News | 5/23/2013 3:57:37 PM | ROCHESTER AMERICANS
The American Hockey League’s final four is set, with both the Eastern Conference Finals and Western Conference Finals getting underway the weekend of May 24. In the Eastern Conference, the Syracuse Crunch face off with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, while the West will see the Grand Rapids Griffins take on the Oklahoma City Barons. The winner of each series will meet in the Calder Cup Finals, where it’s guaranteed that a team will take home the prized trophy for the very first time, as none of the last four franchises standing have ever won the Calder Cup.
Syracuse, the AHL affiliate of the Tampa Bay Lightning, is bidding to pull off a repeat of sorts. Last season, Tampa Bay’s AHL affiliate was the Calder Cup champion Norfolk Admirals. Now that the Lightning are responsible for stocking the Crunch, many of the players on last year’s Cup winning squad are now skating for Syracuse. The most notable player is Tyler Johnson, who was named the AHL’s Most Valuable Player this year after scoring 37 goals in 62 games. Syracuse also features a pair of AHL Second-Team All Stars in forward Brett Connolly and defenseman Mark Barberio, who was also a member of last year’s championship team. It took the Crunch just seven games to advance to the Western Conference finals after they swept each of their first two series, with Ondrej Palat (4+11) and Johnson (7+7) leading the offense in that span. First, Syracuse knocked off the Portland Pirates in three straight games in the opening round, then eliminated the Springfield Falcons with a four-game sweep in round two. This will mark the first time since the 1995-96 season that Syracuse will appear in the Eastern Conference Finals as the franchise seeks to advance to the Calder Cup Finals for the first time in its history.
The Penguins enter the Conference Finals having just become the third team in AHL history to come back from a 3-0 series deficit and win, which they did against the top-seeded Providence Bruins in round two. After dropping the first three games, the Baby Pens then went on a four-game run to close out the series that saw them beat the Bruins 3-1 in Game 4; 4-0 in Game 5; 2-1 in overtime in Game 6; then 5-0 in the decisive seventh game. Goaltender Brad Thiessen appeared in six games in the series and posted incredible numbers to go along with his 4-1 record: a 0.70 goals-against average and a .978 save percentage, as well as shutouts in Game 5 and Game 7. The AHL affiliate of the Pittsburgh Penguins swept the Binghamton Senators in the opening round, and has been led offensively in the postseason by Trevor Smith, who has registered 11 points (4+7) in 10 games. Chad Kolarik, who joined the team midway through the regular season in a trade with Connecticut, has nine points through the first 10 playoff games and led the team in scoring during the regular season with 68 points in 76 games. The Penguins will be looking to advance to the Finals for the fourth time in the last 13 years.
Over in the Western Conference, the Barons advanced to the Conference Finals for the second straight season. Oklahoma City went the distance in its first round series with Charlotte, defeating the Checkers in five games to earn the right to face the top-seeded Texas Stars in the Conference Semifinals. The Barons were able to knock off the South Division champs four games to one. All-Star Marc Arcobello, who led the team in scoring during the regular season with 68 points, has put up 15 points through his team’s first 10 playoff outings. His nine goals lead the AHL through the first two playoff rounds while his 15 points are tied with Syracuse’s Ondrej Palat. Goaltender Yann Danis, meanwhile, has started all 10 playoff games, posting a 7-3 record with a 2.19 goals-against average and a .935 save percentage. Of the four teams remaining in the Calder Cup Playoffs, the Barons entered the third round as the only team with four players who had recorded double-digits in points through the first two rounds (Arcobello – 15 points, Toni Rajala – 13, Teemu Hartikainen – 11, Josh Green – 10). In its brief history, Oklahoma City has never advanced to the Calder Cup Finals.
Grand Rapids will be appearing in the Conference Finals for the first time since 2006, and are coming off a 4-2 series win over the Toronto Marlies that featured a dramatic comeback in the clinching game. Trailing 3-1 with less than 10 minutes to play in the third period, the Griffins scored twice in a span of 28 seconds to tie the game before Luke Glendening scored the game-winner with 4:03 to play. Glendening, who ranked 12th on the team in scoring during the regular season with 26 points, has stepped up during the postseason in the absence of leading scorer Gustav Nyquist, who is currently playing with the parent Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. A native of Grand Rapids, Glendening has tallied 10 (5+5) points in 11 games, just one point behind team-leader Tomas Tatar. Goaltender Petr Mrazek has gone 7-4 in the postseason thus far, while posting a 2.19 goals-against average and a .906 save percentage. Prior to dispatching the Marlies in round two, Grand Rapids opened the postseason by playing a full five-game series with the Houston Aeros. After winning the decisive Game 5 by a score of 7-0, the Griffins then opened up their next series with a 7-0 win over Toronto. Grand Rapids will be seeking its first appearance in the Calder Cup Finals.
Eastern Conference Finals – Series “M” (best-of-7)
3-Syracuse Crunch vs. 5-Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins
Game 1 – Sat., May 25 – W-B/Scranton 4, Syracuse 2
Game 2 – Sun., May 26 – Syracuse 3, W-B/Scranton 2
Game 3 – Wed., May 29 – Syracuse 2, W-B/Scranton 0
Game 4 – Fri., May 31 – Syracuse 4 at W-B/Scranton 2
Game 5 – Sat., June 1 – Syracuse 7, W-B/Scranton 0
SYRACUSE WINS SERIES 4-1
Western Conference Finals – Series “N” (best-of-7)
3-Grand Rapids Griffins vs. 5-Oklahoma City Barons
Game 1 – Fri., May 24 – Grand Rapids 2, Oklahoma City 1
Game 2 – Sat., May 25 – Oklahoma City 4, Grand Rapids 2
Game 3 – Wed., May 29 – Oklahoma City 4, Grand Rapids 1
Game 4 – Fri., May 31 – Grand Rapids at Oklahoma City, 8:00 POSTPONED DUE TO WEATHER
Game 4 – Sat., June 1 – Grand Rapids 4, Oklahoma City 0
Game 5 - Sun., June 2 - Grand Rapids 3, Oklahoma City 0
Game 6 – Tue., June 4 – Oklahoma City 4. Grand Rapids 3
Game 7 – Wed., June 5 – Grand Rapids 5, Oklahoma City 4
GRAND RAPIDS WINS SERIES 4-3