Oklahoma City, OK - The Oklahoma City Barons and Toronto Marlies kick off their best-of-seven Western Conference Final tonight at the Cox Convention Center in OKC.
The match-up is going as planned considering there's only two Western Conference teams left and the Barons and Marlies finished first and second respectively in the conference.
"It's certainly fitting. Both teams had great regular seasons, we were 1-2 in the conference and we're both so similar," stated head coach Todd Nelson. "Very even in a lot of categories. It'll be a really fun series to watch."
Two of those categories which ended up nearly even were power play and penalty kill. The Marlies had the best PK in the AHL and the Barons had the second best. On the power play, neither team had much success during the regular season but at over 18% the Barons have been strong in the playoffs.
"Toronto has an outstanding penalty kill. They've been successful with it all year. We're going to have to try and penetrate that somehow," said Nelson.
"Special teams are always key. I think there's a stat, something like 80% of the games are won by special teams."
Goaltending has also been even with Marlies netminder Ben Scrivens and Barons goalie Yann Danis both at or near the top of the league in nearly every category.
"Yann's given us a chance to win almost every night. I think that's all you can ask from a goaltender. I don't expect our goaltender to stand on their head all night and face 50 shots. I expect them to make the key saves at the right time and just give our team an opportunity to win."
Magnus Paajarvi has been happy with the make-up of the team so far.
"I think we've been playing pretty well," said Paajarvi. "We lost two games in two rounds and feel good about ourselves. We've got a good system and we trust each other and that's a real key to go far. We have a lot of fun together and that's a key, too."
For himself, Paajarvi was happier with his play in the second round.
"Playoffs is different. First round in Houston I wasn't as good as I wanted but second round I felt a lot better against San Antonio. We have a really good team. Four lines and really good goaltending and D."
ON THE MEND
The Barons have started to run into some injury trouble with Colten Teubert, Josh Green and Hunter Tremblay all on the shelf tonight.
"It's been like that all year, every team goes through it," shrugged Nelson. "We haven't had our defensive core all year so it's pretty much normal."
"In the case of Colten Teubert, he plays hard so that was a tough break but we got Taylor Chorney back."
Other players have been able to step up with the injury situation. One of those players is Dylan Yeo, who has put up seven points in nine games with a +8 rating on the blueline.
"I'm just trying to play solid defensively and add in the offence whenever I can. It's been going really well. We've got a good group of guys on defence and we all play really well together. Hopefully I can keep playing the way I am," said Yeo.
"As for other guys, they're all day-to-day so it's just a matter of when they're ready to go. We'll make those decisions as the series goes on," said Nelson on forward Josh Green and Hunter Tremblay.
HAMILTON DRAWS IN
With Green and Tremblay out, Curtis Hamilton makes his way back in the lineup. He hasn't played a game since February.
"Back in late February I banged up my knee a little bit. My MCL was sprained. I've been out for quite awhile since then. I've been healthy for the past two weeks," said Hamilton.
"Hammie suffered an injury in February and hasn't played since. It's a credit to him that he worked his tail off in the weight room. He looks really good right now, he's skating very well out there. He's trimmed down a lot. He's really lean right now and that's just from hard work. He wasn't able to do a lot with his injury so he had to control that with his diet," added Nelson. "I'm excited to see him play tonight. He's going to get the call and he's ready to go."
-- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com
The Oklahoma City Barons take on the Toronto Marlies, AHL affiliate of the Toronto Maple Leafs, in the 2012 Calder Cup Playoffs Western Conference Finals. The best-of-7 Western Conference Final series starts in Oklahoma City on Thursday, May 17 at 7 p.m.
The Western Conference Finals are a best-of-7 series played in a 2-3-2 format. The Barons regular season record of 45-22-4-5 and 99 points is the best in the Western Conference and gives Oklahoma City home ice advantage throughout playoff games against Western Conference opponents.
How They Got Here
The Barons advanced to the Western Conference Finals by downing the Houston Aeros 3-1 in their first round series and then the San Antonio Rampage 4-1 in the Western Conference Semifinals. The Marlies swept the Rochester Americans in their first-round series and downed the Abbotsford Heat 4-1 in the other Western Conference Semifinal series.
Barons center Chris VandeVelde was the difference maker in the Western Conference Semifinal series against San Antonio. It was VandeVelde’s overtime goals in the third and fourth games that propelled Oklahoma City to the series lead. VandeVelde joined some elite company in accomplishing the feat, becoming just one of eight players to score overtime goals in the same series. He’s just the second AHL player to score back-to-back overtime game winners in the same series.
Barons right winger Tyler Pitlick has been key for the team throughout the postseason run. Pitlick is second among rookies in postseason assists with five and ranks fourth on the rookies list in postseason scoring with seven points. Oklahoma City will need Pitlick and his linemates to continue their production against one of the best postseason goaltenders in the league.
Pitlick’s linemate, Mark Arcobello is fifth in the league in postseason scoring with 11 points, while Toronto’s Jerry D’Amigo is the top-ranked Marlie at 11th with nine points. D’Amigo also leads the league in postseason plus/minus (10), while the Barons have two players ranked in the top five of that category – rookies Hunter Tremblay and Dan Ringwald (8).
Defense is key in a series where both goalies rank in top three in goals against average during the postseason. Marlies netminder Ben Scrivens leads the category with a .944, while Barons goalie Yann Danis is third with a .911. The two have a combined 14 postseason wins this year with seven each and each has one shutout.
Oklahoma City has two of the leagues top scorers among defensemen in Dylan Yeo (7) and Bryan Rodney (6). Yeo is second amongst defensemen in assists (6) and is one of three Barons ranked in the top five of postseason plus/minus (6), joining Dan Ringwald (8) and team captain Bryan Helmer (6).
New Kids on the Block Tyler Pitlick has made his mark in the postseason for Oklahoma City, ranking second in the league in postseason assists (5) and fourth amongst rookies in scoring (7). While Pitlick’s been a big part of the success the Barons have had this postseason, Oklahoma City has also gotten assistance from another rookie in Hunter Tremblay. Tremblay is sixth in postseason rookie scoring (6) and third in goals (4). Tremblay leads the league in rookie postseason plus/minus (8), a category the Barons have three of the league’s top five individuals (Dan Ringwald, 8 and Tanner House, 4).
Toronto rookie Matt Frattin is third in rookie postseason scoring (7) and ranks second in goals with five.
Toronto leads the league in playoff penalty kills, allowing just one power play goal to opponents in 36 shorthanded situations. That’s good for 97.2 percent. Oklahoma City is 10th in the penalty kill (7-for-33), 78.8 percent.
The Barons fare better than the Marlies with the man advantage. Oklahoma City is 7-for-37 (18.9 percent) in these playoffs, good enough seventh, while the Marlies are 12th with a 11.1 percentage (4-for-36).
Regular Season Matchups
Oklahoma City played a two-game series against the Marlies, going 1-1-0-0 in those games. The Barons downed the Marlies 3-1 on November 8 at the Cox Convention Center. Toronto defeated Oklahoma City 2-0 at the Ricoh Coliseum in Toronto on January 6. The teams have met a total of four times in the two seasons the Barons have been in the AHL. The home team has won each game. -- Cassie Cage, OKCBarons.com