(1N) Toledo Walleye vs. (2N) Fort Wayne Komets
These two teams, for the majority of the season, were battling atop the North Division and were very evenly matched. After the two big games in November where the Walleye won by at least three goals, the other five match-ups were one-goal affairs, four of them ending in an overtime or shootout. However, with the rest that the Komets have had after the first round could prove to be a huge advantage.
The Walleye were given all that they could muster against the plucky Wheeling Nailers. Despite getting two out of three wins on the road, the Walleye also dropped two games at home in the seven-game set. However, the Walleye did get their scoring from two of their top three guys, as Troy Schwab and Shane Berschbach were able to lead the way, though Tyler Barnes still hasn’t gotten his time to shine in the playoffs. Also, the Walleye have gotten a lot of production from the blue line with Cody Lampl and Shane Sims being the main contributors, yet as a whole– the defense have provided three goals and 12 assists among the eight who suited up in the first round. Jeff Lerg has played on par with how he played in the regular season, but with a well-rested Komets team, his workload could be drastically increased in the divisional finals.
The Komets made short work of the Kalamazoo Wings, despite letting up eight goals in the last two games of the five-game series. The first three, the play of Roman Will was solid, with 94 saves on 97 shots including a shutout. Will defeated the Walleye in the two games he play against them this season and has faced an average of 27.9 shots during the season, which will help him against the high firing Walleye. Mike Embach was the leading scorer, but the shot in the arm for the Komets was the return of Mitchell Heard; who put up two goals and two assists in his three games. during the first round. Matthew Pistilli had a scoring touch with four goals in five games. The play of Mikael Tam on the blue-line has been a nice added bonus for the Komets, while Drew Daniels has been steady as always.
(1E) Florida Everblades vs. (2E) South Carolina Stingrays
The home ice has not been kind during the regular season between these two teams. During 11 match-ups, the home team only won three times, all by the Everblades. So, if it comes down to a home-ice advantage, it could be the Stingrays who are favored by it. Both sides had tough tasks in the first round, so they aren’t going to be taken by surprise starting tonight.
The Everblades looked like they were going to sweep the Orlando Solar Bears, but not being able to have the killer instinct could be the downfall of the squad. One big surprise is that Nicolas Deschamps has matched his season totals with three goals and seven assists in half as many games after spending time over in Europe and 12 games in the AHL. Mike Little is living up this defenseman of the year moniker, while the pick-up of Casey Pierro-Zabotel has proved to be solid for the Blades. One of the big hits is that Allen York may not be ready for this series, as he had his neck injured during Game Five, but Dan Altshuller came in to play solid in the two games of reserve. While York would be nice to have back, should Altshuller play well, they may ride the hot goalie throughout.
The Stingrays went back and forth in their seven-game set against the Reading Royals, which also showed the cracks in the facade of Jeff Jakaitis, who didn’t play up to his MVP caliber. With only a 0.890 save percentage, the Stingrays may need to be getting a lot more support for him moving forward. Though Joe Devin has busted out with six goals, they will still need Derek DeBlois and Andrew Rowe to create more offense, especially against a Everblades team without their regular keeper. Yet, the defense is something that needs improvement, especially when losing Frankie Simonelli, the rest of the squad is not only struggling to find some offense, but keeping the puck out of their zone is going to be quite the task. The cornerstone of the Stingrays is their defense and if they are unable to get back to their defensive ways, they won’t be long for these playoffs.