AHL Calder Cup Playoffs: Conference Finals

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For the final four in the AHL, four of the top five teams are still left, including the two top seeds in the Western Conference. With two match-ups that provide high-powered offenses against tight defenses– these match-ups could very well an amazing set-up to the last gasps of the AHL season.

(1E) Manchester Monarchs vs. (3E) Hartford Wolf Pack

After a rough first series, the Monarchs were able to make short work of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in five games and return to the ice after a week and a day off. One guy who came through in the last series was David Van der Gulik, who put up two goals and four assists while scoring in all five games of that series. But the top guys for the Monarchs still were the contributing with Jordan Weal had five goals and three assists, including a hat trick in Game 4, while linemate and league MVP Brian O’Neill added two goals and four assists on the series. The defense has been on lockdown as well, with J-F Berube only facing 24.5 shots on average these playoffs, which can be chalked up to the play of Jeff Schultz, Derek Forbort, and Colin Miller for keeping the pucks away from Berube, though it does kill Berube’s stats; as he holds a .898 save percentage on the playoffs.

In the last three games, the series against the Hershey Bears turned into the Ryan Bourque show, who posed a goal and seven assists in those last three games, as the Wolf Pack rallied from a 2-1 deficit to win in six games. Not to be outdone in that series was Joey Crabb who put up all of his seven points (4g, 3a) in that Hershey series while Marek Hrivik posted his first three goals of the playoffs in the series clincher. But yet, Yann Danis still continues to contribute without taking away the focus, holding the highest save percentage of those left in the playoffs with a .931 percentage.

In the playoffs, these two are really no strangers. Granted, those were in 2002 and 2006, which is a lifetime ago– but the Wolf Pack hold the two series wins in that. With both teams well-rested and on a mission, this series could join those past series between the two in going the full seven games to complete. That said, with two different teams and two different mentalities; it could be a different outcome– which is what the Monarchs will be hoping for in this series.

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(1W) Utica Comets vs. (2W) Grand Rapids Griffins

With each of their series going the distance, you have to wonder if the Comets have any left in the tank for this round and if possible the next round. However, one of the big things on the Comets sides is the play of Jacob Markstrom who was able to post a shutout in Game 7 against Oklahoma City, the 11th goalie to do that in a Game 7. The Comets are relying on their defense, only scoring more than three goals twice. One of the catalyst for the offense has been Alexandre Grenier, as he put up four goals (including the series winner) and three assists in the series against OKC, while also leading the team with ten points (4g, 6a) in the playoffs. The lack of scoring from the rest of the Comets– like Cal O’Reilly, Alex Friesen, and Sven Baertschi— could be the downfall of the team, unless they’re waiting until an even bigger stage like this.

On the flip side, the Griffins have the top goal-scorer in the playoffs in Teemu Pulkkinen, who put up seven goals and two assists in the five-game series with the Rockford IceHogs; which also put Pulkkinen tied for the top spot in the playoff points with Jordan Weal of Manchester. Not to be outdone, with a goal and six assists; Andy Miele was provide the set-ups for Pulkkinen, while Tyler Bertuzzi has been stellar in his games for the Griffins– putting up four goals and two assists in the last round. Tom McCollum has been able to shut the door when needed in net, only losing two games in these playoffs while taking the reigns in the first round over Jared Coreau.

The chess match of this series when it comes to defense in Utica and offense in Grand Rapids should be interesting to see. For what it’s worth, it could be competitive as a series can get and go the full seven or Utica will be out of gas and lead to the Griffins to run roughshod over the Comets. Working for the Comets is how Markstrom has been strong in net regardless of the offense– but this will be the first real test from one of the top teams in the Western Conference and not one of the lower seeds that Comets have had trouble with thus far.

Calder Cup Playoffs: Second Round, Eastern Conference

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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.

Calder Cup Playoffs: Eastern Conference, Round 1

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It’s the last season to get their playoffs underway, but the AHL is primed to have a solid showing with plenty of teams that could very looked at as very elite when all is said and done. However, to quote a great man– to know where you’re going, you’ve got to know where you’ve been. Today, we start out East and then move out West tomorrow and my bleak attempt to break it down from a fundamental standpoint.

(1) Manchester Monarchs vs. (8) Portland Pirates

After completing their third 50-win season in franchise history (first since 2006-07 when it was an 80-game season), the Monarchs are loaded up with plenty of offense, leading the East with 241 goals, as well as have four 20-goal scorers. AHL MVP Brian O’Neill and Mike Mersch will be joined by Nick Shore, who was reassigned by Los Angeles and has registered more than a point-per-game in the AHL during his limited time over in Manchester. On the back-end, J-F Berube will be supported solidly by Derek Forbort with Andrew Bodnarchuk providing the first pass out of the zone and Colin Miller adding scoring and power play prowess from the point.

They needed a last game win in order to make it, but the Pirates could be considered a team playing for their playoff lives for almost a month now. Despite a six-game losing streak, the Pirates were able to battle back and lot of that was on the back of Mike McKenna in net, who went 8-4-4 in the last two months. The defense will be a big thing, especially with the Pirates not producing many goals– especially on the power play where they were 27th out of 30 in the league (48 for 345; 13.9%). Though Alexandre Bolduc and Brendan Shinninmin had 20-goal seasons, it’ll be on Dylan Reese and the defensive corps to keep the series close.

(2) Hershey Bears vs. (7) Worcester Sharks

The Bears haven’t been torn too apart this season from call-ups, which means they could be one of the more complete teams in the playoffs. With Stanislav Galiev returning, their offense is as potent as anything in the league. Going along with Galiev is Casey Wellman, both of whom had 25 goals. Chris Conner‘s season half of the season helped him down the stretch; as Steve Oleksy and Cam Schilling have been solid on the back-end in front of Philipp Grubauer. However, Grubauer is up with Washington, which means the duties will be loaned to Pheonix Copley until Grubauer gets back.

When it looked like the Sharks were out of it, Aaron Dell came up to pretty much save the day for the Sharks; who are in their last season in Worcester. Dell went 13-6-1 since February 1st and helped the Sharks get to the playoffs, despite a three-game losing streak to end the season. Even though they had no 20-goal scorers, the Sharks did get plenty of contributions up and down the roster– mostly from captain Bryan Lerg, Micheal Haley, and rookie Evan Trupp; while also having Taylor Fedun contribute on the defensive side.

(3) Hartford Wolf Pack vs. (6) Providence Bruins

One of the interesting things about the Wolf Pack is that they had only a +7 goal differential, which means while they put pucks in the net; there were times they had trouble keeping them out. Yet, since Yann Danis was brought into the fold and settled down– the Wolf Pack have been solid, taking the Northeast Division. Luckily, Chris Bourque and Oscar Lindberg were solid when it came to the forward presence, though Conor Allen will have to stay out of the penalty box to help the defensive play, though rookie Mat Bodie was tied for points (with Charlotte’s Trevor Carrick) for rookie defensemen.

The potential for the Bruins to score goals is there, but it wasn’t for the regular season. Barely two 15-goal scorers, but they also lost David Pastrnak for most the season; which probably hurt a lot and will give Providence a nice boost when it comes to the playoffs. Helping Pastrnak will be Alex Khokhlachev, who lead the team in scoring, and Colin Stuart, who lead the team in goals. With not much support, there could be a lot of weight on Jeremy Smith‘s shoulders– who seemed to distance himself from Malcolm Subban in net in their 1a/b situation. The veteran prowess of Steve Eminger could help the young team go ahead and steal a couple games from Hartford.

(4) Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins vs. (5) Syracuse Crunch

There’s no doubt that the story of the Baby Pens’ year is the emergence of goalie Matt Murray– who not only took home top goalie honors, but also top rookie honors. Another breakout performance was the 26-goal campaign by Jayson Megna, who had 11 goals and five assists in the last two months of the season, most in the absence of Andrew Ebbett; who was travelling back and forth to Pittsburgh. With two veterans on the squad in Tom Kostopoulus and Danny Syvret; it could help out the young-ish team. This is all not even talking about Conor Sheary— who led the team and was 8th in rookie points.

After winning only one of their last 10 games, the Crunch picked the wrong time to start slumping. That said, they are better than their record with plenty of talent. Yanni Gourde, Jonathan Marchessault, and Mike Angelidis have led the way in every facet of offense since Vlad Namestnikov was called up to Tampa for the rest of the season. However, the fact the Crunch only lost once to the Baby Pens this season should be a nice motivator, but they will need Kristers Gudlevskis to get back on his game in order to keep the pucks out of the net.

The Weekend That Was: April 10th-12th

AHL

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Photo via Lake Erie Monsters

-Though they have an very slim chance to make the playoffs, the Lake Erie Monsters aren’t going down without a fight. The Monsters swept the Adirondack Flames, despite being outshot 85-59 in the two games. Calvin Pickard made 82-saves throughout the weekend, while Tomas Vincour led the way offensively with a goal and assist in each game. Kenny Ryan had two goals on the weekend, while Troy Brouke had a goal and an assist. The Monsters are three points out of the last playoff spot in the Western Conference, but the Toronto Marlies– who hold the 8th spot now– have a game in hand.

-One team to look out for in the Eastern Conference will be the Hartford Wolf Pack. With three wins this weekend, which added to their five-game streak, the Wolf Pack are hitting their stride at the right time. Most of this could be due to the play of Yann Danis, who only allowed two goals in three games; posting a 31-save shutout Friday, saved 25 of 26 Saturday, and 30 of 31 shots on Sunday. Chris Bourque had a goal and three assists on the weekend, Dylan McIlrath had a goal and two assists, while Danny Kristo potted two goals on Friday. With the wins, the Wolf Pack overtook the Syracuse Crunch for 1st in the Northeast Division.

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ECHL

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-In the Eastern Conference, the hottest team going into the playoffs is the Wheeling Nailers, who won three straight this weekend as they took two games from Elmira and won their last game against Brampton. Riley Brace had five assists on the weekend, with Sahir Gill being the second set-up guy with four assists, while David Gilbert had three goals to be the top goal-scorer on the weekend. In net, Franky Palazzese got the two wins over Elmira with Eric Hartzell getting the win in Brampton. Whether or not they can keep the hot streak alive against the Toledo Walleye in the first round remains to be seen; but they have the tools to have a major upset happen.

-Despite a slow start, the Indy Fuel were able to save face and barely come up short for the playoffs. They finished the season on a 4-0-0-1 clip and will have a lot to grow on from the end of the season and the last couple of months. Coach Scott Hillman worked his magic once again and was able to turn a possible trainwreck into a respectable outcome, even with all the roster changes that were made to bolster the line-up. Mac Carruth went 16-3-3 after January 17th, while Garett Bembridge and rookie Kyle Stroh were clutch for the Fuel after being acquired in two separate trades, combining for 43 goals and 42 assists in Indy.

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SPHL

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-It’s still amazing to me that the Mississippi RiverKings won’t be hosting a game in the President’s Cup Finals due to the Landers Center having the circus there. Despite exhausting the options they had, they will be on the road in Knoxville for all three games. Whether or not this creates bad blood between the arena and team remains to be seen; the RiverKings coach Derek Landmesser reached out to the fans to explain and maybe hope to get some people to make the trip to Knoxville and to shame the Landers Center just a bit.

Farm Report Podcast: 03.22.15

More moving and shaking rumored in the AHL, as we get in the thick of Silly Season. Jeff Malcolm is doing his best to prove he belongs in Hartford once King Henrik returns to his Broadway throne. Though a man of few words, Winston Day Chief is commanding respect in the Rapid City locker room, while Jayson Megna is making a name for himself in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Meanwhile, in Toronto– patience is the name of the game for the Marlies. All that, plus news, notes, and We Hardly Knew Ye.

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The Weekend That Was: March 13th-15th

AHL

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Photo by Michael McSweeney, Portland Pirates

-Despite only winning two of their three games– the Providence Bruins only allowed two goals this entire weekend. Malcolm Subban had a 19-save shutout on Saturday with Jeremy Smith stopping 54 of 56 shots in a shootout loss and win Friday and Sunday, respectively. Cory Kane had two goals and an assist on the weekend, Zack Phillips had a goal and two assists, and Tommy Cross had three assists. This weekend extended the points streak for the P-Bruins to nine games, putting them to second in the Atlantic Division, seven points behind Manchester, and fifth overall in the Eastern Conference.

-With three wins this weekend, the Hartford Wolf Pack are in the top-8 in the East. Chris Bourque put in two goals Sunday to help cap the weekend’s wins, but it started off by a thrilling overtime game which saw Conor Allen pot the winner helping Yann Danis‘ 26-save performance. Danis followed that up with a 37-save performance in Saturday’s win with Ryan Haggerty scoring two goals (as well as adding two assists this weekend). The Wolf Pack are four points up on 9th place and one point ahead of eighth place Springfield.

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ECHL

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Photo by Gary Bassing, Orlando Solar Bears

-In one game, Garret Sparks almost matched what his tandem partner Maxime Clermont had in two games this weekend. The Orlando Solar Bears won all three, but in Sparks game– the defense didn’t show up; but the offense did. On Saturday, the Solar Bears won 10-3 over Evansville with Brock Montgomery putting up two goals and Brady Vail having three assists. However, the Solar Bears gave up 56 shots, which Sparks was able to stop 53. On Friday and Sunday, the Solar Bears gave up a total of 63 with Clermont stopping all but three in those two games. In all three games Patrick Watling shined by posting four goals and two assists this weekend, with Peter Sivak adding a goal and three assists. Orlando is three points up on Elmira for the final spot in the East Division, with the Solar Bears having a game in hand.

-Thanks to Winston Day Chief‘s two goals and assist on Friday, coupled with Jesse Schultz and Kale Kerbashian putting up a goal and three assists each helped the Rapid City Rush get into a better playoff position; especially coming at the expense of the Central Division leading Allen Americans. Danny Battochio got both the wins in net stopping 26 on Friday and 39 on Saturday. The Rush are now third in the Central, but will have to fight off an equally hot Tulsa team that will be jockeying for position to stay away from Allen in the playoffs.

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SPHL

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-With points in 25 of his 32 games, Jake Hauswirth has revitalized his career in Louisiana after bouncing around the past couple years all amongst minor league hockey. With two goals and an assist this weekend, Hauswirth extended his point streak to four games and has 17 points in his last 13 games since February 13th. Hauswirth will be under a bit of a spotlight as they are still jockeying for position, despite being up nine points on 7th place Fayetteville.

-Five of the six playoff spots have been clinched in the SPHL, with the fight for the sixth spot almost all but done as the Fayetteville FireAntz look defeated by getting swept this weekend only getting a goal in each game against Mississippi. The only possible saving grace of the FireAntz is that they play the league-worst Huntsville Havoc this weekend after playing the Knoxville Ice Bears Thursday. The team they are battling, the Louisiana Ice Gators, have two games against the floundering Pensacola Ice Flyers this weekend. By this time next week, it could be only the positioning to be determined in the SPHL.

Farm Report Podcast: 03.01.15

In this week’s Farm Report, Scotty looks at how Dany Heatley has been able to transition from the NHL spotlight to the AHL bus trips. The Indy Fuel have been making noise in the standings, but how about at the box office?? Tyler Brown used this summer to readjust himself and his game, while RG Flath is using the move to the ECHL as a learning experience in his leadership role. All that, plus News and Notes and We Hardly Knew Ye

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