Charlotte Checkers (3rd East, 44-27-9) vs. Binghamton Senators (5th East, 42-30-8)
If there is one team in the AHL playoffs that continues to be underestimated, it’s the Charlotte Checkers. I’ve managed to pick against them twice, yet Carolina’s top farm team continues to impress. The Checkers have managed to dump two of the league’s elite franchises, Hershey and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, on their way to an East Division playoff crown.
The Checkers are loaded at the center position, led by Brett Sutter (12 playoff points) and Zac Dalpe (team leading six goals, 13 points). Rookie goaltender Mike Murphy has impressed in the playoffs, winning seven games, while carrying a 2.09 goals against average and an impeccable .934 save percentage. The lone weakness for Charlotte is their blueline, but that could be solved if former Minnesota-Duluth star Justin Faulk continues to mature.
Though it has taken 13 games to get to this point, Binghamton is riding a wave of playoff momentum after crossing over to the Atlantic Division and eliminating both Manchester and Portland (including a rally from a 3-1 series deficit against the Monarchs).
The Senators feature most dangerous offense remaining in the Calder Cup playoffs, having scored 51 postseason goals so far (16 more than the next closest team). Binghamton features the AHL’s leading playoff goal and point scorer in Ryan Potulny (10 goals, 19 points), the Latvian spark plug Kaspars Daugavins (nine goals, 13 points) and sniper Bobby Butler (eight goals, 10 points). And don’t forget about reigning AHL MVP Corey Locke, who racked up 86 points during the regular season. Like the Checkers, the Senators weakness is at defense, but Andre Benoit and Geoff Kinrade are both talented two-way puck movers. The backbone of explosive Binghamton is rookie Robin Lehner in goal. The 19-year-old Swedish prospect recorded seven wins and carries an effective .919 SP so far in the playoffs. Expect him to challenge Craig Anderson for playing time in Ottawa next year.
Much like the West Division Finals, the matchup between the Checkers and Senators will pit an elite offensive club—Binghamton, versus an elite defensive team in Charlotte. As much as I like Binghamton, I feel they have feasted on subpar teams out of the Atlantic Division. Playing against East divisional foe Charlotte, their run will come to an end as I see the Checkers making their first ever trip to the Calder Cup finals. CHARLOTTE in 6 games.
(Author’s note this preview was written prior to Game 1)