Up in the NHL, the Pittsburgh Penguins are moving into off-season mode after being eliminated from the 2014 NHL Playoffs. Even the ECHL affiliate Wheeling Nailers saw their Cinderella season draw to a close after a tough loss in the 2nd round of the Kelly Cup playoffs. But down in the AHL the organization's playoff hopes are still alive as the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins have advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals in the Calder Cup playoffs.
A Look Back
The Baby Pens made short work of their 1st round opponent and Divisional rival Binghamton Senators, going 3-0-1 in the series. However, when they moved on to the 2nd round they found themselves up against a familiar opponent in the Providence Bruins who were looking to avenge last year's historic upset when WBS came from behind trailing 3-0 to take the series.
Things started off looking really bleak for the boys in a slightly paler shade of black and yellow, as Game 1 handed them their first regulation loss of the post-season in a massive shutout. They fought back and won a blowout victory of their own in Game 2 to even up the series. They they headed on the road and split 2 games in OT and pulled off a narrow Game 5 to take the series lead back to WBS. They failed to clinch the series in a fairly lopsided Game 6 and went into last night in a make or break Game 7. They took a massive early lead in the 2nd, but came just one goal shy of blowing it all after a lackluster 3rd period.
Round 2 Statistics
The series was fairly evenly matched, as WBS had 22 Goals For and Goals Against for an even 0 differential, while also being quite close with 205 Shots For to 197 Shots Against for a +8 possession differential. They were even quite close in special teams, with WBS going 7 for 32 at 21.9% on the Power Play and stopping 24 of 30 at 80.0% on the Penalty Kill. All in all it was a tight series and they are lucky to have been able to hold on at the end.
Overall through the 1st 2 rounds of the playoffs, WBS have outscored their opponents 36-31 while outshooting them 325 to 303. They currently are #2 in Goals For behind the newly vanquished PBruins, but their usually stellar defensive effort that led the league during the regular season has fallen to #13 Goals Against in the playoffs. If we look at it per Game then WBS currently sits at #4 with 3.27 GF, behind the aforementioned PBruins and the top two Western Conference teams the Toronto Marlies and the Texas Stars. Their 2.82 Goals Against is #7, unfortunately behind all 3 remaining teams.
So far their PP has been about average, scoring on 10 of 54 chances for an 18.5 PP% and #10 amongst playoff teams. The has been a little bit less than stellar, allowing 10 Goals on 42 chances for a 76.2 PK% and #13 amongst playoff teams. It is nice to see their PP has improved over their regular season numbers and that the team is scoring at a high rate, but the suddenly lackluster defense and PK are still cause for concern as they move forward in the playoffs.
The Next Opponent
The Baby Pens advance to the Eastern Conference Finals where they are set to face the St. John's IceCaps up in Newfoundland. They kick off the series with Game 1 and Game 2 this weekend at 6pm EST on Saturday and Sunday.
So far in the playoffs, St. John's is #5 with 29 Goals For or #6 at 2.90 per game. They are #10 with 19 Goals Against or #3 at 1.90 per game. They have the #12 PP at 14.0% and the #7 PK at 84.8%.
They faced the IceCaps 4 times this season, splitting both back-to-backs at home and on the road. The playoffs now see a similar schedule as Games 1 and 2 are back-to-back in Newfoundland while Games 3 and 4 next week are back-to-back at home.
During their regular season series, the teams were deadlocked at 9 Goals a piece, while the IceCaps dominated possession with WBS getting outshot 87 to 106 for a -19 differential. St. John's had a slight edge in special teams as well, with WBS going 3 for 19 at 15.8 PP% and 15 for 19 at 78.9 PK%.
However, both teams have seen changes since then, including each team having completely different starting goaltenders than when they met in the regular season. Although oddly enough not much has changed amongst the skaters, as the IceCaps have only really swapped in one D that hadn't been available when they faced each other in the fall.
On WBS, however, there were some changes as their last meeting occurred in the midst of Pittsburgh's injury woes that started the long line of AHL call-ups. The Top 5 core D remains the same today, although, the only thing different now is which D winds up filling in at the #6 spot. Up front, however, is a completely different story. We got a number of players back that had been either injured our bouncing back and forth to the NHL at the time of our last meeting, and a couple of fresh new faces that are upgrades over our previous lineup. And we have enough depth to be able to scratch some of the less skilled 4th liners and ECHL call-ups.
It still remains to be seen if and when our last major injured players will return to the lineup, but based on how close the regular season series was and the fact that WBS made vast improvements to their lineup whereas St. John's remained largely unchanged I am quite pleased with their chances in the series.