Previewing the Rest of the AHL Playoffs First Round Matchups

West Division Semifinals:

1) Milwaukee Admirals (44-22-14) vs. 4) Texas Stars (41-29-10)

My Prediction:  Admirals win in seven games.  To read my full breakdown of the series, click here.

2) Houston Aeros (46-28-6) vs. 3) Peoria Riverman (42-30-8)

Houston enters the AHL playoffs as one of the league’s most dangerous teams with three dynamic scorers on offense, Jon DiSalvatore, Robbie Earl and Patrick O’Sullivan and one of the AHL’s best defenseman in Maxim Noreau.  The question here is whether Matt Hackett or Josh Tordjman can backstop a long playoff run after Anton Khodobin was traded away during the NHL’s deadline.

With either Jake Allen or Ben Bishop in between the pipes, Peoria will have a big edge in this series in the goaltending battle.  The dynamic T.J. Hensick leads the offense, but the Riverman lack much secondary scoring.

My Prediction: The well rested Aeros took game one, and their balance on offense and defense should be enough to overtake the Rivermen,  Aeros win in 5 games.

North Division Semifinals:

1) Hamilton Bulldogs (44-27-9) vs. 4) Oklahoma City Barons (40-29-11)

In a cross-over divisional matchup, heavily favored Hamilton will have their hands full with the expansion Barons.  Hamilton’s strength starts in goal, where two of the AHL’s best netminders, Curtis Sanford and Drew MacIntyre reside on a team that allowed the fewest goals in the Western Conference (193).  Up front the Bulldogs feature the AHL’s top goal scorer Nigel Dawes (41 goals, 72 points), but only a few other threats.  However, Hamilton’s veteran blueline is one of the best in the AHL.

Hamilton’s goaltenders will see plenty of rubber thanks to the likes of offensive talents such as Alexandre Giroux, Brad Moran and Linus Omark who lead an Oklahoma City club that scored 245 goals, second most in the West Division.  However, the Barons’ goaltenders struggled mightily at times this season.

My prediction: Hamilton should dictate a slower defensive game against Oklahoma City, while enjoying a clear edge between the pipes.  Bulldogs win in 6 games.

2) Lake Erie Monsters (44-28-8) vs. 3) Manitoba Moose (43-30-7)

This is one of my favorite matchups in the AHL playoffs.  These two teams look nearly identical on paper in both goals scored and goals allowed.  With Colorado’s late season swoon, their minor league club, Lake Erie, is stocked with a solid blend of offensive talent, including Ben Walter, Matt Ford, Mark Olver and Ryan Stoa.  If the Monsters have a weakness, it is on defense and in goal, the same problems which plagued the Avalanche.

Either rookie Eddie Lack or former Monster Tyler Weiman provides a goaltending edge for Manitoba.  The Moose lack the offense to matchup in high scoring games with Lake Erie, but feature a much better defensive corps that gained considerable NHL experience due to Vancouver’s injury troubles during the season.

My Prediction: All signs point toward this being Vancouver’s year in the NHL playoffs and toward Manitoba to win this series.  The Moose win in 6 games.

Here is are my quick picks for the Eastern Conference.

Atlantic Division Semifinals:

1) Portland Pirates (47-24-9) vs. 4) Connecticut Whale (40-32-8)

My Prediction: High scoring Portland has flaws that can be exposed, but Connecticut doesn’t seem likely to do so.  Pirates in 4 games.

2) Manchester Monarchs (44-26-10) vs. 3) Binghamton Senators (42-30-8)

My Prediction:  Stocked full of prospects, Binghamton was a team no one wanted to face in the first round.  Senators in 5 games.

East Division Semifinals:

1) Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (58-21-1) vs. 4) Norfolk Admirals (39-26-15)

My prediction: This is a huge mismatch on paper, as Wilke-Barre/Scranton racked up a league high 58 wins, while Norfolk enters as the playoff team with the fewest victories and a record that would be below .500 including OT/shootout losses.  Penguins roll in 5 games.

2) Hershey Bears (46-26-8) vs. 3) Charlotte Checkers (44-27-9)

My prediction:  Another series that should be must watch TV for an avid AHL hockey fan.  Both teams can score, but Hershey has a huge edge in goaltending and in playoff experience as the two-time defending Calder Cup champions.  Bears in 7 games.

To read all of my NHL playoff predictions, click here.

(Author’s Note:  All teams are listed in their proper matchup position.  Oklahoma City finished 5th in the West Division and crossed over to fourth in the North Division, while Bonghamton finished 5th in the East Division, crossing over into the third spot in the Atlantic Division.  That moved third place Connecticut down to the fourth spot in the Atlantic Division)

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