So the Calder Cup Final will be contested by the top ranked Texas Stars and the fourth seeds from the East, St. John’s IceCaps.
First a look at how both teams won their Conference finals.
St Johns got by the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in a series that swung from tight games to blowouts.
Game one saw the road team take the opening win of the series, as WBS Pens built a lead that just about lasted the distance. Tied after twenty minutes at one a piece, the Pens scored two without reply in the middle frame with St. Johns only able to reply with an early goal in the third period.
The IceCaps would bemoan not capitalising on five power play opportunities in the loss.
Game two was almost the reverse of the opening fixture, as St. Johns complied a two goal lead through forty minutes and held on despite a very late marker from WBS Pens. The Pens would waste six power plays chances with Michael Hutchinson excellent in net for the home team stopping 34 shots.
The series switched to Wilkes-Barre and St. Johns put their stamp on this series, recording a 5-0 win with all goals scored inside the opening two periods.
Hutchinson kept the door shut with 30 saves, while the goals were came from five different players with Gordon tallying assists on three. It helped that St. Johns were the first team to actually get their power play working, going two for five while WBS Pens struggles continued, misfiring on six attempts.
Game Four would see St. John’s win their third straight game of the series, with just a single goal once more splitting the two teams. Lunden’s first goal of the playoffs midway through the third period proved to be the game winner as once more special teams proved the difference. The IceCaps scoring both goals with the man advantage whilst WBS Pens once more wasted six chances and only fired 18 shots in the 2-1 defeat.
With the series on the line, WBS Pens pulled off a remarkable comeback in the third period of game five. Down 2-1 with eight minutes to play Kobasew would tie the game with his seventh of the post-season. Cue some late drama, as with 16 seconds remaining on the clock, Sil tallied his first of the playoffs to give WBS Pens the lead. An empty netter with seven seconds left would seal the victory but a cross-check from St. Johns O’Neill would lead to a line brawl with eleven penalties handed out.
There would be no game seven as St. John’s put the series to bed with another emphatic 5-0 victory.
Hutchinson made 13 saves in the first period and O’Dell fired the IceCaps into the lead on the power play late in the opening frame. The nemesis that was the power play yet again haunted WBS Pens as they failed on all five attempts. Increasing their lead to 2-0 after forty minutes, two early efforts in the third from St. John’s killed the game dead as a contest.
The Texas Stars eventually put away a Toronto team that refused to go away and took them all the way in a seven game series and even had a chance to win the decider.
Drew MacIntyre was the difference in game one as he turned aside all bar one of 50 shots to see Toronto to a 5-1 victory. The Marlies were ruthless in taking their chances in building a 3-0 lead through forty minutes, while Texas were frustrated by MacIntyre and could only capitalise on one of six power plays.
Texas would respond with another 50 shot performance in game two, leading to them levelling the series with a 6-3 victory. The Stars would come back from a goal down early and take the lead eight minutes into the middle frame. The teams would then exchange four goals in under four minutes to leave the game poised at 4-3 in favour of the home team who would tally two third period markers to clinch the win.
Texas took that momentum into Toronto and took game three to give them a 2-1 series lead.
The two sides were tied at a single goal a piece after two periods with just 28 shots fired between them.
Henderson’s first post-season goal would give the road team the advantage, and although the Marlies would tie the game, they’d allow the Stars to re-take the lead inside a minute later which they would hold onto.
You would have expected nothing less than Toronto to respond in game four and they came out with a bang. Two power play goals inside the first six minutes and another tally seven minutes into the second period put the home side up 3-0 with Spencer Abbott recording his first professional hat-trick.
Special teams proved to be the difference as Texas were held of the board on their five attempts and could muster just a solitary goal with under two minutes to play in a 4-1 reverse,
The Stars took advantage of the Marlies worst performance in the playoffs to take a 3-2 series lead back to Texas. Out shooting Toronto 33-18 but unable to once more get past the Marlies penalty kill, it took the Stars until nine minutes of the third period to get the go-ahead goal in taking a 2-1 lead. They never looked like relinquishing that in a very professional performance.
Against the expectations of many, Toronto went in to Texas and played hockey like their lives depended on it. In their best showing in this series, the Marlies built a 3-0 lead after forty minutes, but crucially had killed several penalties including a 90 second five on three. Despite allowing another four penalties in the final frame, Toronto with the yet again excellent Drew MacIntyre, only allowed Texas a single goal to take the game 3-1 and level the series at 3-3.
Game Seven swung in 51 seconds late in the second period. Toronto had taken their chances to lead 2-0 and with MacIntyre in fine form once more, it looked like an advantage they would hold into the final twenty minutes. Cue goals from Hedden and then Jeffery on the power play to level the game.
Texas have scored goals in batches all season long and this game would see the proof in that particular pudding. Six minutes into the final frame and Texas banged home two goals in a mere 17 seconds to put them within sigh of the Calder final. Toronto’s best chance to respond came on a double minor power play but Nilstorp was excellent along with his penalty kill and they held firm. Two more late markers made it a 6-2 final score, which was little justice for MacIntyre between the pipes for Toronto
I’ve firmly believed that the West has been the stronger conference this year and nothing will change my mind heading into the Calder Final. Texas has so much offensive power that no matter how good your goaltending or defense may be, they will eventually break you down, as Toronto found to their cost.
The only weak link in their chain has been the goaltending of Nilstorp at times but he’s grown in stature the last few games and was outstanding in game seven of the Toronto series.
St. Johns best chance of competing is to make their impressive home form count in the three game homestead, rely on Hutchinson between the pipes to continue his good form and hope Andrew Gordon continues to fire offensively with numbers that see him atop the scoring charts. He and O’Dell need to find a way score enough goals to stay with the Stars and the penalty kill will need to be at the 91% it currently stands at during these playoffs.
My prediction will upset St. John’s fans but I don’t see anything other than a Texas Stars win and to my mind they’ll only need the four games to lift the Calder Cup.
Game 1 – Sun., June 8 – St. John’s at Texas, 8:30
Game 2 – Mon., June 9 – St. John’s at Texas, 8:30
Game 3 – Wed., June 11 – Texas at St. John’s, 6:00
Game 4 – Mon., June 16 – Texas at St. John’s, 6:00
*Game 5 – Tue., June 17 – Texas at St. John’s, 6:00
*Game 6 – Thu., June 19 – St. John’s at Texas, 8:30
*Game 7 – Mon., June 23 – St. John’s at Texas, 8:30
All times listed are Eastern.