With the first weekend of Calder Cup playoff hockey in the books in the AHL, each series has gotten through the first two games. The playoffs resume on Wednesday, May 1st. As is the case with any year in the playoffs, there have been a few surprises. Here you can see how the first weekend played out. The first round goes from 16 teams down to 8 in with best of 5 series. All subsequent rounds are best of 7.
In the Eastern Conference, the Providence Bruins sealed up the regular season conference title as well as the overall points title when they still had two games remaining to play. They were matched against the Hershey Bears. Hershey is a team who is very familiar with playoff success, but just barely made it in this season. Despite that, it is the Bears that lead the series 2-0 after two games played in Providence. Bruins goaltender, Niklas Svedberg, was one of the best of the regular season. The rookie goaltender seems to be struggling with his first professional post season, though, and has allowed 9 goals on just 52 shots through the first two games. This comes after posting a 2.17 goals against and .925 save percentage through the regular season. Conversely, Bears goalie Philipp Grubauer has let in 6 goals on 91 shots, putting up an impressive 54 saves in the second game of the series.
The Springfield Falcons earned the second spot in the East as the winners of their division and were the only ones from their division to earn a post season spot. They found themselves matched against the Manchester Monarchs. As recently as the beginning of April, many thought that the Monarchs were all but mathematically eliminated. They proved everyone wrong by taking 12 points in their last seven games of the season and locking up 7th place. Both games of the series have gone to overtime and both have had the same end. Falcons forward Cody Bass has netted overtime game-winning goals in back-to-back games to give his team the 2-0 series lead. Bass looks to lead his new team to a Calder Cup after having won it two seasons ago with the Binghamton Senators.
The Syracuse Crunch locked up the third seed in the East as the winner of the remaining division. They found themselves set to play the Portland Pirates. The Pirates, who went on a four game losing streak at the beginning of April, still claimed their spot when they turned it back around at the end of the month. Although these teams did not meet once during the regular season, it was immediately clear that tensions in the battle for the Calder Cup are high. Both games so far have included fighting majors as well as game misconducts. The Crunch have come out on top both times to lead the series 2-0. They look to defend their title. Last season, the prospects of the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Calder Cup in Norfolk.
The final match up in the Eastern Conference ended up being between the Binghamton Senators and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, the 4th and 5th seeds respectively. Both teams come from the East Division of the Eastern Conference, along with Syracuse and Hershey. Being members of the same division, the teams met 10 times during the regular season and had a very good idea of the type of game the other played. The Penguins lead the series 2-0, but the games have been close. In the first game, the teams went to overtime and in the second game, the Senators scored with just 19 seconds left in the game to come within one but could not force overtime again.
In the Western Conference, the Texas Stars hold the top spot as the conference winner. For the first round, they take on the Milwaukee Admirals. The Admirals narrowly beat out division rivals, the Rockford IceHogs, for the final spot in the West. The two teams met just twice during the regular season, with Texas coming out victorious both times. But, the Admirals proved it would not be that easy during the post season. During the first game, they held on to force overtime. Rookie Admirals goalie, Magnus Hellberg, made 41 saves as they ultimately lost. Hellberg was impressive once again in game two, but this time he did not allow a single goal to help his team even up the series at 1-1.
The Toronto Marlies won the North Division and became the second seed from the West. Their opening series is against the Rochester Americans, the only other team from the North to qualify. Of the 10 meetings between the teams during the regular season, the Americans only managed to come away with 1 win. Although Toronto only took 18 shots in their first game, they easily won 6-3. Marlies forward Greg Scott, who has never been a crazy scorer, netted 4 goals on 4 shots, one of which was an empty netter. Game two was a much rougher game, but the result was similar. The Americans outshot the Marlies, but lost the game, and failed to score a goal, giving the Marlies the 2-0 series lead.
The Grand Rapids Griffins won the Midwest Division and were seeded 3rd in the West. They take on the Houston Aeros for their opening series. The Houston Aeros have a lot to battle for as they recently got news that they are leaving Houston after they are eliminated from the playoffs. The Aeros showed that fight in their first game as goaltender Darcy Kuemper put up 36 saves in a shutout and Justin Fontaine scored 2 of the 3 Aeros goals in the win. The Griffins were ready for the second game. They held off a Houston comeback as the Aeros scored 2 goals in the final 5 minutes. With the Griffins win, the series is tied 1-1.
Finally, the Charlotte Checkers and the Oklahoma City Barons earned the 4th and 5th seeds respectively, both coming from the South Division. During the regular season, the teams split their 8 game series. So far, it has not proved any different in the post season. The first game of the series went to overtime. Just 3 minutes in, Checkers forward Brody Sutter netted his second of the game to end it and give Charlotte the advantage. The second game was a convincing win for Oklahoma City, though. Mark Arcobello netted a natural hat trick in just under 10 minutes during the third period to seal the win and even the series at 1-1.
So far through the first 16 games of the Calder Cup playoffs, there have been 7 overtime games and 9 games decided by just a goal. There have been two hat tricks (Greg Scott – Toronto, Mark Arcobello – Oklahoma City). The Toronto Marlies will be the first team to have a chance to win their series as they play game 3 on Wednesday, May 1st and just need one more win. At the latest, the first round of the Calder Cup playoffs will be over on Wednesday, May 8th if the Providence Bruins can push their series to 5 games.