The 2016 Calder Cup Playoffs are in the Conference Finals stage, and in the East, it is Atlantic Division champion Hershey against North Division champion Toronto in a best-of-seven series that will see the winner play for the Calder Cup championship against the winner of Lake Erie and Ontario.
Toronto Marlies In Unfamiliar Territory
Through two games in the Eastern Conference Finals, the high-powered Toronto Marlies find themselves trailing the Hershey Bears two games to none. After a first round sweep of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers and a seven-game series with the Albany Devils, the Marlies trail by two games and have lost back-to-back postseason contests for the first time in the 2016 Calder Cup Playoffs.
The 0-2 series hole is somewhat surprising in that Toronto was arguably the better team in both contests.
In the first period of Game 1, the Marlies took a 1-0 lead and held Hershey without a shot for more than half the period. The Bears tied it early in the second period and turned the tides from there in a 3-1 win.
Game 2 was about as one-sided as a hockey game gets. Again, Toronto dominated the first period and opened the scoring. Despite outshooting Hershey 15-2 in the first period, the two teams headed into the first intermission tied at 1-1. It was much of the same in the middle frame, too. The Marlies out-shot the Bears 12-5 in the second period but again the two teams entered the third period deadlocked at 2-2.
Carter Camper has been a difference-maker for the Bears this postseason. He has points in eight straight games (six goals, five assists) and after a scoreless third period in Game 2, Camper played hero with a game-winning goal in overtime to put Hershey two wins away from the Calder Cup Finals as the series shifts to Toronto for Games 3, 4 and if necessary, Game 5.
Bears’ goaltender Justin Peters has also been a thorn in the side of the Marlies as evidenced by his 38-save performance in Game 2 Saturday night. With Toronto largely out-chancing Hershey, Peters kept the Bears within striking distance with several big-time stops.
Traded from Hershey to Toronto at the trading deadline, defenseman Connor Carrick leads the league in postseason scoring as a member of the Marlies. After a five-point performance in Game 3 of Toronto’s first round sweep of Bridgeport, Carrick has continued to provide offense with eight points (three goals, five assists) in his last nine games – including an assist in Saturday night’s Game 2.
The Marlies have plenty of offensive firepower and young talent in forwards Josh Leivo, Brendan Leipsic, Kasperi Kapanen, Connor Brown and William Nylander. Depth is on Toronto’s side, but they will need more finish from their offensive stars if they hope to turn things around in the series starting Wednesday night in Game 3.
While last year’s big news was the relocation of five teams to the state of California, there is still more westward expansion coming for the AHL in their 2016-17 season. The Arizona Coyotes purchased their AHL affiliate in Springfield and will relocate the franchise to Tucson to be closer to their NHL club.
At first glance, it appeared as though the relocation was going to affect just one AHL market. Just weeks after the initial reports that Arizona was moving their AHL team out West began to air, a second AHL market was thrown into the news as the Portland Pirates, AHL affiliate of the Florida Panthers, sold their team to an outside group of investors who plan to move the team into Springfield to fill the void left from the Coyotes’ franchise heading to Arizona.
In the end, it is the Portland, Maine area that is losing their AHL team – something that hockey fans and writers alike never want to see. The league’s continued movement has claimed another city victim, but the plan is for Portland to acquire an ECHL team to have pro hockey in southern Maine as early as the 2018-19 season.
Eastern Conference Hot List – May 2016
1. Jake Guentzel, LW – Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins
2015-16 Postseason Stats: 10GP, 5G-9A, +2, 0 PIM
Joining the AHL Penguins on an amateur tryout, Jake Guentzel got acclimated to the pro game in April, appearing in 11 regular season games before catching fire in the postseason. Despite being eliminated in the second round, Guentzel was tied for first in the league’s postseason scoring entering the Conference Finals round.
2. Carter Camper, C – Hershey Bears
2015-16 Postseason Stats: 14GP, 6G-7A, +4, 2 PIM
Carter Camper was ineffective in his first six games of the playoffs (no goals, two assists), but since then has been arguably one of the top playoff performers for the Bears with points in each of his last eight games (six goals, five assists).
3. Connor Carrick, D – Toronto Marlies
2015-16 Postseason Stats: 12GP, 6G-9A, +7, 12 PIM
Connor Carrick leads the entire AHL in postseason scoring through the first two games of the Eastern Conference Finals as a defenseman.
4. Justin Peters, G – Hershey Bears
2015-16 Postseason Stats: 13GP, 9-4-0, 1.72 GAA, .938 SV%, 2 SO
Justin Peters has been a big reason for why the Bears are two wins away from the Calder Cup Finals. The Marlies have largely out-chanced Hershey in the Conference Finals so far, but Peters has been more than up to the task in shutting down the East’s most potent offensive attack.
5. Tom Kotsopoulos, RW – Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins
2015-16 Postseason Stats: 10GP, 5G-7A, +5, 4 PIM
The 37-year-old forward hasn’t seen a drop-off in production at his age, but rather has become a point-per-game performer as a member of the Penguins’ offensive line with Jake Guentzel and Carter Rowney.
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