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AHL Notebook: Game 7s will decide Eastern Conference finalists

Syracuse-Toronto, Providence-Hershey winners will advance to next round of Calder Cup Playoffs

by Patrick Williams / Correspondent

There will be two Game 7s in the second round of the Calder Cup Playoffs on Wednesday.

With spots in the Eastern Conference final on the line, the Hershey Bears and Providence Bruins will play, as will the Syracuse Crunch and Toronto Marlies. The winners face off in the next round.

Providence is 3-0 in elimination games this year. Trailing 3-2 in the series, Providence scored four straight goals after falling behind 2-0 to earn a 4-2 win in Game 6 and will attempt to become the first team in American Hockey League history to win four road games when facing elimination in one postseason.

Toronto defeated Syracuse 2-1 on Monday to force Game 7 at Syracuse. The home team has won each game in the series, and Syracuse is 5-0 at home in the playoffs. Syracuse finished one point ahead of Toronto to win the North Division and earn home ice.

Grand Rapids and San Jose will play in the Western Conference final; San Jose hosts Game 1 on Saturday after a week-long break for each team.

Grand Rapids eliminated Chicago in five games and San Jose defeated San Diego in five games. San Jose forward Ryan Carpenter leads the AHL in playoff scoring with seven goals and 13 points.

Here is a look at each of the two Eastern Conference series:


Atlantic Division

Providence rallied to win Game 6, but coach Kevin Dean warned against relying on another comeback. Four games in this series have been decided by one goal and three have gone to overtime.

"We just have to make sure that we don't have a letdown," Dean said. "We came back with some good resilience, and the guys really turned it up, but we can't afford to have that start [Wednesday]."

Providence outshot Hershey 110-43 in Games 3-5, although Hershey won two of those games in overtime.

"We don't have some of the pedigree in scoring that they do," Dean said. "[Our scoring] is going to be a little more through attrition, second chances, and that is how we got back into [Game 6]."

Providence has relied on a strong neutral-zone game to set up its heavy forecheck and wear down Hershey.

"I thought we had a good first three or four games in that regard," Dean said. "The past two games, I don't know if we have been as physical. It takes energy to be physical. ... But I think it should pay off. We've been talking about it."

Dating to the 2016 playoffs, Hershey is 3-1 when facing elimination. Hershey also staged a rally late during the regular season to earn a playoff berth in the highly competitive Atlantic Division.

Hershey is without No. 1 goaltender Pheonix Copley, who left Game 4 with a lower-body injury and has missed the past two games. Vitek Vanecek has a .919 save percentage since taking over.

"We've been very resilient throughout the year," Hershey coach Troy Mann said. "When we've needed a big performance, we've gotten it."


North Division

Toronto has gone 27.6 percent on the power play in the series and problems on the man-advantage continue for Syracuse. Toronto has held Syracuse to 15 percent on the power play. Syracuse finished 22nd (16.4 percent) in the regular season and has slipped to 13.2 percent in the playoffs. However, Syracuse has four shorthanded goals in the series.

Toronto has been outscored 16-7 in the three games at Syracuse. With goaltender Garret Sparks injured, Toronto has relied on Kasimir Kaskisuo, who has an .879 save percentage.

Syracuse veteran goaltender Mike McKenna was pulled in Game 4 after allowing three first-period goals in a 3-2 loss, but coach Benoit Groulx started him in Games 5 and 6 instead of Kristers Gudlevskis. McKenna has an .883 save percentage in the series but a .942 save percentage since being pulled.

Byron Froese has seven points (two goals, five assists) in the series for Syracuse. The parent Tampa Bay Lightning acquired him from the Toronto Maple Leafs for forward Brian Boyle on Feb. 27.


New Looks

Several changes will take place next season, including a new divisional alignment.

The Charlotte Checkers will return to the Eastern Conference and play in the Atlantic Division. Charlotte joined the AHL for the 2010-11 season and played one season in the Eastern Conference before spending the next six in the Western Conference.

The Eastern Conference will feature three new teams. The Belleville Senators (Ottawa Senators), Binghamton Devils (New Jersey Devils), and Laval Rocket (Montreal Canadiens) will be in the North Division.

Chicago will be the new affiliate of the Vegas Golden Knights. Chicago had been affiliated with the St. Louis Blues; however, St. Louis will continue to supply players to Chicago next season.

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