In the first round of the AHL playoffs, I managed to pick seven out of eight correct series winners (my only failed prediction was Charlotte’s upset of Hershey).
The Divisional finals are next as eight AHL teams remain alive for the Calder Cup. This morning I will preview both of the Eastern Conference semifinals, then follow up with a full breakdown of Milwaukee and Houston this afternoon. Tomorrow, I will breakdown the North Division final between Hamilton vs. Manitoba.
East Division Finals:
1) Wilkes-Barre/Scanton Penguins vs. 3) Charlotte Checkers
Norfolk provided plenty of problems in the first round for AHL’s best team during the regular season, as the Penguins managed just nine goals in their first five playoff games. After losing game one and two at home, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton turned the series around with a pair of road wins and rode the stellar play of goaltender Brad Thiessen (Series stats: 4-2-0, 1.68 G.A.A. .940 SP) into the Divisional finals.
After losing games two and three, Charlotte looked all but dead against Hershey, as the two-time defending Calder Cup champions seemed to be asserting their playoff will. But the Checkers made adjustments and won back-to-back home games before stealing the series with a 2-1 overtime win in game 6. Forwards Zac Dalpe and Zach Boychuk carried the offensive load with three goals a piece in the series.
Charlotte offers a dangerous matchup for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the second round. The Checkers could overload the Penguins offensively, but Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s smothering defense should be the deciding factor in this series. I like the Penguins in 7 games.
Atlantic Division Finals:
1) Portland Pirates vs. 3) Binghamton Senators
Despite losing two road games against Connecticut, Portland reeled in the Whale rather easily in the first round, despite close scores. Netminder David Leggio (4-2-0, 2.93 G.A.A., .897 SP) looked plenty average in the series, but former starter Jhonas Enroth maybe back for the second round to significantly upgrade the Pirates goaltending situation.
It took seven games for Binghamton to eliminate Manchester in the first round, but the Senators won three straight overtime games to dethrone the Monarchs. Despite the slow start to series Binghamton’s offensive guns, Ryan Potulny (playoff leading 14 points), Ryan Keller, Bobby Bulter and Erik Condra, all had strong series. Rookie goaltender Robin Lehner (3-0-0, 2.73 G.A.A., .919 SP) replaced Barry Brust in game five and the Senators never looked back.
Portland looks primed for an upset against a battled-tested Binghamton team that continues its crossover march from a far stronger East Division. Expect that division to produce both of the Eastern Conference finalists as the Senators upset Portland in 6 games.