(Photo: The AHL)
The AHL regular season ended on Saturday, a week after the NHL season. The Calder Cup Playoffs kick off on Wednesday, April 23rd and we’re here to give you the brief run down on what you can expect. In the AHL, winners of each division earn the top three seeds in the playoffs. This can result in the fourth seeded team actually finishing with a better record than a division winner.
First up: the Eastern Conference. The first round of the AHL playoffs are a best of 5 series instead of best of 7, partly in hopes of syncing up with the timeline of the NHL playoffs.
(1) Manchester Monarchs vs. (8) Norfolk Admirals
(2) Springfield Falcons vs. (7) Providence Bruins
(3) Binghamton Senators vs. (6) Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins
(4) St. John’s IceCaps vs. (5) Albany Devils
Monarchs v. Admirals
The Manchester Monarchs earned the honors as best in the East, a title that they held most of the season. The fact that they stayed atop the Conference was impressive. Their top line of Tyler Toffoli, Tanner Pearson, and Linden Vey logged a lot of time in the NHL with the Kings. Starting goaltender Martin Jones also got the call to LA when Jonathan Quick was injured. He then earned the backup spot permanently when the Kings decided to trade Ben Scrivens. But, rookie goaltender JF Berube stepped up and was stellar despite being unsure of his role coming into the season. They also had a number of other players step up in key situations.
The Norfolk Admirals just managed to slide into the playoffs with some solid play coming at the right time. Two of their final three games were against the Hershey Bears, who were also hoping to sneak into the post season at the end. However, the Admirals came out strong to prove that they wanted that spot. They swept their series with Hershey and earned the final spot, knocking Hershey out of the playoff picture in the process.
The Admirals and Monarch met four times during the season and both swept in their home arenas. This will be an interesting series since the teams do not see each other often during season. Neither team got any help from returning NHL players as both LA and Anaheim are in the post season as well.
Falcons vs. Bruins
The Springfield Falcons finish atop their division and second in the conference for the second straight year. They did not drop their first regulation contest until 7 games into the season. They’ve kept up their solid play all season. Springfield has had a number of players rotating between being there and in Columbus. The Falcons suffered a potential blow as goaltender Jeremy Smith was recalled to Columbus and is still there during their playoff push.
The Providence Bruins had to deal with a lot of call-ups throughout the season as Boston struggled with a number of injuries. On top of that, Providence had some injuries of their own. However, when they are healthy, they have been an impressive team to watch. This season, Providence has been alternating almost evenly between their goalie tandem of second year pro Niklas Svedberg and rookie Malcolm Subban.
These two teams met 10 times throughout the season, despite being in separate divisions. They have met a lot over the years and are very familiar with the way the other side plays. At times this season, the meetings were also very heated, which will only be intensified in the post season.
Senators v. Penguins
The Binghamton Senators ended up winning their division, which they did not end up clinching until right at the end. Throughout the season, they were a little bit streaky. They had one losing streak spanning 7 games and another spanning 6, both including losses in extra time. Although they took points in their last four games, they did not finish as strong as they probably would have liked heading into the playoffs. They will benefit from getting three important players back from Ottawa, who missed the playoffs.
In contrast, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins started off hot, not having their first regulation loss come until their 8th game. Aside from one instance, they did not have a losing streak longer than 3 games. Unfortunately for them, one 3 game losing streak came at the end of the season and caused them to drop in the standings. They went from challenging as the winner in the division down to the sixth spot. They will likely be hungry for a win.
The Senators and Penguins are division rivals 8 times this season. The teams last meant this past weekend in a game that ended up being much closer than initially thought. After the Senators jumped out to a 5-0 lead, they only won 5-4. It will be interesting to see how the teams match up and it could be a relatively even series.
IceCaps v. Devils
St. John’s was in the interesting position of having more points than the third seeded team and were only one point behind the second seeded team. However, because top three seeds go to the winners of each division, the IceCaps ended up in fourth. At the end of the NHL season, Winnipeg sent 6 players back to St. John’s including goalie Michael Hutchinson, who recently made his NHL debut. With the addition of these players, the IceCaps could be a definite threat to make a run in the post season. They have speed and a good core of veterans with the experience to lead.
The Albany Devils seemed sure to earn a playoff spot at the end of the season. It was just a matter of where they would end up. They won their last five games, including games against the Providence Bruins and Springfield Falcons, also appearing in the post season. The Devils got 5 players reassigned from New Jersey, including Mike Sislo who led the team in goals. They are heating up at the right time, without question. But the real question will be how they match up against the talented IceCaps.
Despite being in the same conference, the two teams did not meet at all during the regular season. They will be going to this series completely fresh with just their research. That might end up being good because it gives them a clean sheet of ice to work with.