There is still Penguins playoff hockey being played in the state of Pennsylvania and it continues tonight with the AHL's Calder Cup Playoffs.
Pittsburgh's top minor league affiliate, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (WBS) Penguins, currently lead their first round best-of-five series with the Hershey Bears (Washington Capitals) and look to finish them off tonight at 7:05 p.m. EST in Game Three. For live in-game updates, follow @H_P_Hockey on Twitter!
For those of you who don't know me, I'm the PensBurgh writer whose focus is on the Penguins' prospects and NHL stars to be. I'll be providing coverage of the WBS Penguins and their 2012 Calder Cup Playoff run for hopefully the next month and a half or so.
After the jump, a little bit of catch up to set the stage for tonight's Game Three as well as a look at some guys Penguins fans should be watching closely this postseason.
Why this series is 2-0?
Sure, Bears fans can argue that this series is where it is because the Capitals are still in the NHL playoffs and currently have three guys in Washington playing. But until yesterday, so did the Pens.
Eric Tangradi, Simon Despres and Brian Strait were just recently returned to the WBS Penguins and will suit up for their AHL playoff game of the series tonight in Game Three.
The real reasons why the Pens are one win away from the second round are as follows:
- The Pens ability to be able to roll four lines on a regular basis through the first two games has simply worn down their opponent. All but five skaters who have dressed a game for the Pens have gotten on the scoresheet. That kind of depth scoring is proving to be the difference.
- The Pens defense has been stellar thus far in the series. The PK is a perfect 7 for 7 and goaltender Brad Thiessen hasn't seen a lot of second or third chances because the defense has been able to get the puck out of the danger areas.
- First period starts are crucial in the playoffs. The Pens have outscored the Bears 5-0 in the first period this series. Colin McDonald set the tone in Game Two scoring just 1:19 into the contest. The Bears have never led in the series and have trailed for all but 15:59.
If those three bullet points above continue in Game Three tonight, then we should be seeing the handshake line after tonight's game. The series is by no means over yet, though. The Bears are an elite AHL team and an 11-time AHL Calder Cup Champion. They know what they need to do to overcome the 2-0 deficit and have to take it one game at a time.
Now onto some guys Pens fans should be watching closely this postseason, starting with the big names you all know and more importantly ending with some guys you probably haven't heard of.
LW ERIC TANGRADI
Many have been saying for quite some time that Tangradi's future with the organization is in doubt. Here's to hoping he tears it up in the AHL Playoffs and rises his stock for next season. Could be matched with the Pens best playmaker Cal O'Reilly.
D SIMON DESPRES
Despres continues to impress the Pittsburgh faithful and could be in the NHL full-time as early as next season. What you're looking for out of Despres in the AHL playoff run is solid two-way play. Might be on the second power play unit as well.
G BRAD THIESSEN
After a mediocre performance with the NHL Penguins, Thiessen has come back to Wilkes-Barre and has been pretty good, to say the least. Last year's AHL goalie of the year needs to prove he's ready to be Marc-Andre Fleury's backup next season.
LW/RW COLIN MCDONALD
Not the season most were expecting out McDonald, who led the AHL with 42 goals last year. But in two games this postseason he has four goals and has been explosive at times. Plays with a physical edge too. His hard work could pay off with a bottom six role in Pittsburgh next season?
C BEN STREET
I think this guy gets an NHL contract by the Penguins next season. Led the team in points (27G-30A) in the regular season and tied for the team lead in goals. Probably the go-to goal scorer in the AHL Penguins lineup. Scored 11 power play goals this season. Also very good on the PK as well. An all-around good hockey player that Shero should consider signing this offseason.
C BRYAN LERG
Another guy not on an NHL contract that probably deserves one. Another good two-way hockey player who led the team with four shorthanded goals in the regular season. Also scored 27 goals this season and finished second on the team with 53 points (27G-26A).