And then there was only two.
The Calder Cup Playoff Finals is now set between two teams everlasting the furlongs of a grinding post season in which the St. John’s IceCaps and Texas Stars go for the crown jewel competing in the 78th AHL season in spelling champions. This will be a matter of first’s as neither team has won it all before but both have been so close in recent seasons. The Eastern Conference looks to take the Cup back after their four-year consecutive run was disrupted by the Western Conference Grand Rapids Griffins last season, but their comrade’s on the Western side look to make it back to back wins in keeping the title.
#4 St. John’s IceCaps
The Eastern Conference winning IceCaps have defeated the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins four games to two much to the delight of the B-Sens fans as their first round elimination still stings but perhaps a bit less seeing the Pens getting ousted yet again and remaining Cup-less. IceCaps rode netminder Michael Hutchinson in all 16 wins so far as he has posted a 11-5 record, 1.61 GAA with a 0.946 SV% with three shutouts this post season, two against the Pens including Tuesday’s 5-0 clincher.
Veteran forward Andrew Gordon leads all active scorers with 8g, 8a along with Eric O’Delll (9g, 2a), and defenseman Will O’Neill (2g, 11a) has put up some decent numbers despite him missing the last contest over WBS in serving out a one game suspension. Hometown Captain Jason Jaffray, who also served as captain on the AHL All-Star Classic earlier in February, was the shootout hero in the 18-17 victory over Sweden’s Farjestad BK, has four goals and six helpers in the playoffs in guiding his club to the Finals. The former Manitoba Moose expansion team is seeking their first Calder in their three-year existence at St. John’s while coming close in 2012 losing to eventual winner’s Norfolk Admirals.
#1 Texas Stars
The Western Conference Champions got equal results going the distance for the conference title defeating the Toronto Marlies in seven games to advance for the second time in their five-year history. Veteran goaltender Cristopher Nilstorp, (9-4, 2.14 GAA, 0.914 SV%) filling in for injured prospect Jack Campbell, stopped only 27 Toronto shots in the decisive winner Tuesday night in Texas as the Stars recorded 50 shots to be officially the last team in.
Texas is loaded with firepower led by Travis Morin’s 4 goals and 11 assists this post season, also forward Mike Hedden (6g 9a), along with veteran D-man Derek Meech (3g 8a) as the team collectively had the overall best regular season record in the AHL finishing with 106 points, one better than Manchester. Their 274 goals was two off front leading Binghamton and this club looks hungry in returning to the Finals after having lost to Hershey in 2010 four games to two. The one draw back seems to be placed on the special teams as the Stars power play, which is currently at 16.2%, is going to be a challenge to the IceCaps top ranked penalty kill which is number one in the playoffs at 90.4%. That might play a crucial role in deciding who’ll end up on top.
St. John’s in 6.
Goaltending helps wins games and they have it in a one hot glove of Hutchinson. Besides, this is their season to remember as first the hosts of the 2014 AHL All-Star Classic, and now the Calder Cup Finals. Ah, life on ‘The Rock’ is all good these days at Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada.
~Cover Graphic Art Courtesy of Matt Trayling