SPRINGFIELD, MA … The AHL’s conference finals got underway on Friday night with two trips to the Calder Cup 2002 Finals on the line.
In the Western Conference, fourth-seeded Houston and seventh-seeded Chicago split a pair of games at the Compaq Center. Game 1 was tied at 3-3 before Brendan Yarema, Cory Larose and Stephane Veilleux combined for eight points in the final 26 minutes to lift the Aeros to a 6-4 victory. Tony Virta added three assists for Houston, which sent the Wolves to a Game 1 loss for the fourth time this postseason.
In Saturday’s rematch, Dan Snyder scored 14 minutes into the second overtime as Chicago evened the series with a 4-3 victory. The Wolves trailed 2-0 before Snyder got Chicago on the board with 6:07 left in the second period. Rob Brown and J.P. Vigier recorded two assists apiece, while Pasi Nurminen rebounded from a shaky Game 1 effort to stop 58 of 61 Houston shots.
Over in the Eastern Conference, Bridgeport continued to roll with a pair of workmanlike wins over Hamilton to take a 2-0 series lead. Trent Hunter was the Sound Tigers’ hero on both nights, snapping a 2-2 tie with 6:27 left in Game 1, and a 1-1 deadlock with 5:42 left in Game 2. Hunter has already had a memorable postseason, making his NHL debut with the New York Islanders during their series with Toronto. The 21-year-old Hunter has four goals and 13 points in just seven playoff games with Bridgeport, to go with a goal and an assist in four matches with the Islanders.
Both conference final series resume on Wednesday night, as the scenes shift to Allstate Arena in suburban Chicago and Copps Coliseum in Hamilton.
Houston’s seven-game winning streak ended in Saturday’s double-overtime loss… Brendan Yarema has scored six goals in the last four games and a league-leading eight tallies for the playoffs… Yarema and Cory Larose share the AHL lead in plus/minus rating at plus-11… Jamie McLennan (8-3, 1.64, .943) had gone 17 starts (since Mar. 9) without allowing four goals before Chicago hit the mark in Game 1 and Game 2… Playing in his 62nd playoff game as a professional, Mike Matteucci netted his first career playoff goal in Game 1, as did rookies Travis Roche and Nick Schultz.
Rob Brown leads the AHL in playoff scoring with 15 points after finishing third in the regular season with 83… Dan Snyder has scored the game-winning goal in each of the Wolves’ last four victories… Andreas Karlsson, who registered three points in his first 12 games this postseason, tallied three assists in Game 7 vs. Syracuse and two goals in Game 1 vs. Houston… The 58 saves by Pasi Nurminen (8-4, 2.23, .925) in Game 2 were the most by an AHL goaltender this season… The Wolves are 0-4 in Game 1’s this postseason, but 10-3 in Game 2 and beyond.
Trent Hunter (4g, 9a), Jason Krog (7g, 7a) and Juraj Kolnik (6g, 8a) have combined for 17 goals and 41 points, nearly half of Bridgeport’s offense this postseason… The Sound Tigers have outscored their playoff opponents 25-9 at even strength… Rookies Justin Mapletoft and Raffi Torres each have at least one point in six straight games… Rick DiPietro (9-1, 1.53, .935) has stopped 179 of 189 shots (.947) in seven wins since a 6-2 loss at Manitoba in Game 3 of the conference quarterfinals… Bridgeport is 13-1-1 in its last 15 home games.
Hamilton, winners of seven of its first eight playoff games, has now lost back-to-back contests for the first time since Feb. 23 and Mar. 1… The Bulldogs were held to 38 shots on goal combined in Games 1 and 2… All four of Jason Chimera’s playoff goals have come on the power play… Hamilton has killed 24 of 26 shorthanded situations (92.3%) vs. Bridgeport and Hartford… Game 1 was the first loss suffered by Ty Conklin since Mar. 29… The Bulldogs are 7-0-1 in their last eight games on home ice, including 4-0 in the playoffs.
ETC. … Chicago’s win over Houston in Game 2 was the eighth multiple-overtime game during the Calder Cup 2002 Playoffs, the most ever in a single AHL postseason… Either the Wolves or the Aeros will be the 10th team ever to play in the Calder Cup Finals in their first AHL season; the Sound Tigers could be the 11th… Houston has scored first in nine of its 11 playoff games; Bridgeport has scored first in nine of 10… The record for game-winning goals in one postseason is five, accomplished three times; Chicago’s Dan Snyder (four), Houston’s Cory Larose (four), Bridgeport’s Juraj Kolnik (three) and Houston’s Mark Beaufait (three) are this year’s leaders… AHL graduates Richard Lintner and Miroslav Satan were named to the All-Tournament Team at the 2002 World Championships, where they helped Slovakia to its first ever gold medal on Saturday.
Western Conference Final - Series "M" 4-Houston Aeros vs. 7-Chicago Wolves Game 1 - Fri., 5/10 - HOUSTON 6, Chicago 4 Game 2 - Sat., 5/11 - Chicago 4, HOUSTON 3 (2OT) Game 3 - Wed., 5/15 at Chicago, 7:00 CT Game 4 - Fri., 5/17 at Chicago, 7:30 CT Game 5 - Sun., 5/19 at Chicago, 2:00 CT *Game 6 - Mon., 5/20 at Houston, 7:00 CT *Game 7 - Wed., 5/22 at Houston, 7:00 CT (Series tied, 1-1) Eastern Conference Final - Series “N” 1-Bridgeport Sound Tigers vs. 6-Hamilton Bulldogs Game 1 - Fri., 5/10 - BRIDGEPORT 3, Hamilton 2 Game 2 - Sat., 5/11 - BRIDGEPORT 3, Hamilton 1 Game 3 - Wed., 5/15 at Hamilton, 7:30 ET Game 4 - Fri., 5/17 at Hamilton, 7:30 ET *Game 5 - Sat., 5/18 at Hamilton, 7:30 ET *Game 6 - Mon., 5/20 at Bridgeport, 7:05 ET *Game 7 - Wed., 5/22 at Bridgeport, 7:05 ET (Bridgeport leads series, 2-0)