If the Eastern Conference provided unpredictability in the first round, then the West went by the book as the top four seeds all progressed to the semi-finals.
As far as my predictions in the quarterfinals fared, I went three from four although I did call the correct length of the Chicago/Rochester as it went to five games.
(1) Texas Stars 3 v 0 Oklahoma City Barons (8)
(2) Chicago Wolves 3 v 2 Rochester Americans (7)
(3) Toronto Marlies 3 v 0 Milwaukee Admirals (6)
(4) Grand Rapids Griffins 3 v 1 Abbotsford Heat (5)
Texas Stars vs. Grand Rapids Griffins
The mouth waters at this tie as the two powerhouses of the Western Conference will do battle.
Texas swept Oklahoma in the first round but it was far from one way traffic.
They trailed in the first two games before prevailing in overtime, 3-2 in both.
Game three wasn’t all plain sailing either as they blew a two goal lead before roaring back in the last ten minutes to secure the series victory.
Justin Dowling and Travis Morin led the scoring for the Stars but it was very much a team effort with eight players registering at least two points.
Jack Campbell and Cristopher Nilstorp shared the goaltending duties with the latter receiving the extra start. It’s a nice problem to have as both have played very well this season and continued that form into the post season.
Grand Rapids took out the Abbotsford Heat 3-1 in a series which seemed to hinge on the first game.
A loss in a second period of overtime seemed to affect the Heat as the Griffins blew seven past them in game to bring a two nothing series lead back to Michigan. Game three looked set for more overtime until Abbotsford won the game with a minute to play and they took the lead early in game four. The Griffins roared back and although they were pegged back once, they just had too much offense for Abbotsford to handle in the end. Rookie Teemu Pulkkinen led the way in scoring but again it was a team effort as six players registered four points or more.
As he did during the 2013 Calder Cup winning campaign, Petr Mrazek played every game of the series and was yet again at his brilliant best. The goaltending battle between him and the Texas duo is as fascinating a duel as the rest of the match-ups in this series.
Both teams have been able to rely on extra bodies as both their NHL affiliates are now eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Dustin Jeffrey, Chris Mueller, Patrik Nemeth and Ludwig Bystrom(from Farjestad BK) have been added to the Texas ranks while Xavier Ouellet, Jake Paterson, Tomas Jurco and Riley Sheahan have joined Grand Rapids.
The two teams have never met before in the post season but the four game series during this regular season was certainly interesting. They shared a total of thirty goals with Grand Rapids coming out with three victories. Both teams have incredibly high powered offense and fantastic goaltending so trying to get a handle on this series feels incredibly difficult, though I have a feeling it’ll need seven games to split them. Perhaps last years experience of winning the Calder Cup may see the Griffins through
Prediction: Grand Rapids Griffins in 7.
Game 1 – Thu., May 8 – Grand Rapids at Texas, 8:30
Game 2 – Sat., May 10 – Grand Rapids at Texas, 8:00
Game 3 – Tue., May 13 – Texas at Grand Rapids, 7:00
Game 4 – Wed., May 14 – Texas at Grand Rapids, 7:00
*Game 5 – Fri., May 16 – Texas at Grand Rapids, 7:00
*Game 6 – Sun., May 18 – Grand Rapids at Texas, 8:00
*Game 7 – Mon., May 19 – Grand Rapids at Texas, 8:30
Chicago Wolves vs. Toronto Marlies
Chicago overcame the Rochester Americans in the quarterfinals, but they were pushed all the way as the series went to a game five decider as the Amerks kept coming back at them.
The first two games were split by a single goal, with Chicago’s win coming in overtime.
Rochester were then shutout in game three and looked to be spent force. Wasn’t to be the case however as they roared back in game five, beating Jake Allen five times in 35 minutes in a 7-2 victory.
Chicago regrouped for the eliminator game and despite allowing Rochester to take a 2-1 lead early in the second period, they hit three goals without reply to see them through.
Russian rookie Dmitrij Jaskin lead the way in scoring for the Wolves and he was backed up by Brent Regner and Marlies old boy Keith Aucoin. Those three players tallied five power play goals between them as Chicago were at 26% in that department during the first round. That’s certainly an improvement from the regular season where Chicago’s PP was ranked 30th.
On the flipside, Chicago’s penalty kill barely registered above 70% although they did score two short-handed goals.
Their goaltender Jake Allen was basically the team’s MVP during the regular season as he lead the league in every department except saves, where he was second best and in shootouts.
His form in the Rochester series wasn’t as stellar however as despite a shutout in game three, he allowed 13 goals the rest of the series, and was pulled after allowing five goals on thirteen shots in game four.
Chicago have recently been able to call upon reinforcements in the form of Adam Cracknell from St. Louis Blues while Brett Ponich, Eric Kattelus, Jordan Binnington and Yannick Veilleux have been resigned from the ECHL. Hungarian born defenseman Gergo Nagy has been added from CHL team Quad City.
Toronto were only the second team to sweep their opponents as they stamped their authority on the Milwaukee Admirals. Breaking out offensively, they were able to take the lead in the first two games of the series and totalled eleven goals while restricting the admirals to a pair of markers in response on both occasions. With their backs against the wall, Milwaukee were the better team in Toronto’s backyard but their inability to find a way past MacIntyre was to haunt them as the Marlies took the lead on the power play and never looked back as they shutout the Admirals to clinch the series.
Toronto’s power play was on a par with Chicago’s during the first series but it’s on the penalty kill where the difference lay as the Marlies allowed just a single goal while shorthanded fifteen times.
Jerry D’Amigo and captain Trevor Smith led the way offensively with six and five points respectively with secondary scoring from rookies Carrick and Leivo.
As I predicted, Drew MacIntyre won his goaltending duo with Milwaukee rookie Mazanec.
Jake Allen is far more experienced then Mazanec but not so much in the playoffs, so although it’s a cliché the duel between the pipes will prove huge as to which way this series swings.
Toronto were able to avoid injuries in the first round and activate Carter Ashton and Andrew MacWilliam in game three. Peter Holland and AHL All-Star Spencer Abbott should also be fit and raring to go with another week of recovery time under their belts and Game one not until this Friday.
The two teams split the regular season series at one a piece, with both wins coming on the road, Toronto’s in overtime. Of the eight goals scored in those two games, seven were on the power play which shows how crucial the special teams may be and how closely the sides are matched.
If Toronto can find a way to score regularly, then they will have the edge on a Chicago team who aren’t always full of goals. With their best players coming back, the Marlies will have far more options and could dress three lines of players who will constantly threaten offensively and with that in mind I’ll think they’ll come through this round.
Prediction: Toronto Marlies in 5.
Game 1 – Fri., May 9 – Toronto at Chicago, 8:30
Game 2 – Sat., May 10 – Toronto at Chicago, 8:00
Game 3 – Wed., May 14 – Chicago at Toronto, 7:00
Game 4 – Fri., May 16 – Chicago at Toronto, 7:00
*Game 5 – Sat., May 17 – Chicago at Toronto, 7:00
*Game 6 – Mon., May 19 – Toronto at Chicago, 8:00
*Game 7 – Wed., May 21 – Toronto at Chicago, 8:00
All times listed are Eastern