It’s finally that time a year in the AHL as well. They’re getting kicked off a week later than the NHL but for 16 teams, the race to the Calder Cup starts now.
Here are the match-ups:
(1) Texas Stars vs. (8) Oklahoma City Barons
(2) Chicago Wolves vs. (7) Rochester Americans
(3) Toronto Marlies vs. (6) Milwaukee Admirals
(4) Grand Rapids vs. (5) Abbotsford Heat
Stars v. Barons
The Texas Stars finished atop the league this season after battling for that spot last season. Last season they finished best in the West, but second in the league and this season they seemed to want that top honor. The Stars are a team on a mission right now. They won 12 of their last 14 games taking 25 of 28 points, including an 11 game winning streak. They were led by Travis Morin, recipient of this season’s scoring title and MVP honors, as well as Curtis McKenzie and Colton Sceviour. They led the entire league in goals scored, averaging 3.6 goals per game.
Despite their record, the Barons finished strong. They went 22-11-1-4 in the second half of their season. Had they stayed on pace from the first half of the season, they would have finished below 70 points and would have missed the playoffs by a long shot. They have the determination but they got unlucky facing the red hot Stars.
The division rivals met 12 times during the regular season and these teams are clearly familiar with each other. Over the 12 games, the teams combined for 78 goals. This is sure to be a high scoring series. While the Barons were towards the top of the Conference in penalty minutes, Texas had the fewest penalty minutes in the league. This will likely be a series focused on scoring rather than the rougher play.
Wolves v. Americans
The Wolves started off a little bit slow but hit their stride in November and seemed to pick up steam to finish atop their division. They have benefitted from having their scoring spread out over a number of players, making them a difficult team to shut down. Throughout the season, they have had a great trio of veteran presence acting as the alternate captains. Chicago has also benefitted from having Jake Allen between the pipes for 52 of their games.
Rochester will have the benefit of players returning to the line-up from Buffalo, including midseason acquisition Nick Deslauriers. After being acquired in a trade with LA, Deslauriers only skated in 5 games for Rochester. The defenseman turned forward recorded 39 points in 60 games before the trade and could be a big addition. The Americans have had to dress a number of goalies over the season and will not seem to have access to Nathan Lieuwen or Matt Hackett.
These two teams will meet for the first time in the postseason. They only met twice during the regular season, coming from separate division. The teams split the series, each winning on home ice.
Marlies v. Admirals
The Toronto Marlies were the final division winner in the West. Despite their record, they went 5-5-0-0 to end the season. TJ Brennan led the team in goals and points while also racking up a decent amount of penalty minutes. Throughout the season, the Marlies seemed to be a physical team but they need to make sure they’re mindful of taking too many penalties. They won’t want to give up unnecessary power plays in the post season. Goaltender Drew MacIntyre, who impressed throughout the season, will be back with the Marlies after a brief stint with the Maple Leafs.
The Milwaukee Admirals made a strong showing at the end of the season to give themselves a shot at the postseason. They were 7-3-0-0 in their last 10. Despite getting shut out in their last game, they had been putting together a good scoring touch that you want to see headed into the playoffs.
These two teams met twice during the regular season and Milwaukee came away with the two points in both cases. The most recent meeting was a month ago, where the Admirals skated to an easy victory. If the Marlies remember that game, it could be just the motivation they need to take control of the series.
Griffins v. Heat
The Grand Rapids Griffins are the defending Calder Cup champions appearing in the post season again this year. They earn the fourth seed but actually finished with a better record than one of the division winners, as happened in the East. Coming off the Calder Cup win, the Griffins had a number of call-ups to Detroit as the Red Wings dealt with injuries. Despite that, the Griffins stayed strong and put together three separate 7 game winning streaks. They will look to their returning leadership from last season to guide them again this season as they attempt to win back to back Calder Cups.
The Abbotsford Heat started off a little shaky but quickly changed that. They took 24 of 26 points during the month of November and had a 9 game winning streak going. They countered that with an 8 game losing streak in February and March, but appeared to finish the season strong. They took 17 of 20 points in their last 10 games and seem to be back on a hot streak. The only problem will be seeing if they can keep from falling into a slump at the wrong time here with a short first series.
These two teams met four times during the regular season and Abbotsford struggled, only winning one contest. With Abbotsford making their exit from the city following this post season run, they are likely looking to exit on a high note. But it might not be enough to overcome the most recent Calder Cup champions, who know a lot about staying with it in the playoffs.
For the schedule of games, see here.