The Calder Cup playoffs begin in just a few short days, in case your were unaware. Yesterday I gave my rundown of the Eastern Conference side of the equation, and I picked the Syracuse Crunch to basically out score everyone on the planet, including the Providence Bruins (slight exaggeration)
Today the Western Conference is up, and this one will likely have me torn. It’s difficult to remove your team from your mental forefront having watched them under the microscope for 70+ games, but I find the opposite to be true in my brain – I’m highly critical of the team I follow, and perhaps a bit to a fault. After all, I know their ugly side as well as anyone. So the balancing act is delicate, but I’ll give it a whirl.
Texas Stars (1) vs. Milwaukee Admirals (8)
It’s the best versus the barely. It’s the south versus the midwest. The Milwaukee Admirals, in their eleventh straight post season berth, face off against the Texas Stars who’ve had a roller coaster existence since their inception in Cedar Park only four years ago. These two teams have only met twice in the 2012-13 season, and Texas owned them both. But keep in mind, the unbalanced nature of the AHL season uncovers that those two games happened nearly five months ago. So many things have changed since then that it’s hard to get a grasp on a head-to-head matchup.
Winning in Peoria to make the playoffs, the Ads will struggle with call-ups to parent club Nashville, and that hurts. For the Stars, they might get a few more faces in the wake of the Dallas Stars losing to the San Jose Sharks last night. Regardless, Milwaukee has won four straight while the Stars have lost two in a row.
I think we’ll find that the Stars are just too tough on both ends of the ice, and the Admirals get stung by the lack of NHL talent.
PREDICTION: Texas in 4
Toronto Marlies (2) vs. Rochester Americans (7)
A rematch of last season’s opening round, the Marlies and Amerks are an interesting two-some. But things are slightly different this go round, and that favors the Amerks. The Leafs are in the playoffs the Sabres are not. That means the Americans won’t have to deal with the likes of Nazem Kadri or anyone that might be a thorn in the side. But that doesn’t discount the Marlies one bit, they were and still are the dominate team.
9-1 is the mark for Toronto over Rochester this season. The only win was a lopsided affair on February 1st when the Amerks won 5-1. Outside of that – total domination.
Rochester is a very capable team on the rush, and on the power play. The Marlies are just deeper, and that’s troublesome of you’re a fan of the Amerks.
PREDICTION: Toronto in 3
Grand Rapids Griffins (3) vs. Houston Aeros (6)
Head to head, the problems that the Aeros hand over to the Griffins are quite simple. Houston plays a system that is defensively strong, and offensively sneaky. For GR that’s not been too difficult a thing to overcome as they’ve taken four of the six during the season series.
Houston, who’ll no longer exist as an AHL franchise in that city after the playoffs have ended, will be looking to make themselves a heavy presence in the post season. And they are fully capable of doing just that.
Grand Rapids will focus on what they do best, and that’s diligent, but smash mouth hockey. Each team is highly skilled, well coached, and confident. But the more naturally gifted team wins in this one, despite the Aeros willingness to make a run for their fans.
PREDICTION: Grand Rapids in 5
Charlotte Checkers (4) vs. Oklahoma City Barons (5)
The Barons had to string together some serious winning potential to round out a season of amazing ebbs and flows. Likewise, Charlotte has had a pretty up and down season, and in terms of roster spots, they’ve seen many a face come and go.
These teams have always matched up well, and that includes this season. Four wins and four losses for both teams in 2012-2013 including two strange games where the Checkers scored seven on the Barons and the Barons turned around and scored seven on the Checkers. They are just two very evenly matched teams, and that makes it difficult to apprehend a feeling either way.
In the end, it’s about the goaltender that steals the games. Yann Danis has been a solid presence since returning from Edmonton not long ago. Murphy, Muse, and Madore will probably share the load with the bulk of those games going to the one who simply is playing better at the moment. Their young, and that’s tough. When you’re facing a Danis vs. Hovinen, with a wealth of experience, the goings get tough.
PREDICTION: Oklahoma City in 5
When the moment comes for a team to win the West, you have to look at the full package of each team, and decipher who can withstand a five game series followed by the long stretch following that.
Grand Rapids and Texas will make things messy for others, and Oklahoma City might be the dark horse. However, the one that seems the most primed to win out is the Toronto Marlies. They’ve impressed me at a distance for much of the season, and they did so again when the Barons played them in the last moments of the regular season. Despite not having important pieces because of the Maple Leafs’ playoff run, I still think the Marlies have the most impressive back-and-forth game with a solid vet presence.
PREDICTION: Toronto Marlies, Western Conference Champs