Wednesday, April 12: Lehigh Valley 2 @ WBS 1 (SO)
The WBS Penguins entered the final week of the regular season having clinched the best record in the Eastern Conference and holding a magic number of 7 to win the Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy as the team with the best regular season record in the AHL. They took the ice on Wednesday against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms with that number reduced to 5, thanks to Tucson’s 2-1 victory over the Western Conference leaders, the San Jose Barracuda, on Tuesday.
Lehigh Valley entered the game on Wednesday needing only 1 point to clinch the playoffs for themselves, and for a significant portion of the game they appeared content with keeping the game scoreless for overtime and the point they needed. They only really ramped their game into gear once Dominik Simon scored his 15th of the year at 5:10 of the third. From there, Lehigh Valley dominated the third period, eventually outshooting WBS 16-8 in the third alone, and forced the equalizer at 13:11 of the third through Taylor Leier’s 11th goal of the season.
The game eventually did get to overtime, clinching the playoffs for the Phantoms, then a shootout, where Lehigh Valley’s Alex Lyon (replacing Anthony Stolarz, who suffered a knee injury early in the first period of the game and will require surgery to end his season) denied Zach Aston-Reese, Tom Kostopoulos, and Oskar Sundqvist to clinch the second point for the Phantoms.
Lyon ended with 33 saves on 34 shots for the win, while his counterpart Casey DeSmith also stopped 33 of 34 in regulation/overtime, but conceded a goal to Corban Knight in the shootout to take the loss. The point reduced WBS’s Kilpatrick magic number to 4.
Friday, April 14: Hershey 2 @ WBS 1
Tucson defeated San Jose again on Thursday night, 4-3, but in overtime, so WBS took the ice on Friday with its number reduced to 3. Problem was, they took the ice against a very focused, very determined, very desperate Hershey Bears squad that, one day earlier, took the unusual step of cancelling their traditional pre-game awards ceremony for their last home game of the season in deference to Hershey’s playoff hopes. What transpired on Friday was easily Hershey’s most complete game of the season against the Penguins, as they pressured everything WBS could offer, defended extremely well, and got a huge goal from Jakub Vrana, his 18th of the season, at 3:31 of the second to take a 1-0 lead into the third period.
The Bears were undeterred when Tim Erixon fired a time bomb slapper that barely got through Pheonix Copley at 10:33 of the third on WBS’s only power play of the game, as just as the goal announcement ended in the arena, Christian Djoos scored his 13th of the season at 11:00 of the third to restore the Hershey lead, which they would see through to the end of the game for a 2-1 victory and, combined with a Bridgeport 7-0 defeat to Springfield, clinched the playoffs for the Bears. Casey DeSmith stopped 19 of 21 Hershey shots for the loss, while Copley finished with 22 saves on 23 shots and two arms thrust into the air in celebration on the final horn.
Saturday, April 15: Bridgeport 4 @ WBS 5
Having lost control of their Kilpatrick Trophy destiny due to the Hershey loss, WBS chose to rest Tom Kostopoulos, Kevin Porter, David Warsofsky, Tim Erixon, Derrick Pouliot, and Zach Aston-Reese for the season finale against Bridgeport, as well as give Sean Maguire his first AHL start in relief of Casey DeSmith.
Maguire performed admirably under the circumstances, stopping 22 of 26 Bridgeport shots, but was victimized twice in the first period as Ryan Pulock scored at 13:11 and Carter Verhaeghe scored at 19:11 to sandwich Teddy Blueger’s 7th of the season. The first period ended 2-1 to the Sound Tigers. Travis St. Denis expanded the lead to 3-1 at 10:56 of the second with his 12th of the season, and prospects for the best record in the league looked dim until Jean-Sebastien Dea, fresh off his NHL debut to close the Pittsburgh Penguins regular season, scored his 18th of the season at 19:22 of the second to claw WBS back to within 1.
Bridgeport restored the two-goal lead at 6:40 of the third through Verhaeghe’s second of the game and 16th of the season, but from there, WBS forward Adam Krause took over.
First, Krause provided the secondary assist on Jarrett Burton’s 7th of the season at 8:11 of the third to draw WBS to within 1 again. Then, after Patrick McGrath forced a turnover at center ice, Krause took it upon himself to take the puck and drive the net in a power move very reminiscent of Bryan Rust, just reaching past the pad of Eamon McAdam to tie the game at 4 with his second of the season. Fans started to get nervous when McGrath was whistled for holding at 15:41 of the third, but Ryan Haggerty was able to force a turnover on the PK and spring Krause for a breakaway.
He did not miss.
Shorthanded goal, Krause’s third goal of the season, and the eventual game-winner for WBS’s 51st and final victory of the regular season.
Then, it was time to wait. With WBS’s Kilpatrick number reduced to 1, all eyes were on the season finale for San Jose as they visited the Bakersfield Condors, top affiliate of the Edmonton Oilers. Any Bakersfield victory would clinch the Kilpatrick Trophy for the Penguins. The game would eventually go to overtime, when...
That’s Josh Currie for Bakersfield completing a hat trick, his 22nd goal of the season, to give the Condors a final victory over San Jose 3-2 and clinch the Kilpatrick Trophy for the Penguins.
Fifty-one victories, the best record in the league, but all that matters now is that whoever wants the Calder Cup must eventually come to WBS to do it. The first try will be taken by the Providence Bruins, who dropped to 4th place in the Atlantic by losing their season finale to Hershey on Saturday. It will be the second playoffs in a row that WBS and Providence open against each other in the best of 5 opening round, and the fifth time in the last six playoffs that the affiliates of the Penguins and Bruins cross paths on the road to the Calder Cup.
Now, the fun begins.
FINAL SEASON STATISTICS
Goals: Tom Kostopoulos 24, Jake Guentzel 21, Oskar Sundqvist 20, Jean-Sebastien Dea 18, David Warsofsky/Josh Archibald 16 each, Dominik Simon 15
Assists: Kevin Porter 35, Warsofsky/Simon 31 each, Kostopoulos 30, Sundqvist 26, Teddy Blueger 24
Points: Kostopoulos 54, Warsofsky 47, Sundqvist/Simon/Porter 46 each, Guentzel 42, Dea 34
Goalies: Tristan Jarry 28-15-2, 2.15 GAA, 92.5% save percentage, three shutouts; Casey DeSmith 21-5-3, 2.01 GAA, 92.6% save percentage, one shutout
Special Teams: Power play 17.9%, T-14th in AHl, 4 shorthanded goals allowed; penalty kill 86.9%, 1st in AHL, 9 shorthanded goals forced
Final Atlantic Division Standings: 1) WBS, 70.4%; 2) Lehigh Valley, 66.4%; Hershey, 63.8%; 4) Providence, 63.2%; 5) Bridgeport, 60.5% (would win the North Division); 6) Springfield, 49.3%; 7) Hartford, 35.5%
CALDER CUP PLAYOFFS ROUND 1 SCHEDULE
Game 1: Friday, April 21, WBS @ Providence, 7:05 pm EDT
Game 2: Sunday, April 23, WBS @ Providence, 3:05 pm EDT
Game 3: Thursday, April 27, Providence @ WBS, 7:05 pm EDT
Game 4: Friday, April 28, Providence @ WBS, 7:05 pm EDT
Game 5: Sunday, April 30, Providence @ WBS, 7:05 pm EDT
Yes, yes, I know it looks weird that the schedule is 2-3. That’s how things work in the AHL for round 1; if the teams are close enough together geographically where travel to and from the sites is feasible, the league will go 2-2-1. Lehigh Valley and Hershey in round 1 is a 2-2-1 format, with the Phantoms getting Game 5 at home as the higher seed. But if the teams are not close enough together, then the league goes to a 2-3 schedule, with the higher seeded team having the choice of the first 2 games at home or the last 3 games at home.
So, no...WBS is not losing home ice advantage in the first round due to an Alan Jackson concert at the arena on Friday the 21st. Let’s settle that right now. WBS clearly believed, as I do, that the potential Game 5 at home is much more desirable than having the first 2 games at home to build a series lead.
Remaining series schedules can be found here. The other series are Lehigh Valley/Hershey, Syracuse/St. John’s, Toronto/Albany, Chicago/Charlotte, Grand Rapids/Milwaukee, San Jose/Stockton, and San Diego/Ontario.
I’ll have a full Penguins/Bruins series preview for you on Friday morning.