2. Albany Devils vs. 3. Utica Comets
North Division rivals meet in the first round as the Albany Devils and Utica Comets battle in the division semifinals.
The Devils have the pieces to make a run at the Calder Cup, coming into the playoffs allowing the least goals of any team in the Eastern Conference. Albany has a goaltender on top of his game in Scott Wedgewood, who went an impressive 5-1-0 in April with a gaudy 1.20 goals-against average. Sometimes all that is needed for a championship-winning team is a hot goalie, and Albany certainly has one entering the 2016 Calder Cup Playoffs.
Albany might have the least goals scored of any playoff team in the conference, but they have added some offensive punch down the stretch from the Canadian junior leagues and collegiate ranks. Nick Lappin has come right in from Brown University and contributed to the tune of seven points (three goals, four assists) in 12 games. The Devils hope Pavel Zacha, New Jersey’s top pick in the 2015 draft, will put Albany over the top. He put up three points (one goal, two assists) in three games in the AHL at the tail end of the regular season.
There is still plenty of firepower up front on the Devils roster with last year’s AHL MVP Brian O’Neill, veteran goal-scorer Mike Sislo, point-per-gamer Reid Boucher, and rookie Matt Lorito leading the club in scoring during the regular season with 54 points (18 goals, 36 assists) in 71 games. The plethora of forward talent will create mismatches for Utica.
The Utica Comets lost leading scorer Hunter Shinkaruk at the trade deadline and also saw Nicklas Jensen moved earlier in the year, but the Comets trudged on and used a total team effort to get back into the playoffs after reaching the Calder Cup finals last season while a member of the Western Conference.
The Comets brought in veteran AHL scorer T.J. Hensick to provide more offensive punch, and the move has paid off so far as Hensick had 15 points (two goals, 13 assists) in 19 games with Utica down the stretch. In his second pro season, Brendan Gaunce has seen his production at the AHL level increase to a nearly point-per-game output. Leading scorer Alexandre Grenier enters the postseason having tallied 18 points (six goals, 12 assists) in his last 18 games.
Rookie defenseman Jordan Subban was at one point the team’s leading scorer, and head coach Travis Green said after a game against Lehigh Valley earlier this season that Subban has been arguably the team’s most improved player.
The Comets will certainly need their best players to step up if they hope to make another deep run at the Calder Cup. It will be interesting to see if the Comets have enough offensive firepower to break down a strong, defensive-minded Devils team.
Eastern Conference Hot List – April 2016
1. Frank Vatrano, C – Providence Bruins
2015-16 Season Stats (AHL): 36GP, 36G-19A, +21, 22 PIM
Frank Vatrano is dominating play at the AHL level, tallying points in each of his last 11 games. His final six games in the regular season saw him produce 12 points (six goals, six assists).
2. Seth Griffith, RW – Providence Bruins
2015-16 Season Stats: 57GP, 24G-53A,+20, 32 PIM
The AHL Bruins are firing on all cylinders right now, and Seth Griffith has been leading the offensive charge all season long. Griffith ended the season on fire, too, posting 10 points (two goals, eight assists) in his las five games in April.
3. Scott Wedgewood, G – Albany Devils
2015-16 Season Stats: 22GP, 14-3-3, 1.55 GAA, .933 SV%, 2 SO
Scott Wedgewood split time this season between the NHL and AHL Devils, but he has been a stud while in Albany – especially in the month of April – going 5-1 with a 1.20 goals-against average, a .946 save percentage, and a shutout in his final game of the regular season.
4. Jayson Megna, RW – Hartford Wolf Pack
2015-16 Season Stats: 68GP, 15G-29A, +7, 22 PIM
Jayson Megna finished the season on a six-game point streak in which he tallied nine points (three goals, six assists). The Wolf Pack’s late surge to the postseason came up short, but not because of Megna’s play as he was leading the charge.
5. Oskar Lindblom, LW – Lehigh Valley Phantoms
2015-16 Season Stats (SHL): 48GP, 8G-17A, +3
Oskar Lindblom transitioned well to the AHL from the get-go, putting up seven points (two goals, five assists) in his final seven games before the regular season ended.
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