The Calder Cup postseason is something that’s still relatively new to Oklahomans. Only three years in, the Barons have made the playoffs all three years, and have been everywhere from a number one seed to eighth in that span. A first round “roughy” with the Hamilton Bulldogs in year one, and a dramatic journey to the Western Conference Finals in another has brought us to 2013, and yet another decent spot in the postseason playoff picture. Very few teams can lay claim to such high success immediately after their creation. So we are entirely spoiled as fans of the American Hockey League living in Oklahoma City.
And so it’s that time of year again, when the Barons soldier through a first round playoff series, and attempt to even or best their amazing run of 2012. But before we do that, let’s take a look at the “other guys” in the same race as we.
Let’s go ahead and start with the Eastern Conference, because by default I don’t watch much EC hockey. And unless you won the lottery in October, and paid for an all team AHL Live subscription, chances are that you haven’t watched much either. Keep in mind, that the bulk of the Calder Cup winning comes from this conference. So it is pertinent that we explore the picks just a bit. So, we start there.
Providence Bruins (1) vs. Hershey Bears (8)
The Hershey Bears, just squeaking into the playoffs, face a red hot Providence Bruins team that has only lost once in regulation in the last ten games. In the end, they are the league’s darlings with 105 points on the season. The Bears, seemingly the worst team to make the Calder Cup Playoffs this season, will have their work cut out for them in the quickened five game first round.
But keep this in mind, their only two meetings of the season were split, with Hershey winning one and Providence another. The resilient nature of the Bear’s gave the P-Bruins some heart palpitations, and both games were one by only a single goal. With Hershey being the “lesser” team, they’ll start at home, split those two and things get interesting. In the end, I’ll take Providence.
PREDICTION: Providence in 4
Springfield Falcons (2) vs. Manchester Monarchs (7)
Springfield has had immense success against Manchester this season, and this has happened despite some excellent goaltending from the Monarch’s Martin Jones. Jones, who started a whopping 56 games this season, has only received one game off since January 8th. That’s a huge stretch, but it was clear that he was the man pitted to get his squad into the playoffs. Yet Springfield holds the season record, and the domination of Manchester, including winning the last two against them. But sometimes the unfamiliar can be the most dangerous. These two teams played the bulk of their games towards the first half of the season, and thus many things have changed now that we are in April.
I think I’ll play the odds here, and choose the Falcons in the sweep. Their combo of defense and offense will be hard for anyone to beat.
PREDICTION: Springfield in 3
Syracuse Crunch (3) vs. Portland Pirates (6)
Syracuse had a chance to nudge out the Falcons, and win the second seed, but kinda stumbled down the stretch. And of all the playoff series in the quarterfinal this one smells of a rough and tumble affair. Both teams rank towards the top of the AHL in fighting minutes, and that’s just the way the two teams like it. But don’t be fooled by that piece of information because both teams score tons of goals, and in great bunches. But the great narrative here is that these two teams haven’t played each other this season.
With Radko Gudas (who’ll be available), J.P Cote, Tyler Johnson, and Ondrej Palat owning four of the five best +/- totals in the league, they are a group that can strike fear into the hearts of just about anyone. But will the “never seen each other” mentality have them snake-bitten I think not.
PREDICTION: Syracuse in 5
Binghamton Senators (4) vs. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (5)
If you’ll recall, it took the WBS Penguins five games to finally win one to open the season. The opener was against Binghamton, and that set forth the I-81 rivalry for another season. The Sens owned the series in regulation wins, but both drove hard at the end of the season as they jockeyed for one another’s playoff spots. Much like our beloved Barons in the West, the 4 vs. 5 matchup can be somewhat misleading.
First year coach, Luke Richardson, has the Sens into the playoffs for the first time since the 2010-11 Calder Cup trophy season. Only a few years removed, this is a vastly different squad than two seasons ago, and it’s very very young.
The Pens are built with a veteran presence, and some really good goaltending. This is one series that goes the way of the Pens.
PREDICTION: Penguins in 5
Now that I’ve unveiled my picks for the first round, let me point to my winner from this conference. Although it’s a healthy defense that wins games and post season series, I like the energy exuding from the Syracuse Crunch. They just have so many weapons that it’s going to be very difficult for anyone to score more than them. I think they overcome the troubles they’ve had in the last ten games, and make a strong play to defeat the P-Bruins in the East Finals. The road will be exceedingly tough, but I like their playing angle.
PREDICTION: Syracuse Crunch, Eastern Conference Champs
NOTE: Western Conference picks coming tomorrow. I know you’re excited.