The IceCaps defeated the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in six games with a decisive 5-0 blanking last Tuesday night to become Eastern Conference Champions. The Stars got past the Toronto Marlies in a series that went the distance, with Texas pounding Toronto 6-2 in Game 7 Tuesday night at Cedar Park Center.
The IceCaps and Stars have never met in the preseason, regular season or playoffs.
HOW THEY GOT HERE
The IceCaps have grown accustomed to facing unfamiliar foes. In the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, St. John’s matched up against the Albany Devils, a team it had only played four times in three seasons (all in 2012-13). The IceCaps came away with a 3-1 series victory, including a 4-1 win in Game 4 on home ice to advance to the next round.
In the Eastern Conference Semifinals, St. John’s once again faced off against an unknown opponent, the Norfolk Admirals, who were not on the IceCaps’ schedule this season. After splitting the first two games at Mile One Centre, the IceCaps stormed ahead with back-to-back wins in Norfolk before dropping Game 5 in overtime. Upon returning to St. John’s, the IceCaps took care of business in Game 6 with a 5-2 win to give the club its second conference finals appearance in three seasons.
The IceCaps met the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in the Eastern Conference Finals for what turned out to be a gruelling six-game battle. Once again, the teams split the first two games at Mile One before the IceCaps blasted the Penguins 5-0 in Game 3, followed by a tight 2-1 win in Game 4 to put Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on the brink of elimination. However, the Penguins escaped Game 5 with a 4-2 win to send the series back to St. John’s, where the IceCaps ultimately proved to be too much, winning 5-0 to end the series.
Texas enters the finals with an identical 11-5 record but with a slightly different path. The Stars swept the Oklahoma City Barons in three straight (including two overtime wins) to set up a date with the defending Calder Cup champion Grand Rapids Griffins. After splitting the first four games – with each team defending its home turf – the Stars pulled ahead with a 3-2 overtime victory on the road in Game 5 to set up a series-clinching, 7-1 thumping in Game 6.
The Stars had their hands full with a dangerous Toronto Marlies squad in the Western Conference Finals. Despite outshooting the Marlies 102-49 through the first two games in Cedar Park, the Stars managed just a split heading to Toronto for three straight. The teams would duke it out, alternating wins to set up a Game 7, where the Stars stormed back from a 2-0 deficit to score six unanswered in a 6-2 win to advance to the Calder Cup Finals.
Despite the non-existence of history between the IceCaps and Stars, several players have suited up for both teams in their AHL careers. IceCaps goaltender Tyler Beskorowany spent parts of two seasons with Texas from 2010-2012, playing in 51 games for a 17-27-1 record. In 2010-11, his rookie season, Beskorowany went 7-8-1 with a 2.58 GAA and a .921 SV%.
Stars defenceman Derek Meech is familiar to IceCaps fans, having played 52 regular season games with St. John’s in 2011-12 and 2012-13 and earning an All-Star nod in 2013. However, Meech is best remembered for his clutch play in the 2011-12 Calder Cup Playoffs, where he recorded nine points (4G, 5A) in 15 games. Two of his four goals were game-winners, including the series-clinching tally in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Syracuse Crunch at Mile One Centre.
There’s also a familial connection between the clubs. IceCaps winger Carl Klingberg and Stars defenceman John Klingberg are brothers, hailing from Gothenburg, Sweden. While Carl has been a fixture for the IceCaps for three seasons (he holds the regular season franchise record for games played with 197), John has been honing his craft in the Swedish Hockey League, where he played 50 games for Frolunda in 2013-14 before joining Texas at the end of the season. John, the younger of the two by a year, is currently not with the team after sustaining a season-ending injury.
Michael Hutchinson has posted fantastic numbers through three rounds of the Calder Cup playoffs. Hutchinson ranks first in wins (11) and shutouts (3), and second in GAA (1.61), SV% (.946) and saves (459).
For the Stars, Cristopher Nilstorp has handled the bulk of the duties, going 9-4 in 14 games with a 2.14 GAA and .914 SV%. Jack Campbell has played in four games, posting a 2-1 record with a 2.54 GAA and .917 SV% before going down with an injury in the second round.
The IceCaps and Stars are close in terms of power play efficiency this postseason. St. John’s (16.9%) ranks 10th overall, while Texas (16.7%) ranks 11th. In the regular season, the IceCaps finished 13th with the man advantage (18.1%) while the Stars topped the league, scoring once every four opportunities (25.3%).
Texas also boasted a top-three unit on the penalty kill, finishing the regular season third overall (86.4%). St. John’s had the ninth-best penalty kill at 83.5%. In the playoffs, the clubs have nearly flipped. After going a perfect 32-for-32 in the Eastern Conference Finals, the IceCaps have the postseason’s top penalty killing unit (91.0%). The Stars sit ninth at 82.5%.
F Andrew Gordon leads all skaters with 16 points in the playoffs (8G, 8A). His eight goals are one off the league lead shared by his teammate, F Eric O’Dell, and the Bruins’ Alexander Khokhlachev. Entering the series, D Will O’Neill has a seven-game assist streak on the road, and his 11 assists overall are first among defencemen and tied with the Stars’ Travis Morin for tops among all skaters.
The Stars’ F Mike Hedden is fourth in scoring with 15 points (6G, 9A) and notched a goal and two assists in Texas’ Game 7 win over Toronto. Morin is fifth in scoring, also with 15 points (4G, 11A), but has just one assist in his last four games. F Justin Dowling, who missed seven games due to injury, returned to the lineup in Game 7 of the conference finals and posted a goal and two helpers, giving him 11 points (4G, 7A) in just nine games.
The IceCaps have scored first in 14-of-16 games this postseason, going 11-3 in those contests. Texas has opened the scoring just five times in 16 games, winning four of those. In all other games, the Stars are 7-4.
The IceCaps are 7-1 when leading after one period and 9-1 when leading after two.