After knocking off the Norfolk Admirals in six games, a rested St. John’s IceCaps team will face the sixth-seeded Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in the Eastern Conference Finals beginning Saturday, May 24 at Mile One Centre.
The IceCaps defeated the Admirals 5-2 in Game 6 on May 16 to advance to their second conference finals in three seasons. The Penguins, meanwhile, escaped with a 4-3 series victory over the Providence Bruins after a close 5-4 triumph in Game 7 on Wednesday, May 21. This marks the second consecutive conference finals appearance for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, which lost in five games to the Syracuse Crunch last season.
Unlike the IceCaps’ first two opponents in the 2014 Calder Cup playoffs, the Penguins are somewhat of a familiar foe. St. John’s and W-B/Scranton met four times in the regular season, splitting the season series. The IceCaps edged the Penguins 2-1 on Nov. 22 at Mohegan Sun Arena before falling 5-2 the following night. Just two weeks later, the teams met at Mile One Centre for a two-game series, which saw the IceCaps take game one 5-0 before being shut out 3-0 a day later. All-time in the regular season, St. John’s owns a 4-6-2-0 mark versus W-B/Scranton (1-3-2-0 at home).
The teams also have a playoff history, having met in the Eastern Conference Semifinals in 2012. That series went the distance, with the IceCaps winning 3-2 in Game 7 on home ice to advance. After splitting the first two games at Mile One, the clubs traded blows in three straight overtime games at Mohegan Sun Arena.
One of the subplots of the series will be the return of former IceCaps Spencer Machacek and Peter Mannino, who were members of the opening night roster in October 2011.
Machacek played nearly two full seasons with St. John’s, suiting up in 118 games and collecting 75 points (29G, 46A) and 93 penalty minutes. The Lethbridge, AB native led St. John’s in scoring in 2011-12 with 50 points (18G, 32A) while chipping in seven assists in 11 playoff games. In March of 2013, Machacek was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets (Springfield Falcons) for winger Tomas Kubalik. Machacek split this past season with Springfield (34GP, 9G, 10A) and W-B/Scranton (22GP, 10G, 4A) and has played seven playoff games for the Penguins, registering a pair of helpers.
Mannino played just 10 games for the IceCaps in 2011-12 before being re-assigned in January of 2012. In that time, Mannino went 4-5-0 with a 2.77 GAA, .909 SV% and one shutout, the first in franchise history on Oct. 8, 2011 at Manchester, a 1-0 win.
Michael Hutchinson continued to roll in the conference semifinals, posting a 1.94 GAA and .933 SV% in six games. For the playoffs, Hutchinson is 7-3 with a 1.77 GAA and .941 SV%. He ranks fifth in the AHL in GAA and third in SV%.
For the Penguins, Mannino was spectacular down the stretch, finishing the season with an 11-4-1 record, 1.56 GAA and .932 SV%. The veteran has cooled a bit in the post season, posting a 2.51 GAA and .901 SV% in 11 games. In the Penguins’ second round series versus Providence, Mannino recorded a 2.80 GAA and .893 SV% in seven games. His .901 SV% in the playoffs ranks 14th out of 19 goaltenders.
During the regular season, the IceCaps finished third in goals for (3.39 per game) while the Penguins finished 1st in goals against (2.43 per game). The postseason thus far has seen the teams flip: St. John’s has allowed just 19 goals in 10 games, good for third overall, while the Penguins have scored 36 times in 11 contests, fourth-best in the league.
The IceCaps power play had a rough start this postseason but appears to have turned a corner of late. While St. John’s ranks just 12th of 16 teams (and last among the four remaining squads), it has gone 5-for-26 (19.2%) over its last five games, scoring at least once in four-of-five. After starting the playoffs by allowing four goals on 11 chances on the penalty kill, St. John’s is 32-of-35 (91.4%) and currently sits seventh overall (84.8%).
The Penguins’ power play unit ranks 10th in the playoffs and third out of the four teams remaining. W-B/Scranton was afforded 31 man advantages in round two versus Providence and converted on seven of those chances (22.6%). Despite allowing the fewest goals of any AHL team in the regular season, the Penguins penalty killing unit ranked just 13th overall (83.1%) and has struggled in the playoffs, allowing a power play goal almost once every four times shorthanded (76.1% kill rate), the worst of the four remaining teams.
F Eric O’Dell is riding a league-high four-game goal streak and has six goals during that span. His seven goals are tied for second overall with Texas Stars rookie Brendan Ranford. O’Dell has scored first in three of the IceCaps’ 10 games.
Penguins rookie F Conor Sheary had five goals and three assists in the last series, collecting all eight points in the final six games. He has scored in two straight and three-of-four.
The IceCaps have scored first in all but one game this postseason. In those nine contests, St. John’s is 7-2. The Penguins have just two wins in five tries when their opponent gets on the board first.
When outshooting the opposition, the IceCaps are 5-2. W-B/Scranton is just 2-3 when being outshot.
HEAD-TO-HEAD REGULAR SEASON LEADERS
St. John’s: Carl Klingberg (4GP, 2-1-3) | Eric O’Dell (3GP, 2-1-3) | Eddie Pasquale (2-2-0, 2.02 GAA)
W-B/Scranton: Bobby Farnham (3GP, 2-2-4) | Brendan Mikkelson (4GP, 0-4-4) | Jeff Deslauriers (1-1-0, 1.01 GAA)