The AHL’s Calder Cup playoffs began with three affiliates of the NHL’s Southeast Division and that number was destined to shrink by at least one with Hershey and Charlotte squaring off in the opening round.
Unfortunately, the Carolina Hurricanes are the lone remaining Southeast Division squad with an AHL affiliate still vying for the Calder Cup, as the Checkers bested the Hershey Bears four games to two, while the Norfolk Admirals also fell in six games, despite a 2-0 series lead, to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
Here’s a stat line look at the games played since we last checked in and some heres and theres on the AHL playoffs thus far, as well as a look ahead at Charlotte’s schedule this week, as they get set to take on Wilkes-Barre in the East Division Final.
Click for individual box scores
Tuesday, 4/19/11: Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 2, Norfolk Admirals 1
Norfolk goal-scorers: Stefano Giliati (1)
Norfolk goaltenders (saves/shots): Dustin Tokarski (23/25)
Three stars of the game: 1 – Bryan Lerg, WBS; 2 – Stefano Giliati, NOR; 3 – Dustin Tokarski, NOR
Early this season, the point was made, after the Tampa Bay Lightning had fallen twice in Washington to the Capitals by a combined score of 12-3, that the Caps were still the kings of the Southeast Division until someone unseated them.
The Lightning’s run at the division crown fell short this year, as Washington hit their stride in the second half of the season, shot past Tampa Bay and captured their fourth straight Southeast championship.
But none of that matters now, with these two teams set to lock horns in an Eastern Conference Semifinal matchup that will automatically elevate an already brewing rivalry to the next level, with a berth in the conference final at stake.
Washington, having disposed of the New York Rangers in five games, evolved as a team this season, adopting a more well-rounded approach while ditching their high-flying show of offense in years past. Even so, the Caps are still a team that can come heavy with the firepower when the need arises. After the first-round disappointment of a year ago, getting out of the quarterfinal round was a huge first step for a talent-heavy team that has its eyes on hockey’s ultimate prize.
And the Southeast Division officially has a heated rivalry.
Mark that down.
Guess I’ll be staying busy for a while here…
Check back in soon.
Checking in once again with FromThePoint.com’s Brian Metzer, with an eye on Pittsburgh adjustments leading into game two…
JJ: Let’s keep this pretty simple, B. Are there any major adjustments the Pens need to make as the series shifts to Tampa? Games one and two were such polar opposites for them, I would think it’s more of a matter of staying true to the approach that brought them such success in game one and throughout the regular season, rather than making any major alterations to either the lineup or the strategy.
BM: I completely agree with you there, JJ. It isn’t a matter of making major adjustments, so much as sticking with the game plan and system. The Penguins defense was horrendous during Game 2 and they need to refocus and get back to their basics – quick puck movement, good positional play and physicality.
This group feels that it is most effective when they are getting the puck up ice with lightning quick passes and hitting the opposing defense deep in their own zone to create turnovers. That didn’t happen very often on Friday night.
Playoff action at the AHL level kicked off last week as well and the top affiliates for the Carolina Hurricanes, Tampa Bay Lightning and Washington Capitals are all underway in their chase for the Calder Cup.
Charlotte (Carolina) and Hershey (Washington) are battling each other in the East Quarterfinals while Norfolk (Tampa Bay) takes on regular season stalwart, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (Pittsburgh).
As we did throughout the regular season, let’s take a look at the games that have been played thus far, from a bottom-line, statistical point of view. Since this is the playoffs, however, we’ll toss in a little overview for each as well.
Click for individual box scores
Drayson Bowman’s goal just past the midway point of the third period proved to be the deciding factor, putting Charlotte ahead to stay in a back-and-forth affair with Hershey in game one. After Steve Pinizzotto opened the scoring just 1:10 into the game for the Bears, Zac Dalpe and Chris Terry each scored for the Checkers to give Charlotte a 2-1 lead. Keith Aucoin knotted things up for Hershey on the power play, late in the opening frame and the teams traded goals in the second period to head to the third tied at 3-3.
Game one between Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay was about what most probably expected, in terms of style, intensity, strategy and even end result. In a toss-up series that most have conceded can end up going either way, last night’s game was a small example of just that. In the end, the home squad prevailed, largely on the heroics of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and, though the final score will reflect a three-goal difference (thanks, in part to an empty netter), the teams battled in just the type of tightly-contested matchup the series itself should ultimately reflect.
From the Lightning’s perspective, they have to look at it as just one game. They can be disappointed (as well they should) and lament missed opportunities (of which, they had many) but game one is over and done with and they’ll do what they’ve done all year, win or lose, in wiping it clean off the slate and starting anew.
As for the Penguins, game one appeared to be the execution of exactly what they’d hoped to do from the start – a tight defensive game, strong goaltending and a timely goal to shift the momentum. Alexei Kovalev’s third period tally did just that and perhaps the Bolts hung their heads thereafter, even just for a moment.
That moment, of course, was one too much and, in it, Arron Asham extended the lead to 2-0. There were times during the regular season when Tampa Bay (and goaltender Dwayne Roloson, in particular) lost composure after an untimely goal against and never recovered. While this may not have been an extended repetition of just that, as Roloson and the Bolts did appear to regain confidence and poise late, it can serve as a lesson for a team short on playoff experience that in the postseason, such a singular moment of self-wallowing can prove costly.
Every year around this time, in writing this very piece, I usually begin with something along the lines of, “I swore I’d never make playoff predictions again.” For starters, everybody does it and I usually try my best to steer clear of being just like the rest of ‘em. But more than that, my repeated attempts to avoid postseason prognostication stem from my overwhelming lack of accuracy in years past. (The postseason underachievers of the world have drawn my ire time and again. San Jose, you still top my poop list for that reason.)
But worse than my failure to pick a set of winners that resembles anything close to accuracy is my perennial failure to avoid picking altogether.
Something always draws me in.
And now, I realize, I’m powerless to fight it. I’ll make my picks here today, do so again round after round and I’ll do it again next year (and the year after that, and so on and so forth). Might as well be honest with myself…
This year, the allure is in the series that will remain my primary focus, Tampa Bay vs. Pittsburgh. I have to admit, it’s still a bit surreal to see the hometown Bolts actually in the Stanley Cup playoffs. After the last two seasons of uncertainty, four seasons overall since their last playoff game and even despite the regular season success they managed early and often this year, the fact that exit medicals and getaway interviews haven’t already been conducted is still a bit of a walk through bizzarro-world for me. Better get over that, I suppose… The Lightning certainly aren’t thinking that way.
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One final update from AHL regular season action before our weekly stats pack-style showcase of the NHL’s Southeast Division affiliates gets a bit more detailed, focusing on playoff action for the three clubs that qualified for Calder Cup contention, Charlotte, Hershey and Norfolk.
Until then, however, one last look at the week gone by:
Click for individual box scores
Monday, 4/4/11: Adirondack Phantoms 6, Rochester Americans 0
Rochester goal-scorers: none
Rochester goaltenders (saves/shots): Marc Cheverie (29/35)
Three stars of the game: 1 – Denis Hamel, ADK; 2 – Michael Leighton, ADK; 3 – Matt Read, ADK
Monday, 4/4/11: Norfolk Admirals 5, Charlotte Checkers 2
Norfolk goal-scorers: Mattias Ritola 2 (7), Pierre-Cedric Labrie (6), Blair Jones 2 (23)
Charlotte goal-scorers: Chris Terry (33), Bobby Sanguinetti (3)
Norfolk goaltenders (saves/shots): Jaroslav Janus (24/26)
Charlotte goaltenders (saves/shots): Justin Pogge (21/26), Bobby Goepfert (10/10)
Three stars of the game: 1 – Blair Jones, NOR; 2 – Mattias Ritola, NOR; 3 – Marc-Antoine Pouliot, NOR
The playoffs are here and there’s much to do along with that. We’ve got predictions to be made, schedules to coordinate, stories to write and, don’t forget, beards to grow!
As far as scheduling goes, complete playoff dockets can be found all over the place but many folks have a specific focus in mind and you won’t find that readily available just anywhere. But I’ve put together a master viewing schedule for anyone with a Southeast Division focus, in particular, including AHL Calder Cup playoff matchup for Carolina, Tampa Bay and Washington fans looking to track their minor league affiliates in the postseason as well. (I would imagine that AHL Live will make a playoff package available in short order.)
Naturally, many of you (like me) will be watching as much playoff hockey as you possibly can, by whatever means necessary, making the act of planning your viewing schedule relatively pointless but, if you follow along with this, fans of teams in the Southeast (and even those who will only see playoff action through their minor league affiliates) won’t miss a second of their club’s chase for a championship. I’ll certainly aim to update this past the first round, where applicable.
Your master schedule awaits:
For a time, it looked like four teams from the Southeast Division would at least have a fighting chance at a playoff spot. As late as the end of January, while Tampa Bay and Washington remained comfortably among the top half of the Eastern Conference’s playoff-bound teams, both the Atlanta Thrashers and Carolina Hurricanes teeter-tottered in and around eighth place, making a quartet of Southeast clubs fighting to advance through the Stanley Cup playoffs a distinct possibility.
Alas, Atlanta was in freefall mode soon enough, winning just twice in the entire month of February, the Florida Panthers never contended, despite having a better showing this year than many expected, and Carolina’s impressive fight for the eighth and final playoff spot fell just short yesterday, though the final round of that battle last night left much to be desired, losing to Tampa Bay 6-2 at home in a win-and-in setting.
So, it will be the Capitals and the Lightning only representing the Southeast in the NHL postseason, which is about what most pundits put forth in preseason predictions. Flip-flop Atlanta and Carolina in the Southeast’s final standings, and the actual finish is exactly what I’d expected, though I won’t boast that as a feat deserving any sort of special recognition. By and large, the end result in these here parts was an easy call.
That being said, there were some twists and turns and surprises along the way.