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WBS Weekly: Fifteen years of AHL playoffs

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Fifteen years running in the playoffs for the WBS Penguins.

Jean-Sebastian Dea handles the puck
Kate Frese - SB Nation

Friday, March 31: WBS 1 @ Springfield 3

Every season, there’s always one or two teams that, for whatever reason, seem to give the WBS Penguins problems for whatever reasons. WBS opened this weekend by making their final trip of the season to one such team, the Springfield Thunderbirds, who had won the previous two meetings between the teams in Springfield as well as take one out of three games at the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza during their season series. Friday’s game was no different, as the playoff-eliminated Thunderbirds used goals by Matt MacKenzie, Anthony Greco, and Kyle Rau, as well as 27 saves on 28 shots by goalie Sam Brittain, to peg back the division-leading Penguins 3-1. Only Ryan Haggerty’s 11th goal of the season prevented Brittain from earning his first shutout of the season. Coupled with Bridgeport’s 3-1 victory over Lehigh Valley, the WBS magic number stayed at 5 as a result of the loss, the 15th of the season suffered by goalie Tristan Jarry.

Saturday, April 1: Lehigh Valley 0 @ WBS 3

Whether it was extreme annoyance at being defeated the night before, whether it was strategy to throw the Penguins off their game, whether they were just plain sick and tired of having to see the Penguins again, or whatever the reason was, something possessed the Lehigh Valley Phantoms to turn the clocks back to the mid-2000s during their 10th game of 12 against WBS this season on April Fool’s Day. Led by their PIM leader Samuel Morin and getting substantial contributions from forwards Cole Bardreau and Scott Laughton, as well as from defenders Mark Alt and Travis Sanheim, Lehigh Valley did everything they could to bully around the Penguins, taking substantial liberties after whistles, trying to start scrums and fights wherever they could, and generally just being pains in the Penguins’ collective behinds.

Well, trying to, anyway.

Despite their efforts, including a vicious Morin board of Zach Aston-Reese that had the sellout crowd simultaneously incensed and fearful that Reese would find himself concussed like teammate Garrett Wilson was at Morin’s hands earlier in the season, WBS was undeterred, outshooting Lehigh Valley 45-26 on the evening and getting Frank Corrado’s first goal in a WBS sweater...

...the first professional goal by Troy Josephs...

...and an absolute laser from Derrick Pouliot...

...as well as 26 saves from goalie Casey DeSmith, including this beauty against the Phantoms’ goals leader Greg Carey...

...to shut out the Phantoms 3-0 for DeSmith’s first clean sheet of the season. His counterpart Alex Lyon, pressed into duty following a very late callup of Anthony Stolarz to the Flyers, made 34 outstanding saves on 37 shots before being removed in favor of Martin Ouellette in the third period. Lyon didn’t appear injured upon his removal; in fact he had just made an outstanding save reaching against his body just before his removal.

Although Bridgeport defeated the Hershey Bears on Saturday night, the victory propelled the Sound Tigers to one point clear of Hershey for fourth place; due to this, the WBS magic number was reduced to 2 following the WBS victory.

Sunday, April 2: Utica 3 @ WBS 2 (SO)

WBS closed the weekend with the last of its four games on the season against the top affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks, the Utica Comets, and their second crack against Vancouver’s young rookie goaltending prospect, Thatcher Demko. Utica got the first goal of the day just 2:28 into the game as Cody Kunyk scored his 14th goal of the season, assisted by Jordan Subban and Curtis Valk. WBS answered at the 5:08 mark of the second period with Zach Aston-Reese’s third goal of his very short WBS career, this one on a power play and assisted by Tom Kostopoulos and Derrick Pouliot. Subban answered at 12:58 of the second with his 16th of the year, third in the AHL among all defenders. Utica would hold the lead for the remainder of the second and nearly all of the third, but Oskar Sundqvist, less than 24 hours after taking an absolute beating at the hands of the Phantoms, scored his 18th of the season on a very late power play, assisted by Kostopoulos and Pouliot, to send the game to overtime and, for the moment, lower the magic number to 1.

After an overtime with no stoppages, the game proceeded to a shootout, where Utica’s Curtis Valk beat Tristan Jarry in round 2 and Demko stopped Dominik Simon, Garrett Wilson, and David Warsofsky to clinch the second point for Utica, a point they desperately needed in their attempt to chase down Albany for the fourth playoff spot in the North Division. Demko ended with 43 saves on 45 WBS shots and a well-deserved first star of the afternoon.

All’s well that ends well, though. Thanks to Lehigh Valley defeating Hershey 4-2 on Sunday, WBS is heading to the Calder Cup playoffs for the 15th straight season and 16th time in their 18-year history.

Now, the fun begins.

Statistics (as of April 2)

Goals - Tom Kostopoulos 24 (T-12th in AHL), Jake Guentzel 21, Oskar Sundqvist 18, Jean-Sebastien Dea/Josh Archibald 16 each, David Warsofsky 15, Dominik Simon 14

Assists - Kevin Porter 34 (T-17th in AHL), Simon 31, Warsofsky 30, Kostopoulos 29, Sundqvist 24, Guentzel 21, Teddy Blueger 20

Points - Kostopoulos 53 (T-19th in AHL), Warsofsky/Simon/Porter 45 each, Guentzel/Sundqvist 42 each, Dea 31, Archibald/Garrett Wilson 29 each

Goalies - Tristan Jarry 27-15-2 (3rd in AHL in wins), 2.20 GAA (T-7th in AHL), 92.4% save percentage (5th in AHL), two shutouts; Casey DeSmith 19-4-2, 2.14 GAA (4th in AHL), 92.0% save percentage (T-11th in AHL), one shutout

Special Teams - Power Play 17.7%, T-15th in AHL, 4 shorthanded goals allowed; Penalty Kill 87.2%, 1st in AHL, 8 shorthanded goals forced

Fight Tracker - Patrick McGrath 9: Tom Sestito 5, Garrett Wilson 4, Cameron Gaunce 2, Ryan Haggerty 2, Josh Archibald 1, Carter Rowney 1, Tom Kostopoulos 1, Jarrett Burton 1, Kevin Porter 1; even though Zach Aston-Reese got into his first professional fight on Friday, he was instigated upon in that fight, so it won’t count against him.

Magic Number to Clinch Division: Since WBS has now clinched the playoffs with 6 games to go, the next thing to clinch would be the regular season division championship. As of the week ended April 2, the second place team Lehigh Valley can max out at 104 points, with WBS having 98 as of the end of the week. WBS has not clinched the regulation wins tiebreaker, which according to the AHL is the first tiebreaker, so I would put their magic number to clinch the division at 7.

Standings: 1) x-WBS, 70.0%; 2) Lehigh Valley, 65.7%, 3) Providence, 65.0%; 4) Bridgeport, 62.9%; 5) Hershey, 61.3% (three game losing streak for the Bears dropping them out of playoff position); 6) Springfield, 49.3%; 7) Hartford, 37.1%

The Week Ahead:

Friday, April 7: WBS at Lehigh Valley, 7:05 pm EDT

Saturday, April 8: WBS at Hartford, 7:00 pm EDT

Sunday, April 9: WBS at Providence, 3:05 pm EDT

There’s still a lot to play for. Working out the kinks in the lineup, clinching home ice for as long as possible, even something as simple as keeping positive momentum going into the season that really matters...this is no time to get complacent.