And then there were four.
The conference semi-finals provided one sweep, two series going to six games and the other decided in a game seven eliminator.
My predictions went a little better in this round as I was 3-4 and even managed to call the right length of the W-B/Scranton Penguins /Providence Bruins series which was decided in seven.
(1) Texas Stars 4 v 2 Grand Rapids Griffins (4)
(2) Chicago Wolves 0 v 4 Toronto Marlies (3)
(4) St. Johns Ice Caps 4 v 2 Norfolk Admirals (8)
(6) W-B/Scranton Penguins 4 v 3 Providence Bruins (7)
Texas Stars v Toronto Marlies – Western Conference Final
The Texas Stars made it to the conference final by beating the Calder Cup Champions, Grand Rapids Griffins. Home ice was the key in the series with the first four games of the series being won with that advantage. Game five proved the turning point as Texas won through 3-2 in overtime in Michigan before returning home to stomp the Griffins 7-1 and take the series.
The Toronto Marlies are the only unbeaten team left in the post-season as they swept past the Chicago Wolves in round two.
The secret to winning in Chicago was getting ahead early and holding on despite pressure from the home side.
Chicago fought back in game three in Toronto and forced overtime, although they would count themselves a little unlucky not to win in regulation. The turning point of the series took just three minutes in the extra frame as D’Amigo scored the game winner to put the dagger into Chicago hearts.
The sweep was completed with Toronto shutting out the potent Wolves offense in a 4-0 win.
The first two games of the series, both in Texas, will likely be pivotal as the immovable object of Marlies unbeaten record, meets the irresistible force of the Stars home record.
Texas are unbeaten at home in four games and have put twenty goals past their opponents and how to stop their highly skilled offensive players will be vital if Toronto are to have any success.
Toronto has scored the opening goal in every game and not once played from behind. Texas have shown they excel when front running, so that will be a crucial battle.
Perhaps the biggest battle though will be between the pipes where Toronto’s Drew MacIntyre will duel against likely Texas starter Cristopher Nilstorp. Nilstorp has a 5-1 record and stats of 1.68GA/0.934SV%, while MacIntyre has all seven of the Marlies victories and stats of 1.56GAA and 0.949SV%.
The special teams are pretty evenly matched with the Marlies only having a small advantage in both departments. Perhaps the more pertinent statistic is that the Texas have only allowed opponents three power plays on average per game. That undoubtedly put extra pressure on an opposition and doubtless the Marlies are very aware they’ll have to take advantage of the chances presented to them.
Unfortunately my heart is vested too much in this series for me to make a sensible prediction with my head. It should be a fascinating battle between these two teams who split their regular season meetings at two a piece.
Game 1 Fri., May 23 Toronto at Texas, 8:30 ET
Game 2 Mon., May 26 Toronto at Texas, 8:30 ET
Game 3 Wed., May 28 Texas at Toronto, 7:00 ET
Game 4 Thu., May 29 Texas at Toronto, 7:00 ET
*Game 5 Sat., May 31 Texas at Toronto, 3:00 ET
*Game 6 Mon., June 2 Toronto at Texas, 8:30 ET
*Game 7 Tue., June 3 Toronto at Texas, 8:30 ET
St. Johns Ice Caps v W-B/Scranton Penguins – Eastern Conference Final
St John’s edged past a persistent Norfolk team, who had shocked the East by taking out top seeds Manchester in the first round. With the opening two games split in Newfoundland, Norfolk gained home advantage, but not for long. St John’s capped a comeback in game three with a third period four goal blast. Game four also went the Ice Caps way as another four goal blast, this time inside the first 25 minutes, put Norfolk on the brink. An overtime win by the Admirals meant a game six back in St. .Johns, but once more Norfolk, without the services of John Gibson, were unable to stop the power Ice Caps offense as they sealed the series with a 5-2 victory.
St. John’s opponents shall be W-B/Scranton Penguins , who came out on top of the Providence Bruins in a topsy-turvy seven game series. The first two games were blowouts with Providence shutout out the Pens 4-0 and then being blasted 6-1 the following even as WBS got their offense rolling.
Games three and four both went to double overtime and once more the teams split those to leave the series tied at two. WBS would take a 3-2 series lead but Providence would ensure a game seven with a fine 4-1 victory on the road. The eliminator game almost deserves an article of it’s own as drama ensued after a scoreless first period. WBS would strike for five second period goals inside of six minutes including a solo effort from Gibbons straight from a face-off, that is possibly the best goal I’ve seen this season. You would think at that point the series was as good as done. Providence had other idea’s and a short handed goal in the last minute of the middle frame started the ball rolling. By the time the clock read ten minutes to play, Providence had pulled within a single goal much to the horror of the home fans. WBS would hang on despite a late power play for the Bruins, for their second consecutive appearance in the Eastern Conference final.
One thing these two teams have in common coming into this Eastern Conference final is they’ve both allowed as many power play goals as they’ve scored.
Special teams have been an issue for WBS with their PP running at 18.5% and a penalty kill allowing a goal at a rate of one in four. St. John’s have almost the opposite problem with their PP down at just 14% but a penalty kill up at almost 85%.
Both teams have excellent home records and are almost scoring at the exact same ratio.
You get the feeling these teams are very well matched so perhaps the difference may come between the pipes.
Micheal Hutchinson has taken the net for all ten of the Ice Caps games in the post-season and is one of only five goaltender to have a GAA under two. He’s a shutout to boot and stopped 285 of the 303 shots (second highest in post-season) faced.
Peter Mannino has also been an ever present, taking the start for eleven playoff games for WBS.
With his team involved in some high scoring affairs, Mannino’s statistics look nowhere near as nice with 30 goals against and a save percentage scrapping the low 900’s
During the regular season, WBS Pens had a hold on the Ice Caps, as they won all four encounters, with just the solitary point for St. Johns in an overtime loss.
The teams have met once in the playoffs, back in 2012 when it was St. Johns who came out best in a series that went all the way to seven games.
The two teams have almost swapped identity from the regular season until now, as WBS have gone from being a solidly defensive team that wins by the odd goal, to a team that just seems to try and outscore their opponents.
I would not be surprised at any score in this series with both teams seemingly having a penchant for being unpredictable. I’ll take the Ice Caps with home advantage to win in six games.
Game 1 – Sat., May 24 – W-B/Scranton at St. John’s, 6:00
Game 2 – Sun., May 25 – W-B/Scranton at St. John’s, 6:00
Game 3 – Wed., May 28 – St. John’s at W-B/Scranton, 7:05
Game 4 – Thu., May 29 – St. John’s at W-B/Scranton, 7:05
*Game 5 – Sat., May 31 – St. John’s at W-B/Scranton, 7:05
*Game 6 – Tue., June 3 – W-B/Scranton at St. John’s, 6:00
*Game 7 – Wed., June 4 – W-B/Scranton at St. John’s, 6:00