It’s back to a best of seven for the semi-finals and both encounters feature a team that swept and the other who were taken all the way to five games.
1-Utica Comets vs. 6-Oklahoma City Barons
Top seeds Utica were never behind in their first round series but had to win two in overtime to put out Chicago, who failed to progress for the first time in eight years.
Showing the qualities from the regular season, the Comets only allowed two goals on average per game, as once again Jacob Markstrom gave his team a chance to win.
They will face 6th seeds Oklahoma City Barons, who caused the first upset by sweeping San Antonio.
Scoring nine goals in their first two games, OKC mounted a terrific comeback in game two before clinching in overtime. Game three would also be decided in extra hockey, although in a far tighter game which saw just three goals.
The Barons relied on some familiar names to in the first round as Ryan Hamilton scored three goals, Matthew Ford registered four points and Andrew Miller three. Rookie centre man Connor Jones also chipped in with two goals.
Utica’s assist king Cal O’Reilly was back in business with seven helpers while Sven Baertschi has flourished since the trade and put up five points in just three games. His rookie partner Hunter Shinkaruk had three points and offensive defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti had a pair of goals and assists.
Brendan Gaunce could be a man to watch as after being dropped for games three and four, he put home the series winner in game five and most likely has a fire in his belly to prove the coach wrong.
Both teams had success with the man advantage, especially Oklahoma who were firing like they had done back before Christmas, tallying at 35%. Utica’s PP running at over 20% is not to be sniffed at but surprising their penalty kill gave up four goals on 25 attempts.
The two teams met just twice during the regular season. OKC claiming a 1-0 OT win at home in December and losing the reverse fixture 4-2 in March, but at a time when the Barons roster was still severely depleted.
In what will be a real clash of styles, the series will be decided by the clash between the Barons offensive power and Utica’s excellent blue line and goaltending.
I slightly favour the firepower and the experience of OKC, who will be looking to split the initial series in Utica this coming Thursday.
Prediction: OKC Barons in six
Game 1 – Thu., May 7 – Oklahoma City at Utica, 7:00
Game 2 – Fri., May 8 – Oklahoma City at Utica, 7:00
Game 3 – Mon., May 11 – Utica at Oklahoma City, 8:00
Game 4 – Wed., May 13 – Utica at Oklahoma City, 8:00
*Game 5 – Thu., May 14 – Utica at Oklahoma City, 8:00
*Game 6 – Mon., May 18 – Oklahoma City at Utica, 7:00
*Game 7 – Wed., May 20 – Oklahoma City at Utica, 7:00
2-Grand Rapids Griffins vs. 4-Rockford IceHogs
The 2013 champions and second seeds will be looking to harness home advantage in what looks an incredibly tight match-up on paper. Grand Rapids lost the two opening games to Toronto in the first round before roaring back to win every game at the Van Andel Arena to take the series in five.
In a high scoring series, it was Grand Rapids special teams that turned the balance more often than not.
In somewhat of a surprise, Rockford swept the defending Calder Cup Champions, twice scoring four goals in Texas to take the opening two games before returning home to clinch the series in overtime.
These Midwest divisional rivals finished just a point apart during the regular season (100 and 99 respectively) and in meeting eight times, split the series. The lowest scoring encounter between them during the regular season saw three goals so I think we can expect some exciting games.
Grand Rapids were bolstered with the addition of Teemu Pulkkinen and he found the twine six times as his dominance in the AHL continued. Andy Miele also put up six points while impressive rookies Andreas Athanasiou (4G/1A) and Mark Zengerle (5) both put up five points. Secondary goal scoring came in the form of Nosek, Bertuzzi and Aubry tallying two goals each.
Centreman Phillip Danault led the way for Rockford with a pair of goals and assists, while new addition Spencer Abbott put up three points, with his two goals both powerplay markers. Secondary scoring came from Brandon Mashinter, Peter Regin and two rookie defenseman in the shape of Stephen Johns and Ville Pokka, with all garnering three points in the opening round.
These two teams match-up so well in every category that it’s almost impossible to pick a winner and despite Grand Rapids impressive home record, Rockford know how to win in that building. The difference could be in goaltending, where I still don’t particularly rate Grand Rapids duo and is probably their weakest aspect. Michael Leighton was stellar in the first round for Rockford and if he keeps up a similar vein of form then that could swing this in favour of the fourth seeds.
Prediction: Rockford in six
Game 1 – Wed., May 6 – Rockford at Grand Rapids, 7:00
Game 2 – Fri., May 8 – Rockford at Grand Rapids, 7:00
Game 3 – Wed., May 13 – Grand Rapids at Rockford, 8:00
Game 4 – Thu., May 14 – Grand Rapids at Rockford, 8:00
*Game 5 – Sun., May 17 – Grand Rapids at Rockford, 5:00
*Game 6 – Tue., May 19 – Rockford at Grand Rapids, 7:00
*Game 7 – Wed., May 20 – Rockford at Grand Rapids, 7:00