Chirps from Center Ice

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

Marathon in Your Seat — Pens WIN 4-3 (OT) (WBS Wins Series 2-1)

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To be honest, this post should have been up an hour ago.

The Penguins, up 3-1 late in the third period, see their two goal lead evaporate in :42. Hershey pulls Pheonix Copley and the Penguins don’t possess the puck for the entire time. Bears get not one, but two extra attacker goals and tie the game at three. This is stuff that doesn’t happen in preseason games, and yet it’s happening in the final 90 seconds of an elimination game.

Rightfully so, visions of the collapse against Charlotte years ago started creeping into my mind. I still am in shock from what I witnessed and still can’t believe that the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins manage to somehow win the Game 3 of the First Round series against the Hershey Bears 4-3 in overtime thanks to Alex Nylander.

Game One against Springfield is Wednesday. The League and the Thunderbirds must have heard the call from the Penguins as it was announced Monday that Game One started Wednesday, either at home against the Penguins or on the road against the Bears. Let’s get the schedule out of the way first.

I’ll have a series snapshot for you on Wednesday morning for you on this.

Back to Game 3 of Round One, here’s how they lined up:

Lineup Notes: Anthony Angello is day to day with an injury. Sam Houde stayed in after Jonathan Gruden returned from his Game 2 suspension.

First Period: Mike Sgarbossa scores near post at 5:22 after Hershey navigated through a penalty kill to put the Bears on the board.

But the Penguins get one to go after Matt Bartkowski flubs a puck or breaks his stick. The change up shot hits Beck Malenstyn’s skate and deflects into the net to tie the game at one.

Second Period: Nothing doing goal wise or penalty wise. I liked the way referees Cody Beach and Beau Halkidis ran the game. They stayed the hell out of the way and let the players decide.

Third Period: Pheonix Copley was dialed in until he wasn’t. A shot by Radim Zohorna handcuffs him and goes in to give the Penguins a 2-1 lead.

The Penguins could smell blood. Hell, I could smell it. Every shift just coming at Hershey with everything they had.

Sam Poulin, who was shooting high glove and Copley catching it like a baseball all night, finally goes low and beats Copley for a five hole goal to give the Penguins a two goal lead.

Then, well, a bit of a meltdown. I saw it coming a mile away.

Evaporation.

With Copley pulled, the Penguins don’t possess the puck at all. Garrett Pilon far post one timer and in.

(I couldnt’ find a GIF, it’s in the highlights below)

Sure fine, Hershey gets a consolation goal. The Penguins are still going to win the game or score an empty net goal to seal it away right?

Right?

RIGHT!?!?!?

Stunned doesn’t begin to describe the pit of emotions I had. I’m already a ball of emotions three hours to puck drop, have to sit through a whole game, see my favorite team go up two goals on their biggest rival, and see, with my own two eyes, a lead evaporate in an ELIMINATION game to head to overtime.

Overtime: In hindsight was the best thing that could have happened to the Penguins. A time to regroup, refocus, and thank the great minds who decided to trade for Alex Nylander in the Sam Lafferty trade.

Still in shock. Didn’t really celebrate as much.

Ballgame.

Full credit to the Bears and I meant every word I said. They beat the piss out of each other and bring the best out of one another. Think of how many more cups the Bears would have it it weren’t for those Pesky Penguins. Hershey doesn’t rebuild, they reload, so expect another haul this summer.

Three Stars: 3) Sam Poulin (goal) 2) Radim Zohorna (goal, assist) 1) Alex Nylander (overtime and series clinching goal)

The Good: One round down, four more to go. If were easy we’d all have Calder Cups.

The Bad: Good lord this point should have been done an hour ago. How do you give up two goals with a goalie pulled that fast again?

Turning Point: Nylander goal, duh.

Video Highlights: 

Fast track to the Springfield series. I still like their chances. Pens are virtually unbeatable at home. They must steal one in Springfield Wednesday or Thursday in order to possibly end it in Wilkes-Barre next week. Can they? Yeah, Springfield is a great matchup for the Penguins. Will they? Well, you’ll just have to tune into the series snap Wednesday morning too find out.

Oh crap, I have work in the morning. Time to wrap up.

Let’s Go Pens!

Onto the Third – Pens LOSE 2-1 (Series Tied 1-1)

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Foreshadowing from the League this morning.

Pens lose 2-1. Bears had a first period power play goal which led to a wave of momentum in the first period which spilled over to the second period. Dylan McIlrath scores a goal to put the Bears up 2-0. Felix Robert’s tip of a shot from the point brought the Penguins to within one, but in a flash series like this the offense is going to be extremely hard to come by.

Another crack to close it out Monday. You pretty much have to because it’s win or go home.

News before the game saw Jonathan Gruden get suspended for Game 2 after the League looked at the elbow on Joe Snively in the second period of Game 1. Snively did not play Sunday.

Sam Houde was in for Gruden. Here’s the whole lineup:

First Period: All Bears to start as you could sense the desperation off the hop. Bears get an early penalty and with Gruden, one of their best penalty killers in streetclothes, Beck Malenstyn shoots, Bobby Nardella scores.

Pens kind of withstood the rest of the period. Nappier was dialed in and none of the goals can be pinned on him Sunday.

Second Period: Bears get the second goal they were looking for with a goal from Dylan McIlrath.

Traffic in front of Nappier there. Nothing you could do.

Pens get a goal back, courtesy of Felix Robert.

Thought they had something going after that but Copley was good in goal and but for a gaffe of about :31 in Game 1, had been as good or better than Tommy Nappier.

Third Period: No scoring or penalties, shots were hard to come by and both goalies were outstanding in the period. The Penguins with Nappier pulled and after a timeout, never found the equalizer.

Three Stars: 3) Copley (22 saves) 2) Malenstyn (goal) 1) McIlrath (goal)

If the Penguins win Monday, they will likely bus straight up to Springfield for Game 1 of the division semis Tuesday. As evidenced by the following…

Seems cruel and unusual indeed. Almost an automatic win for the Thunderbirds who are still waiting to find out who they are playing next round.

Won’t have to wait long. Game 3 Monday at 7 in Wilkes-Barre.

Let’s Go Pens!

Buckeye Blasts — Pens WIN 3-0 (WBS leads 1-0)

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With all this talk this week with Casey DeSmith leaving Game 1 of the Pittsburgh Penguins / New York Rangers series in Game 1, necessitating the services of Louis Domingue and the recall of the only other NHL contracted goalie left in the system Alex D’Orio, this leaves Wilkes-Barre with the AHL contracted Tommy Nappier essentially all alone by himself in the minor leagues.

Doubt crept in the minds of the Penguins faithful, both up top and at the farm. Rightfully so, but none of this got to or seemed to bother Tommy Nappier.

Nappier makes 23 saves and he and the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins blank the Hershey Bears 3-0 Friday night. They lead the best of three series 1-0 with Game 2 and a chance to close out the series Sunday in Hershey.

The Penguins accomplished their game plan almost to a tee Friday. Hershey had just three shots after the first period and were down 2-0 after goals :31 apart by Will Reilly and Alex Nylander. They continued to bottle up an offensively struggling Hershey Bears team in the second period and the bears tried to pick up the physicality in the third but Nappier and the Penguins kept them quiet.

Here’s how they lined up:

Lineup Notes: Michael Chaput got hurt in the last game and is week to week. Taylor Fedun is skating at practice but is still week to week. Filip Lindberg is done for the year.

First Period: Pens withstand the games opening moments, an early Hershey power play and then Will Reilly scores to open his postseason account.

:31 later, Alex Nylander on a deflection of a P.O. Joseph shot.

And it was off to the races.

But the Penguins reigned in the emotions. There was 50 minutes left to play. No time to play fast and loose, not against Hershey.

They reigned it in. No more penalties in the period which was nice. They outshot Hershey 15-3.

Second Period: No scoring. Shots 9-9. Physicality picked up huge. POens had a power play but couldn’t get it to click. Jamie Devane and Kale Kessy fought to a draw.

Third Period: Hershey unloaded three offense but again, the Penguins and more importantly Nappier withstood the charge.

Pheonix Copley with larceny on Valtteri Puustinen, then again in a scrum. After getting beat twice in a :31 span in the first, he really settled in and locked on.

Jonathan Gruden would get tripped pursing a puck through the neutral zone with Hershey’s net empty, and Radim Zohrona would hit an empty net for a power play goal which made it 3-0 and finally iced it away.

Three Stars: 3) P.O. Joseph (two assists) 2) Will Reilly (goal) 1) Tommy Nappier (23 saves)

The Good: Nappier was dialed in and the Penguins defense made some of the saves easy for him. A chance to close out your biggest rival Sunday evening.

The Bad: Can’t think of anything. About as perfect as they drew it up.

Turning Point: Really hard to say that the second goal by Nylander all the way back at 9:05 of the first period is a turning point, but with Hershey’s arid offense of late, it really made it difficult for the Bears to get back into it.

Video Highlights: 

Game 2 is Sunday at 5:05 from Hershey. More after that game.

Let’s Go Pens!

Penguins / Bears Series Snap


Two rivals going after it in the First Round of the Calder Cup Playoffs is a tale as old as time, as the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins and Hershey Bears write another chapter in their story when the best of three series kicks off Friday night in Wilkes-Barre.

I don’t know if you pay attention to anything that the AHL puts out on social media, but they have been posting infographics, so instead of me typing out a schedule, here it is in visual form. Click the image to enlarge if you can’t see it all the way on whatever device you are taking in this blog from:

And the infographics, which have ALL the good stuff:

It will be Tommy Nappier in net for the Penguins, backed up by Samuel Harvey, who the Penguins signed from the Fort Wayne Komets this week after Casey DeSmith left Game 1 of in the series with the New York Rangers. Alex D’Orio went up Wednesday to back up Louis Domingue, who started Game 2.

Much quieter for the Hershey Bears, who get the services of Joe Snively on a conditioning loan for the first round only. It’s bending the rules, as Snively wasn’t on a the roster at he trade deadline for the Bears, it’s a loophole that Washington / Hershey exposed that anyone can. It’s smart business.

What the Penguins need to do to beat the Bears: Stay out of the penalty box, defend home ice, punish their forwards, don’t take risks defensively. The Penguins were a hot team on home ice down the stretch. Don’t let Hershey’s power play numbers fool you. There are going to be penalties, that’s a fact of life, so minimize the stupid stick fouls, keep cool post whistle and don’t beat yourself.

What the Bears need to do to beat the Penguins: Get to Nappier with a ton of shots. There is no viable backup, as Wilkes-Barre is thin without Louis Domingue. Just pump shots, wear down the Penguins defense, get the crowd out of it early and get your forwards rolling.

X-factor for Wilkes-Barre: Filip Hallander. A rising tide floats all boats. Get Hallander going and you get Poulin going. Get Poulin going and you get Valtterti Puustinen going. It trickles down from there.

X-factor for Hershey: Bears leading scorer Mike Vecchione. You are probably going to see a line of Vecchione, Garrett Pilon and Joe Snively at some point during this series, if not right out of the gate on Friday.

This all said, it may be a defensive struggle.

What are they saying: If they you mean I, I like the Penguins in three. It’s not going to be easy. Probably won’t finish in a sweep after a tumultuous week of transactions and it’s going to be edge of your seat action from bell to bell. Don’t expect a 6-4 result. Expect 2-1 or lower. That favors the Penguins. That means Nappier is dialed in and shots aren’t getting through. But, the longer this goes, especially when you are in an overtime situation, one shot ends your season.

Who is running the show? Game 1 crew is Cody Beach and Jeremy Tufts with Mitchell Hunt and Patrick Dapuzzo on the lines. In Game 2, Beau Halkidis and Jim Curtin get the assignment with Jud Ritter and Jon Rey on the lines.

More later after Game 1.

2022 Calder Cup Playoffs Preview

Time to herd cats, or in this case, predict the unpredictable. Time for the Calder Cup Playoff Preview, my look at each series from the first round play-in games to the Calder Cup Finals.

Now, I expect these to be very wrong, but give a strong case for each on why they could be very right.

Twenty-three teams qualified for the postseason. Eight did not. Let’s pour one out for the Iowa Wild, Grand Rapids Griffins, San Jose Barracuda, Tucson Roadrunners, Lehigh Valley Phantoms, Hartford Wolf Pack, Cleveland Monsters and the Toronto Marlies. Better luck next year, guys. Enjoy the tranquility of the postseason and we will see you in October.

Your formats are as follows, the first round is a best of three. The division semis and finals are best of five. The Conference Finals and Calder Cup Finals are best of seven. Here’s a handy graphic from the folks at the AHL.com:

Alright, enough bloviating, let’s do this, starting in familiar territory.

Atlantic Division

First Round Byes: Charlotte and Springfield

First Round, best of three.

(3) Providence vs. (6) Bridgeport: Starting off with the first upset. The Bruins were hot and cold all season long. They are missing key pieces in a series which starts Monday. Chris Terry and either goaltender Jakub Skarek or Corey Schneider are the X factors for the Islanders, who advance in three.

(4) Wilkes-Barre / Scranton vs. (5) Hershey: Expect a war and two games that go into overtime. Hershey’s inconsistency at the end of the season bleeds over to the playoffs. Penguins steal the series in three.

Division Semi-Finals, best of five.

(1) Charlotte vs. (6) Bridgeport: Islanders luck runs out, but they take the Checkers the distance. Charlotte survives a real scare in five.

(2) Springfield vs. (4) Wilkes-Barre / Scranton: Another series which likely goes the distance, Springfield was good, but inconsistent through the regular season and should have won the division running away. The Penguins know how to beat the Thunderbirds and do so in five.

Division Finals, best of five.

(1) Charlotte vs. (4) Wilkes-Barre / Scranton: Charlotte’s guns, their success on the power play which wasn’t on full display the series earlier against Bridgeport, finally kick it into gear and they dispatch the Penguins in four.

Central Division

First Round Byes: Chicago, Manitoba, Milwaukee

First Round, best of three.

(4) Rockford vs. (5) Texas: Pesky Stars give the IceHogs all they can handle and advance in three.

Division Semi-Finals, best of five.

(1) Chicago vs. (5) Texas: Cinderella meets midnight and the Wolves, who were class of the Central for much of the season, dismiss their first victim in four.

(2) Manitoba vs. (3) Milwaukee: Moose played second fiddle to the Wolves for the entire season it seems, but are the only team in this division to advance in a sweep. Moose in three.

Division Finals, best of five.

(1) Chicago vs. (2) Manitoba: Here it is, a chance for the Moose to take down the Wolves and yet, as we have seen time and time again this season, Chicago always finds a way. Wolves in five.

Pacific Division

First Round Bye: Stockton

First Round, best of three.

(2) Ontario vs. (7) San Diego: San Diego finished with a sub-.500 record and is gifted a playoff spot because they were the best of the dregs in the Pacific. Ontario kept pace with Stockton for pretty much the entire season. No Cinderella’s in this forum here when you have a guy in your lineup in T.J. Tynan who scored close to 100 points this season. Ontario in two.

(3) Colorado vs. (6) Henderson: One of a handful of series which will all be played at one venue, this being the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland, Colorado which is a raucous place to play to start with. Eagles were nearly 10 games over .500 at home while the Silver Knights were sub-.500 on the road. You know how this goes, Eagles in three.

(4) Bakersfield vs. (5) Abbotsford: Probably the most dead even matchup in the entire first round. Condors lost just 9 games in regulation at home all season. Another series being played all at one place. Give the edge to the real home team, Condors in three.

Division Semi-Finals, best of five.

(1) Stockton vs. (4) Bakersfield: You can make a case for an upset here for the Condors with the way that the Heat sputtered down the final few weeks of the season but that’s a risk I don’t take. The Condors win a game, if that, Heat in four.

(2) Ontario vs. (3) Colorado: Not the matchup the Reign wanted in the second round because the Eagles had the Reign’s number in the regular season. Eagles in five.

Division Finals, best of five.

(1) Stockton vs. (3) Colorado: The edge in a series like this where the team that is supposed to be here (Stockton) meets the team they weren’t expecting (Colorado) which beat the team they were expecting (Ontario) usually works out well for the team with the expectations coming into the series. Heat in five.

North Division

First Round Byes: Utica, Syracuse, Laval

First Round, best of three.

(4) Belleville vs. (5) Rochester: The expectations for the Americans is such that they shouldn’t have needed the final day of the regular season to qualify. However, people are going to learn quick to not bet against Belleville Head Coach Troy Mann. Senators in three.

Division Semi-Finals, best of five.

(1) Utica vs. (4) Belleville: Another one of those matchup problems for a team that ran the North wire-to-wire. Comets survive a real scare, probably come back from being on the brink down 2-1 in the series, but advance in five games.

(2) Syracuse vs. (3) Laval: I toss out matchups in a lot, but sometimes teams go on runs. I see it here with the Crunch, evidenced by the 8-2 stretch they used to close out the regular season. Syracuse in four.

Division Finals, best of five.

(1) Utica vs. (2) Syracuse: Ah yes, two teams and fan bases who hate each other. Utica owned the Crunch in the regular season, but the Crunch take the Comets to the limit in probably the most entertaining series of the entire playoffs, but Utica survives. Comets in five.

Eastern Conference Finals, best of seven.

(1) Utica vs. (1) Charlotte: Comets will have home ice since they won the Conference running away. Intriguing matchup here. Utica went 3-0-1 against the Checkers this year. But, the Checkers are fairly fresh and rested whereas the Comets have scars from the exposition that the Senators displayed in the semis and the war from Syracuse in the division finals. Charlotte in six.

Western Conference Finals, best of seven.

(1) Chicago vs. (1) Stockton: The only scare Chicago faces is already behind them in the series with the Moose. Stockton makes a couple games close, but go out quickly and Chicago advances in six.

Calder Cup Finals, best of seven.

(1) Chicago vs. (1) Charlotte: After two years of season and postseason cancellations due to COVID, am I really forecasting a Calder Cup Finals rematch from the last time there was a Calder Cup Final? I guess I am, only this time, it’s the Wolves who are the victors. Sometimes the best team in the regular season stays that way and remain the best team in the postseason. Wolves in five.

That’s how I see it playing out this year. All chalk, a couple scares, a few sweeps, not many upsets. The action gets going Monday. If you have a team in it, enjoy the ride.

Regular Season Finale — Pens LOSE 3-0

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I had this to say after the second period of this 3-0 Penguins loss to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in the regular season finale Saturday night.

A dud of a game, but when you are resting regulars and cemented into a seed and already know your opponent, who oh by the way didn’t play this weekend and are resting at home, you get these types of results.

They got scored on :28 into the first period when Linus Sandin scored after a blitzkrieg by the Phantoms to start. They settled in after that but couldn’t find a goal.

In the second, it was good for a bit, but workhorse goalie Felix Sandstom held them out and then Cal O’Reilly scored a power play goal that really made it seem like the game was out of reach then Isaac Ratcliffe split Colin Swoyer and Niclas Almari and scored right down Main Street to make it 3-0.

Not a lot of help for Alex D’Orio, who started for the Penguins in goal. Joel Blomqvist was released from his ATO and went back to Finland. He has to complete mandatory military service and probably will be back next year at this time. So it’s a tandem of Tommy Nappier from The Ohio State University and Alex D’Orio.

Nothing of significance happened in the third period. For posterity, here is how they lined up:

Note: Drew O’Connor was recalled by Pittsburgh about two hours before the game started.

Three Stars: 3) Isaac Ratcliffe (goal, assist) 2) Cal O’Reilly (goal, assist) 1) Felix Sandstrom (26 saves)

The Good: Relatively unscathed in these two meaningless games. Bring on Hershey.

The Bad: Niclas Almari still hasn’t changed. But that’s nitpicking a warm body in a meaningless hockey game for the Penguins.

Turning Point: The O’Reilly power play goal put it away for the Phantoms.

I’ll have a Calder Cup Playoff Preview this week, likely before the first round of playoff games which will be sometime during the week, out for you. I will pick each game, each round, and an eventual champion. I’ll probably be very wrong, but read it anyway.

Let’s Go Pens!

Playing Out the String — Pens LOSE 4-1

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These are house money games. Meaningless when you are cemented into the four seed and you already know your fate, the idea with the final two games of the regular season is simple, don’t get hurt.

It’s deeper than that sure, but going 5/5 on the power play while losing your top two players to injury in a 7-1 blowout doesn’t do you any favors.

The Pens better hope they don;’t run into Syracuse again this season. I have the feeling that the Crunch are going to be a tough out in this Calder Cup Playoffs and good luck to the rest of the teams in the North Division that have to run up on this side. It very well may be Syracuse that comes out of the North in the Conference Finals.

Maybe, Utica led that division wire to wire, but that’s for next weeks Playoff Preview.

Pens lose 4-1. No one got hurt, so it’s a loss in the books but a win anyway.

Tommy Nappier opposed Max Lagace.

Lines were…

Lineup Notes: Color me shocked that they went with Nappier in goal, but perhaps he wanted to stay sharp against live fire vs. sitting at home this weekend. Clayton Phillips and Ty Glover made their pro debuts, Niclas Almari’s first game since December 14.

First Period: Droned on in bits, but Remi Elie found some space and opened the scoring past halfway to put the Crunch up 1-0.

Pens had the only crack on a power play which had some good looks but lacked finish. Where have I seen this before?

Second Period: Radim Zohorna finally cracks the Lagace code and scores to tie the game at one.

But Syracuse answers right back on a 2-on-1 to go up 2-1.

That was Symon Ryfors taking a feed from Remi Elie.

Gabriel Dumont scores his 30th goal of the season with a pretty play.

Third Period: Pens had a crack at an early power play but couldn’t come up with anything. Syracuse had two cracks and had the same luck. Alex Green hit an empty netter with Tommy Nappier pulled.

Three Stars: 3) Max Lagace (20 saves) 2) Symon Ryfors (goal) 1) Remi Elie (goal, assist)

The Good: No one got hurt.

The Bad: Would like to see them beat Syracuse, but that’s discounting a Crunch team which still had the two seed in the North to play for.

Turning Point: The Dumont goal late in the second put an already out of reach game it seemed for the Penguins, that much further from their grasp.

They finish out the regular season in Allentown Saturday. The Penguins will kick off the Calder Cup Playoffs Friday at home against Hershey.