The 2015 Calder Cup playoffs are here and there is no better time of the year.
The Western Conference Quarterfinal’s will be contested by five of the teams that fought it out last year, including the current holders, Texas Stars.
The first round is a best of five, with the higher seed choosing which way they would like to have their home advantage.
Interestingly on this occasion, each lower seed will begin with two home games before the series switches to the arena of the higher seed for a possible three games. I wonder how many higher seeds may regret that decision if they trail 2-0 heading back home.
1-Utica Comets vs. 8-Chicago Wolves
This is the match-up of the young upstarts against the old hands, with Utica’s first shot at the playoffs in their second season of existence, while
Chicago are looking to repeat their 2008 Calder Cup victory.
The two sides faced four times during the regular season and although Utica won convincingly in the last encounter, it’s Chicago who held sway with three victories(one in OT).
Utica led the North Division from the get-go but only reached the pinnacle of the Western Conference with a terrific late run of form which saw them finish 13-1-1-1.
Chicago never reached the heights of last season when they finished second in the league and only really cemented a playoff berth with a seven game win streak at the end of march into early April.
Both teams are equally matched as regards special teams and perhaps the biggest key to this series is who get’s their nose in front.
Through the regular season, both teams records winning leading after the first and second period were extremely impressive and frankly frightening.
If Utica do hold an edge, it’s probably in net where they can call on the services of Jacob Markstrom, who is back from Vancouver with Ryan Miller now fit.
The Comets hold the second best defensive record in the West and it’s likely to be crucial to any success they are likely to have. Chicago’s road record this season is actually better than form at home and being the 8th seed, this may actually help them.
A tough series to weigh up, as they all are, I’m slightly favouring Utica.
Prediction: Utica to win in five
Game 1 – Wed., Apr. 22 – Utica at Chicago, 8:00
Game 2 – Fri., Apr. 24 – Utica at Chicago, 8:00
Game 3 – Wed., Apr. 29 – Chicago at Utica, 7:00
*Game 4 – Fri., May 1 – Chicago at Utica, 7:00
*Game 5 – Sat., May 2 – Chicago at Utica, 7:00
2-Grand Rapids Griffins vs. 7-Toronto Marlies
Grand Rapids catapulted themselves to the Midwest Division title with a quite incredible 19 game point streak. Up until that point, they were a team on the fringes of the playoffs, as call-ups and injuries had taken their toll.
The Griffins were the highest scorers in the entire league during regulation play but will be missing leading goalscorer Teemu Pulkkinen in this opening round. Also missing will be Landon Ferraro and netminder Petr Mrazek, both were mainstays during the Griffins Calder Cup victory in 2013.
Grand Rapids held sway with Toronto during the four encounters in the regular season and blasted 19 goals in winning three games.
They weren’t all one sided affairs as the scoreline may suggest and Toronto are the team on the up. The Marlies were rock bottom of the Western Conference on December 1, but clawed their way back with some excellent even strength play, clinching a playoff berth with two games to spare.
The special teams battle will be a critical one as far as the seventh seeds are concerned, as they struggled with both aspects throughout the entire season.
Toronto have now reached the playoffs for four straight seasons and in each of the last three campaigns they’ve only lost to the eventual champions, including Grand Rapids in 2013. The Griffins fell short of defending their championship by losing to champions elect Texas last year and will be hungry to regain the title.
This series will ultimately come down to how well Toronto defend and if they can rely on the excellent goaltending they’ve had this season.
My loyalties are obviously towards Toronto but I have a feeling that the Marlies may well pull this out the bag, with confidence high after a seven game win streak to end the season.
Prediction: Toronto in four
Game 1 – Sat., Apr. 25 – Grand Rapids at Toronto, 3:00
Game 2 – Sun., Apr. 26 – Grand Rapids at Toronto, 3:00
Game 3 – Wed., Apr. 29 – Toronto at Grand Rapids, 7:00
*Game 4 – Sat., May 2 – Toronto at Grand Rapids, 7:00
*Game 5 – Sun., May 3 – Toronto at Grand Rapids, 5:00
3-San Antonio Rampage vs. 6-Oklahoma City Barons
San Antonio are back in the playoffs after two barren seasons, where they played well below .500 hockey. The second highest scorers in the conference may well have been the number one seeds had they not finished with a 0-2-2-0 record but I don’t think they’ll be too upset at facing OKC in the first round.
The two teams have met twelve times already this season and despite half of those games being decided in overtime or the shootout, the Rampage hold a 9-1-0-2 record against their opponents.
The last time San Antonio made the post season, they faced OKC in the second round but fell by four games to one, and that’s the furthest they’ve ever been in the quest for the Calder Cup.
This is the farewell tour for Oklahoma City Barons, as they will cease to be no more after this post season. In their four years of existence they’ve made the playoffs on every occasion and reached the conference finals twice. OKC rather fell into a playoff spot, no doubt thankful for an impressive start to the season which saw them leading the standards for a long time.
Injuries and call-ups left them with a bare a roster as you can imagine, even at one point having to sign Brampton Beast (CHL) players on PTO’s to play a game in Toronto. For the playoffs they will have some reinforcements back and some of their injury worries have been lessened.
OKC have excellent special teams which should give them a chance to compete but I imagine this to be a very high scoring series between two side that have lots of goals in them.
My heart says OKC, my head goes for San Antonio.
Prediction: San Antonio in five
Game 1 – Thu., Apr. 23 – San Antonio at Oklahoma City, 8:00
Game 2 – Sat., Apr. 25 – San Antonio at Oklahoma City, 8:00
Game 3 – Wed., Apr. 29 – Oklahoma City at San Antonio, 8:00
*Game 4 – Fri., May 1 – Oklahoma City at San Antonio, 8:30
*Game 5 – Sat., May 2 – Oklahoma City at San Antonio, 8:00
4-Rockford IceHogs vs. 5-Texas Stars
Rockford are back in the playoffs after four barren seasons. Before that they had made the playoffs for three straights year but never progressed beyond the second round, where ironically is the last time they played Texas, losing the series 4-0.
The IceHogs hold the best defensive record in the Western Conference, which will doubtless be tested by a potent Texas offense.
Rockford held sway during regular season meetings between the two teams, winning all four games, though three were decided by a solitary goal. With Chicago looking good in the NHL playoffs, there will be no goaltending help in the form of Scott Darling, while Texas will have a full roster to choose from with Dallas eliminated. Rockford score by committee and will doubtless hope recent addition Spencer Abbott keeps up his incredible scoring rate since his arrival late in the season.
Texas Stars are the reigning Calder Cup Champions and will be looking to made their third finals appearance in just six years of existence.
they still have players from last seasons successful campaign, including Maxime Fortunus and that experience will be their biggest asset. Texas will rely on Travis Morin to lead the offense and it’s likely that Jussi Rynnas will start between the pipes. Texas had to push relatively hard to make the post season towards the backend of the season, but an 11-3 stretch for four weeks from mid March
saw them clinch fifth spot.
I believe that holding sway through the regular season and home advantage(24-9-4-1 during reg season) will favour Rockford as they eliminate the champs.
Prediction: Rockford in four
Game 1 – Fri., Apr. 24 – Rockford at Texas, 8:30
Game 2 – Sat., Apr. 25 – Rockford at Texas, 8:00
Game 3 – Wed., Apr. 29 – Texas at Rockford, 8:00
*Game 4 – Fri., May 1 – Texas at Rockford, 8:00
*Game 5 – Sat., May 2 – Texas at Rockford, 8:00