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Calder Cup Conference Finals Preview
By Thomas Harrington
For the first time in franchise history, the San Diego Gulls have advanced to the Calder Cup Conference Finals. It’s been over a decade since an Anaheim Ducks affiliate made it this far in the Calder Cup Playoffs. They’ll play the Chicago Wolves, who defeated the Grand Rapids Griffins and the Iowa Wild to get this far.
In net, Jeff Glass has continued his strong work for the Gulls. He’s been excellent in two series and has a 6-3 record, goals against average of 2.25, and a .920 save percentage in 10 games. Glass has solidified himself as San Diego’s top goalie this postseason. He’s only had one shaky game so far, the 7-6 overtime loss in game three. However, that loss certainly can’t be laid solely at his feet; the Gulls had a number of defensive breakdowns in that game. Glass has saved much of his best work for the third period and overtime. Even though he lost game five in double overtime, he made some truly spectacular saves. Depending on what happens in the back to back games, the Gulls could turn to Kevin Boyle. After a rough start in game one against San Jose, he returned for game two against Bakersfield. He was excellent in that game, but he did get pulled because of injury. He missed a couple games, but he has served as Glass’ backup for the end of the second round. If needed, the Gulls can be confident in their backup.
Oscar Dansk has been Chicago’s top goaltender in the playoffs. He’s played in nine games and has a record of 6-3, a goals against average of 2.28, and a .912 save percentage. While his numbers aren’t as good as Glass’, Dansk has been great when needed. He’s been especially effective in the two games that ended the first two series. His backup is Max Lagace. He has a 1-1 record, a goals against average of 4.00, and a .849 save percentage. He’s clearly the weaker of the two goaltenders, and if he does get into any games, the Gulls need to take advantage. However, his numbers were very good in the regular season, so just because he’s in net doesn’t mean the Gulls will be able to score at will.
The Gulls have used a total of eight different defensemen in the playoffs. Five of them have played in every game: Andy Welinski, Jacob Larsson, Simon Benoit, Jaycob Megna, and Trevor Murphy. Jake Dotchin has played in five games, Josh Mahura has played in five games, and Patrick Sieloff has played in two. Mahura is currently injured and missed most of the second round, but the rest of the defensive core is relatively healthy. Being able to continually play the same core is one of the reasons why San Diego has made it as far as they have. Welinski leads the group with two goals and seven points, and Larsson is second with one goal and five points. Dotchin, Benoit, Megna, and Murphy all have two assists. While it’s not the deepest group that San Diego has ever had, they really came together and played some great defense through most of the second round. The only exception was that 7-6 loss. In every other game, they did an excellent job of shutting down the Condors’ top forwards. In San Diego’s only other defeat, Bakersfield scored two goals, and it took until double overtime for the second goal to be scored.
Similar to San Diego, Chicago has had five defensemen play in all 11 games: Nic Hague, Zach Whitecloud, Jake Bischoff, Zac Leslie, and Kevin Lough. Griffin Reinhart has played in 10 games and Josh Atkinson in one. Similar to the Gulls, the ability to keep putting out the same group of defensemen every game has been huge for Chicago in the playoffs. Hague and Whitecloud lead Chicago’s defense offensively, with both scoring two goals and six points. Other than Atkinson, every other defenseman has at least one assist in the postseason.
San Diego’s offense came alive against Bakersfield, especially Adam Cracknell, who was San Diego’s best player in the second round. Eight different Gulls forwards have appeared in all 10 games. The Gulls have used 16 different forwards in the playoffs, and everyone except for Luke Gazdic has recorded at least one point. Gazdic has played in only one game so far. Cracknell and Sam Carrick lead the team with 12 points each, and Sam Steel has 10 points. Cracknell leads the team in goals with six, while Carrick and Chase De Leo are tied for second with five. Despite playing in only six games, Max Comtois has three goals and six points, including the quadruple overtime game-winner in game one against Bakersfield, his first career Calder Cup playoff game. Max Jones is the biggest injury the Gulls have at forward. Thankfully, it’s a deep enough group that they’ve been able to make up for his lost production.
Chicago has also used 16 different forwards in the postseason, with seven of them playing in all 11 games. Curtis McKenzie, Tye McGinn, and Tomas Hyka lead the team with eight points each. McKenzie leads the team with five goals, followed by Cody Glass and Keegan Kolesar who both have four. Four of Chicago’s forwards have yet to record a point in this series; one of them, Ryan Wagner, has appeared in 10 postseason games. However, part of the reason for Chicago’s lower offensive totals is because two of their top scorers from the regular season, Daniel Carr and Brooks Macek, missed the first round. Both are now back with the team, and Carr has seven points in six games. Those two can definitely tilt this series in Chicago’s favor.
The Season Series
The Gulls and Wolves did not meet during the 2018-2019 regular season. Almost all of San Diego’s games take place against the Pacific Division and they rarely see the rest of the AHL. In fact, the Gulls and Wolves have only played against each other twice since San Diego joined the AHL. Chicago finished as the top team in the Central Division this season with a record of 44-22-6-4 in 76 games.
The best of seven series will follow a 2-3-2 format. Games one and two will be in Chicago this Friday and Saturday. Games three, four, and five will all be back in San Diego. If necessary, the series will head back to Chicago for games six and seven.
Here is the schedule for Round 3.
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May 17th, 2019