With the top-four seeds advancing in the East, the best of the best are going to be out there to take the conference. With a couple teams having troubles in the first round, it’ll be interesting to see if there’s going to be any upsets or trouble for these teams moving forward.
(1E) Manchester Monarchs vs. (4E) Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins
The Monarchs squeaked out a series victory over the Portland Pirates, where the home team won every game. The Monarchs were able to get their offense up to snuff, but their lack of road presence could be something that bites them the further along they go. The Baby Pens made short work of the Syracuse Crunch in their three-game sweep, outscoring the Crunch 14-3. With the team rolling at the right time, the Baby Pens could be the team to be reckoned with this post-season.
Though they went to distance, the Monarchs did get a lot of scoring– led by rookie Michael Mersch and Jordan Weal, while Sean Backman has been taking the role of breakout star for these playoffs. Regular season MVP Brian O’Neill will still need to contribute a bit more, despite being a point-per-game already. One main concern has to be the defense, who allowed two or more goals in all of the five games, which could be the penalty kill issues– which is 12th of the 16 playoff teams and last amongst the teams still remaining. J-F Berube will have to be a little better for the Monarchs if they still want to have success in the rest of these playoffs.
For the Baby Pens, they keep their hot streak rolling. Led by rookies Conor Sheary and Kasperi Kapanen with Sheary leading in points with five and Kapanen leading in goals with three. The secondary scoring in Carter Rowney, Andrew Ebbett, and Jayson Megna still have a lot of show still, I’m sure, which– with rest– could cause trouble for Manchester. Matt Murray, which is a shock to no one, has been solid as usual, have a 1.00 GAA and .965 save percentage through the first round. With as solid as he has been, Murray’s play could be key should the offense falter slightly against a tougher opponent.
(2E) Hershey Bears vs. (3E) Hartford Wolf Pack
With the Bears decisive win in Game Four, they showed that they weren’t going to let up on the competition, which could prove solid when it comes to needing a killer instinct. The Wolf Pack however played all but one of their games with one-goal margins; two going into overtimes in their five-game series with the Providence Bruins. Those close games and dealing with overtimes could battle harden the Wolf Pack quickly. Luckily, these two teams are facing off as their parent affiliations are facing off, as well.
One of the questions will be what the health status of Philipp Grubauer will be. He left during Game One, handing the reigns over to Pheonix Copley, who did an admirable job in relief. Grubauer said he will be ready for these series, but who knows if he’ll aggravate the injury again. The offense should be much better for the Bears, though they are getting it from all sources involved in the action. Cam Schilling has led the way from the blue-line, but Casey Wellman, Chris Brown, and Liam O’Brien have been the top guys; while Stanislav Galiev is still waiting to explode on the scoresheet.
There have been a lot of tight checking games for the Wolf Pack, which shows by only one goal scorer having more than a goal (Chris Mueller), as the team has had nine different goal scorers through the first five games. As Oscar Lindberg and Danny Kristo have been solid, they still need an extra gear in the playoffs. The loss of Ryan Bourque to the Rangers is a big deal, but they will need to counteract it somehow. Surprisingly, the play of Yann Danis has been solid. The veteran netminder has been solid while facing as many shots (175) as he has. He’ll be tested again by the Bears, but his prowess in these playoffs will be a nice edge as Hartford moves forward.