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AHL Notebook: Division Finals begin

Hershey, Syracuse among eight teams remaining in contention for Calder Cup

by Patrick Williams / NHL.com Correspondent

Two of the favorites to win the Calder Cup lost in the first round of the playoffs.

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, the regular-season champion with 51 wins and a league-high 107 points, and Lehigh Valley, who tied the Chicago Wolves for second in the American Hockey League with 101 points, were eliminated. Chicago and the Western Conference regular-season champion San Jose Barracuda each barely survived the first round.

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton earned a playoff berth for the 15th consecutive season. But after splitting the first two games of its best-of-5 first-round series against Providence, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton lost two of three games at home. Providence goaltender Zane McIntyre made 50 saves in the series-clinching win Sunday.

Lehigh Valley rallied after trailing its series against the Hershey Bears 2-0. Playing without goaltenders Anthony Stolarz and Alex Lyon because of injuries, Lehigh Valley won twice at Hershey to force Game 5 on Sunday. However, Hershey, a 97-point team in the regular season, won the series with a 3-2 road victory.

In the Western Conference, Chicago managed to overcome injuries against the Charlotte Checkers, winning Games 4 and 5. San Jose escaped against the Stockton Heat, needing a third-period comeback in Game 5 on Tuesday before ending the series in Tuesday.

Syracuse advanced to the division finals with a 3-1 series win against St. John's and the Toronto Marlies defeated Albany in four games. They will play in the second round.

In the Western Conference, Grand Rapids swept Milwaukee and San Diego eliminated Ontario in five games.

All series in the second round and beyond are best-of-7. Here is a breakdown of each series:

 

ATLANTIC DIVISION

Hershey Bears (3) vs Providence Bruins (4)

Hershey, a Calder Cup finalist last season, could be poised for another long playoff run, but each team possesses top-notch goaltending. McIntyre led the AHL in regular-season save percentage (.930) and is third in the playoffs at .936. Pheonix Copley, acquired in a trade from the St. Louis Blues on Feb. 27, continues to excel. He had a .924 save percentage prior to the trade and has a .933 save percentage in the playoffs, fifth-best in the league. This series could come down to the power play. Providence was 6-for-22 (a league-leading 27.3 percent) against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Hershey did not score in 13 power-play opportunities after finishing sixth in the league in the regular season; the Hershey penalty kill is also ranked 13th in the postseason. Hershey is without forwards Chandler Stephenson and Paul Carey, who are with the Washington Capitals.

 

NORTH DIVISION

Syracuse Crunch (1) vs Toronto Marlies (2)

Syracuse and Toronto each have received reinforcements from its NHL parent team. The Tampa Bay Lightning sent forwards Michael Bournival, Cory Conacher, Gabriel Dumont, Adam Erne, Yanni Gourde, and Joel Vermin to Syracuse along with defenseman Jake Dotchin before the first round. Syracuse also has center Byron Froese, who had 24 goals for the Marlies before being traded to Tampa Bay on Feb. 27. The Marlies added forward Kasperi Kapanen from the Toronto Maple Leafs midway through the first round. Veteran goaltender Mike McKenna leads Syracuse. The Marlies have relied on goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo after Garret Sparks was injured midway through Game 2 in the first round.

 

CENTRAL DIVISION

Chicago Wolves (1) vs Grand Rapids Griffins (2)

These long-time rivals have not played each other in the playoffs since 2004. Goaltender Ville Husso, who is in his first season in North America, had a 2.34 goals-against average and a .925 save percentage against Charlotte. Grand Rapids veteran goaltender Jared Coreau also excelled in the first round (2.10 GAA, .931 save percentage). Grand Rapids finished first in the league on the power play in the regular season but went 2-for-16 in the first round. Chicago was 10-for-10 on the penalty kill in the first round. Rookie forward Adam Musil leads Chicago with five points (three goals, two assists) after joining the team from Red Deer of the Western Hockey League. Grand Rapids was 8-2-0-0 in the regular season against Chicago. Each team has had a week-long break.

 

PACIFIC DIVISION

San Jose Barracuda (1) vs San Diego Gulls (2)

This series features high-scoring San Jose and stingy San Diego. A team that can dominate in puck possession, San Jose averaged 3.60 goals per game in the first round after finishing second in the AHL in the regular season at 3.42. San Diego has NHL veteran Jhonas Enroth to match up against Troy Grosenick, who won the Baz Bastien Memorial Award as the top AHL goaltender and was a first-team AHL All-Star. San Diego is second in the playoffs on the power play (26.7 percent) and fourth on the penalty kill. San Jose will need more from its power play, which went 1-for-22 against Stockton.

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