|Photo by Steven Christy / Oklahoma City Barons.
The Oklahoma City Barons (Edmonton Oilers) are set to face off against the Grand Rapids Griffins (Detroit Red Wings) in the AHL Western Conference Final.
The winner of the Best-of-7 series, which begins Friday night in Grand Rapids, Michigan, will advance to face the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins (Pittsburgh Penguins) or Syracuse Crunch (Tampa Bay Lightning) for the 2013 Calder Cup Championship. SERIES SCHEDULE
Game 1: May 24 @ Grand Rapids - 5:00p.m. MT
Game 2: May 25 @ Grand Rapids - 5:00p.m. MT
Game 3: May 29 @ Oklahoma City - 6:00p.m. MT
Game 4: May 31 @ Oklahoma City - 6:00p.m. MT
*Game 5: June 1 @ Oklahoma City - 6:00p.m. MT
*Game 6: June 4 @ Grand Rapids - 5:00p.m. MT
*Game 7: June 5 @ Grand Rapids - 5:00p.m. MT* if necessary
These clubs met four times in the regular season with the home team emerging victorious in each. On the back of a 2-1-0-1 record head to head, the Barons won the season series. HOW THEY GOT HERE
Looking back, it’s hard to believe Oklahoma City was once on the brink of elimination.
Down two games to one in their opening-round series against the Charlotte Checkers, the Barons rallied back to record back-to-back wins by commanding 8-1 and 6-2 scores, defeating the Checkers three games to two in a Best-of-5 and advancing to face the Texas Stars in the second round.
Once there, the Barons continued their regular-season dominance over the Stars, splitting Games 1 and 2 in Cedar Park before returning home, rattling off three consecutive wins at the Cox Convention Center and winning the Best-of-7 series four games to one.
Grand Rapids has had a similar trek to the Western Conference Final, but some extra work was required to close out their opening-round series vs. Houston. The club missed out on an opportunity to end the Aeros’ season in Game 4, but made good on their second chance, thumping them 7-0 in Game 5 and advancing to face the second-seeded Toronto Marlies in Round 2.
With a chance to eliminate the Marlies in Game 6 Tuesday night in Toronto, the Griffins rallied back from a 3-1 third-period deficit to defeat the Maple Leafs affiliate 4-3 in regulation. FORWARDS
Both teams are deep and can roll four lines, but it will likely be the big guns that will decide the series.
And it’s here where the Barons have the clear-cut advantage.
Mark Arcobello, Toni Rajala, Teemu Hartikainen and Josh Green are all scoring at or near a point-per-game pace. In doing so, Oklahoma City leads the AHL in post-season scoring with 42 goals in 10 games.
Arcobello in particular has been sensational, factoring in on 15 and leading the AHL with nine goals in the playoffs. The 24-year-old had a breakout season in 2012-13, posting 22 goals and 68 points (both career highs) in 74 games.
Combining to record three goals and 13 points, veterans Philippe Cornet and Jonathan Cheechoo have had strong post-seasons as well. Then there’s newcomer CJ Stretch, who’s acquitted himself well since his mid-season acquisition, scoring four goals and eight points in 10 playoff games.
The Barons are as balanced as they are deadly.
Rajala leads all AHL rookies in post-season scoring with three goals and 13 points. Nor far behind is Griffins pivot Luke Glendening, who sits second with 10 points in 11 games, and Riley Sheahan, who has nine (one goal and eight assists).
Grand Rapids will be without its regular-season leading-scorer, Gustav Nyquist (who recorded 23 goals and 60 points in 58 games), who’s currently up with the Red Wings. Stepping up, fellow Motor City prospect Tomas Tatar has assumed the reigns and leads the Griffins with eight goals and 11 points.
Tatar, Glendening, Sheahan, Jan Mursak, Landon Ferraro and Francis Pare are all at or within striking distance of scoring at a point-per-game clip, but the Griffins’ star power isn’t quite what the Barons have to offer.
(But keep an eye out on 20-year-old second-round pick Tomas Jurco. With four goals and eight points so far in the post-season, this is a special player in the making.)
If you’re a big believer in the plus/minus stat, the Barons have a rather convincing edge on defence. Combined, Randy Jones (+14), Taylor Fedun (+10) and Martin Marincin (+8) are +32 through 10 games in the post-season, staking their claim to three of the Top 4 spots on the AHL leaderboard in this department.
They’re getting done on the other side of the puck, too.
Marincin, a 21-year-old rookie out of Kosice, Slovakia, sits fourth in League scoring among defencemen with one goal and six points in 10 games, Brandon Davidson has chipped in with four assists and Fedun leads the AHL in game-winning goals with two so far in the playoffs.
Andrew Hotham and Garret Stafford have both provided a steady presence in complementary roles on the back end.
But their opponent is no slouch.
Leading the League in post-season scoring among defencemen with three goals and seven points, 22-year-old Swede Adam Almquist will be a handful. Down the depth chart, Chad Billins, Nathan Paetsch, Brett Skinner and Gleason Fournier have all contributed as well, combining to tally an additional 15 points from the blue line.
Petr Mrazek boasts a 7-4-0 record with two shutouts and a .906 save percentage in the post-season. At the other end, Yann Danis has a 7-3-0 record with one shutout and a sensational .935 save percentage.
Both goaltenders come in sporting identical 2.19 goals-against averages.
Both Mrazek and Danis appeared in more than 40 games in the regular season. The rookie prospect of the Detroit Red Wings posted 23 wins for Grand Rapids, while Oklahoma City’s 31-year-old veteran collected 26.
Their goals-against average and save percentages are comparable across the board, giving this matchup the feel of a dead heat. If anything were to tip the scales, it’s that Danis has been here before. Just last season, the product of Lafontaine, Que. appeared in 14 post-season games with the Barons, vaulting the squad to within striking distance of a berth in the Calder Cup Final.
In total since turning pro in 2003-04, Danis has played in 30 pro playoff games split between the Barons and Hamilton Bulldogs.
Mrazek doesn’t quite have the experience to fall back on. But it’s ever-so-slight edge in this ultra-tight matchup between the pipes.
It’s another dead heat.
Operating at an 18.6 percent clip in the post-season to Grand Rapids’ 15.1 percent success rate, the Barons come in with a slight edge on the power-play.
On the penalty kill, both teams are hovering around an 81 percent success rate.
Coming into the Western Conference Final, both the Barons and Griffins have scored eight and allowed eight power-play goals.