The American Hockey League needed overtime on the final night of the regular season to finally settle its 16-team Calder Cup Playoff field.
A new champion is on tap this spring after the Charlotte Checkers eliminated the defending Calder Cup champion Cleveland Monsters from playoff contention despite Cleveland winning 13 of its final 16 games.
The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins also waited until the final night of the regular season before clinching the Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy as the AHL regular-season champion. The only team to win 50 games (51-20-3-2), Wilkes-Barre/Scranton had a .704 points percentage. The San Jose Barracuda (43-16-4-5) won the Western Conference with a .699 points percentage.
Here is a breakdown of each series:
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (1) vs. Providence Bruins (4)
A key question will be if -- and when -- Providence can add defenseman Tommy Cross, the team captain on emergency recall to the Boston Bruins. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton is missing goaltender Tristan Jarry and forward Josh Archibald, each on recall with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Providence will go with goaltender Zane McIntyre while Wilkes-Barre/Scranton has Casey DeSmith. Can Providence can impose its grinding style?
Lehigh Valley Phantoms (2) vs. Hershey Bears (3)
Lehigh Valley became the first Philadelphia Flyers affiliate to reach the AHL playoffs since 2009 and finished with 101 points, tying them for second-most in the league. Once weak spots for Hershey, goaltending and defensive depth are assets thanks to the additions of goalie Pheonix Copley and NHL veteran defenseman Tom Gilbert. Lehigh Valley plays a dangerous transition game that produced the league's top offense (3.42 goals per game); Hershey finished third (3.32). Lehigh Valley will have to rely on rookie goaltender Alex Lyon because Anthony Stolarz is out for the season with an undisclosed injury.
Syracuse Crunch (1) vs. St. John's IceCaps (4)
Syracuse benefited considerably by the Tampa Bay Lightning missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Tampa Bay sent forwards Michael Bournival, Cory Conacher, Gabriel Dumont, Adam Erne, Yanni Gourde and Joel Vermin back to Syracuse along with defenseman Jake Dotchin. Syracuse plays a strong puck-possession game and has balanced scoring potential. St. John's will count heavily on rookie goaltender Charlie Lindgren. Syracuse coach Benoit Groulx can turn to either veteran goalie Mike McKenna or Kristers Gudlevskis.
Toronto Marlies (2) vs. Albany Devils (3)
A roster makeover prior the 2017 NHL Trade Deadline on March 1 helped to set up a long run that broke Toronto out of a divisional traffic jam. Yet another exceptionally deep Eastern Conference team, Toronto is well-balanced and has a deadly power play. Goalie Garret Sparks is a high-end weapon for coach Sheldon Keefe. Albany has goaltenders Ken Appleby and Mackenzie Blackwood, but each struggled down the stretch.
Chicago Wolves (1) vs. Charlotte Checkers (4)
With 101 points, Chicago wins by producing an offensive barrage that overwhelms opposing defenses while still managing to play a capable defensive game. Forward Kenny Agostino won the Les Cunningham Award as the AHL's most valuable player but he missed the final three games of the regular season. He also won the John B. Sollenberger Trophy for leading the league with 83 points (24 goals, 59 assists). Forward Wade Megan won the Willie Marshall Award for leading the league with 33 goals. Rookie Vince Dunn provides offense from an impressive collection of defensemen. Chicago goaltender Ville Husso has been excellent while Charlotte has Thomas McCollum. The status of injured Charlotte forwards Aleksi Saarela and Lukas Wallmark is a major question. Each player is day to day, according to the Checkers web site.
Grand Rapids Griffins (2) vs. Milwaukee Admirals (3)
Grand Rapids had the No. 1 power play (24.4 percent) in the AHL and will have a full complement of players from the Detroit Red Wings. A bevy of skilled players allow them to play a puck-possession game. Aided by the power play, Grand Rapids finished tied for fourth in the AHL with 3.30 goals per game. Jared Coreau and Eddie Pasquale are an excellent goaltending tandem. Milwaukee is without leading scorer forward Pontus Aberg, who is with the Nashville Predators. Marek Mazenec has been the No. 1 goaltender in Milwaukee.
San Jose Barracuda (1) vs. Stockton Heat (4)
These Northern California rivals are very familiar with each other. San Jose brings the second-best offense in the AHL (3.41 goals per game), and excellent defensive play led by goaltender Troy Grosenick and talented defensemen Tim Heed and Joakim Ryan. Second on the power play and eighth on the penalty kill, San Jose is comfortable on special teams. Stockton plays an irritating, abrasive style that has frustrated opponents, including San Jose.
San Diego Gulls (2) vs Ontario Reign (3)
Perhaps the most heated rivalry in the AHL exists between these two Southern California teams. San Diego challenged San Jose for first in the Pacific Division for much of the second half of the season. Veteran Jhonas Enroth has been a goaltending stalwart and coach Dallas Eakins has utilized a deep group of forwards for offense. Ontario has significant playoff experience; they won the 2015 Calder Cup as the Manchester Monarchs and went to the Western Conference final last season. Goalie Jack Campbell has been a workhorse for Ontario.