossa (goal, -1) 2) Josiah Didier (game winning goal, +3) and 2) Haydn Fleury (two goals, +4)
Clark Bishop scored the other empty net goal if you are scoring from home.
So where do we go from here?
Gameplan needs to remain the same. Stay out of the box, limit mistakes, maintain composure. Add, score a power play goal to that, although I mentioned that in my series preview so just add more emphasis to that last one.
Keep the faith.
Let’s Go Pens!
April 21, 2018Posted by on
Atlantic Division Semifinal — Game 2
Who: Charlotte Checkers
Where: Bojangles Coliseum
When: 6:00 p.m.
Series: Charlotte leads 1-0 (Best of Five)
Last Game: Friday night in Charlotte, the Penguins had a 2-0 lead going into the third period thanks to goals by Andrey Pedan and Daniel Spong but the Checkers charged back for two to tie in the third before scoring in overtime to win Game 1 3-2.
What to watch for: Penguins must win this game to bring it back to Wilkes-Barre 1-1 for potentially three games on home ice to advance. They need to, again, limit penalties, mistakes and maintain composure against a high octane offense that the Checkers employ if they have any hopes of a spit in North Carolina.
Referee(s): Pierre Lambert / Beaudry Halkidis
Linesmen: Libor Suchanek / Ryan Townsend
When is Game 3?: Not till next Thursday, April 26 in Wilkes-Barre.
April 20, 2018Posted by on
I was called out of the area this afternoon and was not able to watch or listen to about 95% of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals between the Charlotte Checkers and the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins so I relied on Twitter to keep me updated. I guess you can say the tables turned.
From what I gathered from Twitter, the Penguins were in control through 40 minutes of play and had a 2-0 lead on the Charlotte Checkers going into the third period. Tristan Jarry was dialed in.
If you don’t get the headline, you must not be an Aerosmith fan. It was the same old story and same old song and dance for the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins.
The keys to the game tonight were simple. Stay out of the penalty box, maintain your composure and limit mistakes against this high octane, offensively gifted Charlotte Checkers team. For two periods it worked, for the third and final period, it didn’t.
I played basketball in college. One of the million things that resonated with me from my time away from home in Northeastern Pennsylvania still to this day was my coach telling us in certain situations that we are not playing to win, we are playing not to lose.
In the third period of Game 1 tonight, the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins had a 2-0 lead and played not to lose.
Stay out of the penalty box, maintain your composure and limit mistakes were the goals. The Penguins didn’t accomplish any of them, giving up two goals in the third, one on a power play after a bonehead turnover and the Penguins trail 0-1 in this best of five with Game 2 set to go off Saturday at 6 in Charlotte.
Game 2 basically becomes must win for Wilkes-Barre. It’s a tough spot. No lead will be safe based off of the third period collapse tonight. The Penguins know that and more dangerously Charlotte knows that. If the Penguins want to win tomorrow, it may take a 5-0 lead after the first period and just going into a shell for the final 40 minutes.
Tristan Jarry came to play tonight, stopping 35 shots. The Penguins tweeted out about four GIFs of his saves. It’s the team in front of him that played not to lose and now face a seemingly must win situation in Game 2 Saturday.
Since I didn’t watch the game, that’s pretty much it. Andrey Pedan scored late in the first on a power play and Daniel Sprong scored on a boffo shot from center ice in the second. Aleksi Saarela scored on a snipe to start the comeback in the third, and leading regular season goal scorer Valentin Zykov scored on a power play about five minutes later to tie it. The Penguins never possessed the puck in overtime and Lucas Wallmark tipped in a shot through a mess of bodies which may or may not have been interference on Jarry and the Checkers take game one 3-2 in overtime.
I have no idea if the Checkers are going to put out a highlight package. So here are the Penguins goals starting with Andrey Pedan…
And all three Checkers goals in one tweet.
Game 2 goes tomorrow at 6 from Charlotte, meaning that the Gameday setup here on the blog will be out Saturday at 2.
Let’s Go Pens!
April 20, 2018Posted by on
Atlantic Division Semifinal — Game 1
Who: Charlotte Checkers
Where: Bojangles Coliseum
When: 7:0 p.m.
Series: Tied 0-0 (Best of Five)
Season Series: Oct. 7: CHA 5 @ WBS 2 — Dec. 8: CHA 2 @ WBS 1 — Mar. 13: WBS 5 @ CHA 2 — Mar. 14: WBS 1 @ CHA 3
Top four scorers for the Penguins vs. the Checkers: 1. Daniel Sprong (4 GP, 2-2-4, -1) — 2. Teddy Blueger (4 GP, 2-1-3, even) — 3. Tom Kostopoulos (3 GP, 1-1-2, -2) — 4. Tom Sestito (1-1-2, even)
Top four scorers for the Checkers vs. the Penguins: 1. Lucas Wallmark (3 GP, 0-5-5, +1) — 2. Andrew Poturalski (4 GP, 2-2-4, +2) — 3. Greg McKegg (2 GP, 2-1-3, even) — 4. Valentin Zykov (4 GP, 2-1-3, even)
What to watch for: Special teams. Penguins need to stay out of the penalty box and capitalize on opportunities when they are on the power play.
Referee(s): Pierre Lambert / Beaudry Halkidis
Linesmen: Libor Suchanek / Tim Lyons
When is Game 2?: Saturday in Charlotte at 6 p.m.
April 19, 2018Posted by on
Hello darkness, my old friend…
The Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins have qualified for the Calder Cup Playoffs for sixteen straight seasons. No other team in the AHL can claim that honor. Sure, there are AHL teams from decades past that have longer postseason appearance streaks. But one thing has been certain for more than a decade and a half when it comes to life. Death, taxes and the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins qualifying for the Calder Cup Playoffs.
Fifteen of those years have left the Penguins without the ultimate prize, the Calder Cup. Their captain, Tom Kostopoulos, announced a few weeks ago that this would be his final season, his last year of professional hockey. He’ll walk out of the Penguins locker room for the final time in his playing career be it this round or later on with some hardware in the form of a Calder Cup, and walk straight into the AHL Hall of Fame someday, probably after he is enshrined in the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins Hall of Fame.
The Penguins meet in the first round the team that shocked them many years ago and beat them in six games, the Charlotte Checkers. Charlotte has been a nomad team, playing in just about every division and every conference in the American Hockey League in the past five years.
This is going to be a battle of offense vs. defense. Let’s break it all down.
Atlantic Division Semifinals – Series “B” (best-of-5)
A2-Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins vs. A3-Charlotte Checkers
Game 1 – Fri., Apr. 20 – W-B/Scranton at Charlotte, 7:00
Game 2 – Sat., Apr. 21 – W-B/Scranton at Charlotte, 6:00
Game 3 – Thu., Apr. 26 – Charlotte at W-B/Scranton, 7:05
*Game 4 – Sat., Apr. 28 – Charlotte at W-B/Scranton, 7:05
*Game 5 – Sun., Apr. 29 – Charlotte at W-B/Scranton, 3:05
*if necessary… All times Eastern
Valentin Zykov won the AHL’s equivalent of soccer’s golden boot as the man with the most goals. Zykov posted 33 goals in 63 games. Zykov was bested by teammate Lucas Wallmark who, in just 45 games, put up 55 points to Zykov’s 54. Rookie Warren Foegele had a nice season for himself, 28 goals, 46 points in 73 games. Greg McKegg came over to the Checkers in a midseason swap of forwards between the parent teams of the participants and exploded for 9 goals, 14 assists, 5 of them power play goals in just 19 games for Charlotte.
Wilkes-Barre is led by superstar rookie Daniel Sprong, who had a very balanced season and just missed out on the goal scoring lead with 32 goals, 33 assists and 65 points for the Penguins in just 65 games. 11 of those goals were on the power play. After Sprong, J-S Dea put up 50 points, 18 goals, 4 of those shorthanded and Teddy Blueger who was balanced, like Sprong in his offensive attack; 21 goals, 24 assists in 70 games. Josh Jooris was traded for Greg McKegg but has spent much of his time with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He has only appeared in 6 games and scored once.
Advantage: Charlotte. Not a matter of if the Checkers forwards fill up the score sheet, it’s a matter of when. Charlotte had the most explosive offense in the AHL, averaging 3.45 goals per game. Penguins were a half step behind with 3.32 goals per contest. The Penguins may be equally as capable, but the Checkers have the advantage on paper.
An extremely healthy group of high caliber defensemen are employed by the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins. Because of all the offensive firepower up front for Charlotte, Checkers defenders can focus on keeping pucks out of the their goaltenders nets and have. Charlotte had the 8th best defense, limiting opponents to 2.79 goals per game. The Penguins, normally automatics in the top three in defense, had an uncharacteristic year and placed 17th in defense at 2.93 goals per game. Texas (20th) and Rockford (22nd) are the only teams currently still playing with worse numbers defensively.
That said, this group Wilkes-Barre has have a lot of games together and are very experienced. The only rookie in the defensive corps is Lukas Bengtsson.
Advantage: Penguins. These guys will know who to key in on when they step over the boards and will be ready for whatever the Checkers forwards throw at them.
It was a position by committee for the Penguins, who used seven goaltenders this season as compared to the Checkers who used Callum Booth for four games and Alex Nedeljkovic (49) and Jeremy Smith (30) for the remaining games. No goalie in this matchup led the AHL in any significant category (Nedeljkovic was fourth in minutes played with 2726:13)
Nedeljkovic projects as the Checkers Game 1 starter. He went 31-12-3-5 with a 2.55 GAA and a .903 SV%. Tristan Jarry projects as the Penguins Game 1 starter with a 9-5-2-0 record and a 3.05 GAA and a .901 SV%. Jarry spent a significant portion of his season playing in the NHL backing up or filling in for Matt Murray.
What this series may boil down to is the backups. Michael Leighton is fully healthy and has stepped in when the Penguins needed to win a big game to qualify for playoffs (April 7 vs. Binghamton) or lock up home ice in the first round (April 14 at Leigh Valley) How short a leash does Clark Donatelli give Jarry if the Penguins are down 3-0 in the second period of Game 1? If the Penguins lose Game 1, does Leighton step in and play Game 2? Leighton is a sure fire AHL Hall of Famer, and was brought in during the year for veteran insurance purposes. His sample size is small, because he spent the majority of his time injured once he arrived in Wilkes-Barre and played most of his games on the road and not in front of the fans at the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza.
Jeremy Smith’s numbers were pedestrian. 13-13-1-0 with a 2.71 GAA and a .902 SV% If the Checkers turn to Smith, it may be series over for Charlotte.
Advantage: Penguins. Tristan Jarry’s audition for the NHL backup job for next season starts Friday in Charlotte. If he stumbles, Clark Donatelli has an ace in the hole with Michael Leighton.
Coaching, special teams get talked about here plus anything else not mentioned above.
Penguins special teams in the regular season was a punchline to a joke. 29th in the 30 team league, 13.8% only trailed by the Belleville Seantors, who struggled out of the gates from the drop of the puck in October. The Penguins power play clicked somewhat at the end of the season, but otherwise has been in the bottom third for a long while. Charlotte’s power play was 3rd overall, clicking at just a tick over 20% (20.4%) so far and away, the Checkers dominate the Penguins in special teams.
Clark Donatelli opposes Mike Velucci on the benches. Both had their hands full. Velucci’s forwards all want the puck, only Andrew Poturalski appeared in all 76 games for the Checkers and was followed by Trevor Carrick and Warren Foegele who played 73 each. Every other night was a roster in flux with players shuffling in and out.
Clark Donatelli had to balance winning and getting to second overall in the division with seemingly a different goaltender in the net every night for a large portion of the season. Both come heavily respected and may some day be running NHL benches. I see my first push here and it comes in the coaching department.
Collectively, both teams have 29 wins and 16 losses against Atlantic Division foes. Head to head, Charlotte won the series 3-1.
The Checkers have a full compliment of players at their disposal since the Carolina Hurricanes did not qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Pittsburgh Penguins have forwards Zach Aston-Reese, Josh Jooris, Dominik Simon and goaltender Casey DeSmith on recall from Wilkes-Barre as eligible players to return to the Calder Cup Playoffs. Perhaps expect one player, Josh Jooris to return to the AHL. Dominik Simon’s return could tip the scales for the Penguins, but I wouldn’t bet on it unless Pittsburgh is knocked out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Social Media Covverage
For the Penguins…
For the Checkers…
Obviously, Wilkes-Barre needs to limit Charlotte offensively. Ideally, the Penguins need to score a power play goal a game and comes out of this series with a power play success rate of 25% or better. The Penguins also need to stay disciplined. Taking penalty after penalty will be the death knell to the high powered offense that the Checkers employ. Limiting penalties to no more than four a game and ideally zero stick fouls has to be the goal for Wilkes-Barre written on the chalkboard in the locker room.
The series starts in Charlotte for Games 1 and 2 before shifting to Wilkes-Barre for Game 3 and 4 or 5 if necessary. Charlotte will have the advantage by having the first two games played at the Bojangles’ Coliseum with last change. The Penguins need a split or better if they want to have any chance of advancing to the second round.
The Checkers simply need to do the same, get at Jarry quickly, goad the Penguins into mistakes that cost them a man and they win this series.
Checkers in four. Charlotte has been on of late, firing out of the doubt of missing playoffs at the benefit of fifth place Bridgeport and rocketed past Providence to claim third place. Give another week in the season and it could easily be Charlotte with the home ice advantage in the first round and the Penguins the road team. Donatelli sticks to his guns, refuses to turn the reigns over to Leighton if things go south and the Penguins aren’t able to adjust enough with the series beginning in Charlotte to advance to the second round. Wilkes-Barre may chase this entire series, get frustrated and in a five game series where the margin of error is razor thin, the Checkers advance in four games.
That’s how I, unfortunately, see it unfolding. If you agree, disagree or just want to comment, do so below.
April 18, 2018Posted by on
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.
April 17, 2018Posted by on
I just noticed that I didn’t do a Report Card this season for the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins. That frees up the week leading into the Calder Cup Playoffs where I can stretch things out into each day with new content and give each conference it’s own look. Today with the Western Conference and Wednesday with the Eastern Conference. My own series preview with the Penguins and Checkers will be here on Thursday before Game 1 Friday.
Much like last year, I give you how each team got here, how they match up and new this year, what each team needs to do to win. Finally, I offer a prediction.
But for Rockford, Grand Rapids and Milwaukee, the Penguins didn’t play any of these teams. Milwaukee is the only team Wilkes-Barre played that didn’t make playoffs. The Pens didn’t play any one in the Pacific Division so naturally, let’s start there. Here goes nothing…
Tucson Roadrunners (P1) vs. San Jose Barracuda (P4)
How the Roadrunners got here: Stayed consistent in a division that had comers and goers. Carter Camper came over in a midseason trade and helped solidify Tucson as contenders and a guy by the name of rookie Hunter Miska was 22-9 in net for the Roadrunners.
How the Barracuda got here: Used a miracle run in the final weeks of the season to overcome a 10 point deficit and won six straight while San Diego choked away the final spot to squeak in on the penultimate day of the regular season.
How they match up: 5-2-0-1 if you are a San Jose fan and 3-4-1-0 if you are a Tucson fan. So not a walk in the park by any means for the Western Conference Champion Roadrunners and a great matchup for the San Jose Barracuda who finished the season on a tear.
How Tucson wins: Keep doing what they have been doing. Seems easy, but these are the playoffs and the margin for error is razor thin.
How San Jose wins: The, “us against the world” mentality has to continue here. San Jose shouldn’t even be here, they know it, everyone knows it, yet here they are.
Prediction: Roadrunners survive the scare. Tucson in five.
Texas Stars (P2) vs. Ontario Reign (P4)
How the Stars got here: Lunchpail group led by veterans Travis Morin and Mike McKenna stayed above the teams that play eight fewer games in the division and managed to get the second seed in the Pacific. If Ontario (ended the season on a four game losing streak) and San Diego didn’t choke, maybe it’s a different story for the Stars but Morin and his group saw to it that this didn’t happen.
How the Reign got here: Same story really, San Diego choked it away, Stockton faded and Bakersfield and San Antonio stopped being contenders at the start of the New Year. Reign went on a late run that put them as high as second at one point, and that was enough, with all the tumultuous things going around for teams around them, that got them to the postseason.
How they match up: 3-1 if you are a Reign fan, 1-1-1-1 if you are a Stars fan. So naturally, this goes five games.
How Texas wins: Reliance on the veteran group of Morin and McKenna and production from role players, kind of what got Texas to the postseason.
How Ontario wins: Seven Reign skaters had 30 or more points and two others were only two points or less off that feat. The coming at you from all sides approach is going to be a major factor in Ontario’s success.
Prediction: Experience prevails. Texas in five.
Chicago Wolves (C1) vs. Rockford IceHogs (C4)
How the Wolves got here: Went on a tear in the final month of the season to push Manitoba out of the top spot in the Central, something that the Moose held for months.
How the IceHogs got here: Using the free fall that the Iowa Wild experienced and overcoming the inconsistant Milwaukee Admirals, Rockford rose above the best of the rest and claimed the final seed in the Central.
How they match up: 6-2-3-1 if you are a Wolves fan, 6-6 if you are an IceHogs fan.
How Chicago wins: The Wolves won arguably the most volatile division. They have to maintain focus and realize that the job is not done and not overlook the Rockford IceHogs.
How Rockford wins: Containing Teemu Pulkkinen. Pulkkinen led the Wolves in points and torched the IceHogs this season for 14 of those 65 points for the Wolves. No easy task, but in order to win, you need to do the things that are hard to do.
Prediction: Wolves make this look easy. Chicago in four.
Grand Rapids Griffins (C2) vs. Manitoba Moose (C3)
How the Griffins got here: Defending champs struggled mightily to start the season, but slowly warmed, caught up with the pack and flirted with the division championship before getting passed by the Wolves for the top spot. A 7-1-1-1 run to end the season was only bested by Chicago’s long term consistency.
How the Moose got here: The Moose didn’t win the Central. So what? They have coach of the year in Pascal Vincent, rookie of the year in Mason Appleton and defenseman of the year in Sami Niku. Considering where they were last year (7th in an 8 team Central) this is a major improvement for a Moose team that many didn’t expect to be here, with all these accolades.
How they match up: 6-2 for Grand Rapids over Manitoba; 2-5-1-0 for the Moose over the Griffins.
How Grand Rapids wins: They have been here before, having won two Calder Cups in recent memory. Using that experience for remaining players and the run that they were on to end the year carries the Griffins past the Moose.
How Manitoba wins: They have the best coach, the best rookie and the best defenseman. They had a hiccup at the end of the season but rivaled Toronto for the best overall record in the AHL. Getting back to that approach and quickly pushes the Moose across the line over the defensing champions.
Prediction: The decline of Manitoba proves too hard to reverse. Defending champions advance here. Grand Rapids in four.
That’s how I see the West shaking out. Check back tomorrow for the Eastern Conference Previews.