AHL Conference Finals Set
AHL Conference Final Matchups Set
By Matt Alber
The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins were the fourth and final team to punch their ticket to the conference finals Wednesday night. They capped their 3-0 series comeback against the Providence Bruins by taking game 7 on the road by a 5-0 score. The Penguins will now take on the 3rd seeded Syracuse Crunch beginning Saturday night. Out West, the 3 seed Grand Rapids Griffins will take on the 5 seed Oklahoma City Barons in the Western Conference Finals.
In the Eastern Conference, the 3 seed Syracuse Crunch will take on the 5 seed Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. The Crunch enter this series as the only team without a playoff loss yet, at 7-0. They swept 6th seeded Portland in round one before taking out 2 seed Springfield in four straight in the second round. This team is also accustomed to winning. They are in large part the same group that won last year’s Calder Cup as members of the Norfolk Admirals before Tampa Bay’s affiliate team was moved to Syracuse.
The top player for Syracuse to watch in this series is forward Tyler Johnson. The AHL’s leading scorer this season, he has seven goals and seven assists in just seven playoff games this year. Additionally, a name a lot of people around the hockey world will be familiar with is Brett Connolly. He spent a lot of time in the NHL last year with Tampa, playing in 68 games for the parent club before spending most of this season in Syracuse. He has two goals and three assists in the seven playoff games for the Crunch after putting up 63 points in 71 games this season.
The 5th seeded Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins made history Wednesday night. They are the third AHL team to ever come back from a 3-0 series deficit to win the series in seven, after beating top seeded Providence Wednesday on the road by a 5-0 score to cap the comeback. You can’t help but feel bad for Providence center Trent Whitfield, who was also a part of the Boston Bruins 3-0 series collapse against the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2010 NHL playoffs.
Things didn’t look good for the Penguins earlier in the series, as Jeff Zatkoff let in 12 goals on 40 shots in the first two games before getting pulled for Brad Thiessen. Although he was in for a 2-1 game 3 loss to put the Penguins in a 3-0 hole, Thiessen rebounded. Over the five games in which Thiessen played in that series, he finished with a 0.70 GAA and .978 save % to lead the Penguins to the series comeback.
3-Syracuse Crunch vs. 5-Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins
Game 1 – Sat., May 25 – W-B/Scranton at Syracuse, 7 ET
Game 2 – Sun., May 26 – W-B/Scranton at Syracuse, 7 ET
Game 3 – Wed., May 29 – Syracuse at W-B/Scranton, 7:05 ET
Game 4 – Fri., May 31 – Syracuse at W-B/Scranton, 7:05 ET
(If Necessary) Game 5 – Sat., June 1 – W-B/Scranton at Syracuse, 7 ET
(If Necessary) Game 6 – Mon., June 3 – Syracuse at W-B/Scranton, 7:05 ET
(If Necessary) Game 7 – Wed., June 5 – W-B/Scranton at Syracuse, 7 ET
Prediction: Syracuse in 6. Syracuse led the entire AHL in goals scored this season, and until someone proves they can beat this group of players in the playoffs, I just can’t pick against them. They have twelve players on that team that were a part of the Calder Cup championship team from last year in Norfolk and we all know how much experience helps come playoff time. However, this Penguins team is hot, coming off their 3-0 series comeback. A hot goalie, which Thiessen is, is always dangerous and hard to beat so I see them winning two games from Syracuse. However, I see Tyler Johnson and Syracuse being too much for Thiessen and the Pens in the end.
Out in the Western Conference, The Griffins got to the conference finals by ousting the 2nd seeded Toronto Marlies in six games. Their top player this postseason has been forward Tomas Tatar, who leads the team with eight goals and 11 points in 11 playoff games.
The OKC Barons took out top seeded Texas in five games; scoring 16 goals in their final three games. Marc Arcobello has led the team with nine goals and 15 points over their 10 playoff games, and also led them with 68 points during the season.
The Barons also have former-Shark Jonathan Cheechoo on their team. Cheechoo has 501 NHL games under his belt, as well as 170 NHL goals. This season however, he’s been limited by injuries, amassing 13 goals and 32 points in 35 games during the regular season for the Barons. He also has two goals & four assists in 10 playoff games.
3-Grand Rapids Griffins vs. 5-Oklahoma City Barons
Game 1 – Fri., May 24 – Oklahoma City at Grand Rapids, 7:00
Game 2 – Sat., May 25 – Oklahoma City at Grand Rapids, 7:00
Game 3 – Wed., May 29 – Grand Rapids at Oklahoma City, 8:00
Game 4 – Fri., May 31 – Grand Rapids at Oklahoma City, 8:00
(If Necessary) Game 5 – Sat., June 1 – Grand Rapids at Oklahoma City, 8:00
(If Necessary) Game 6 – Tue., June 4 – Oklahoma City at Grand Rapids, 7:00
(If Necessary) Game 7 – Wed., June 5 – Oklahoma City at Grand Rapids, 7:00
Prediction: Oklahoma City in 7. These teams ended very close in the regular season, just separated by one point. In addition, they split the four meetings this season, with the home team winning all four games. Cheechoo led all skaters in those games with four goals. While both were high scoring teams throughout the year, OKC has seemed to transfer more scoring into the playoffs. They are averaging 4.2 goals per game, 2nd among playoff teams behind Syracuse. Grand Rapids can score in bunches as well, they have two 7-0 wins this postseason so I think they will make this a long series for the high scoring OKC team. I just see Arcobello, Cheechoo and the OKC offense being too much for the Griffins in the end.
These should be two exciting and possibly high-scoring matchups coming up. As the NHL playoffs wrap up the second round over the next few days, you can catch the third round of the AHL playoffs starting Friday night. You can watch all the action live at AHLLive.com for a small fee!