I’ll preview the Calder Cup Finals in a moment, but first some thoughts on the Stanley Cup Finals:
First off, as a Flyers’ supporter I love the effort they’ve put forth in the first two games. However, sometimes effort and passion just ain’t good enough and the two losses they’ve suffered so far is evidence to that. But a win tonight by the Flyers and all that changes, as we’ll officially have a series. Here’s how they can get it done (since I said in my last blog that they would split in Chicago and clearly I was wrong there).
• Score at least one, first period goal
• Somehow keep Patrick Kane and his line-mates off the board again in Game 3 (much easier said than done)
• Keep the ‘Hawks to under 35 shots and less than 4 power play opportunities
Now to the Calder Cup Finals:
The Hershey Bears are supposed to be here. The Texas Stars are a mild surprise to be here. And really, it’s the same thing at the NHL level with the Flyers and the Blackhawks. So the question begs: Does that matter at this point in the season?
That’s for you to decide. As for me, it’s prediction time.
By my calculations, there hasn’t been a repeat champion in the AHL since Springfield hoisted back-to-back Calder Cups in ‘90 & ’91. And no one has won the Stanley Cup in consecutive seasons since the Detroit Red Wings in ’97 & ’98. That tells me it’s too difficult in today’s game to repeat as champs – there’s too much parity, too many guys who want it so badly that they’ll bring their respective games to a desperate enough level that they won’t let you beat them, too many bounces that need to go your way over 16 wins, too many obstacles to overcome and win it all again.
So, Texas Stars’ fans, enjoy this journey. You will be the 2010 Calder Cup Champions. Here’s why:
The Stars have three players that played with the Manitoba Moose in last year’s finals against the Bears in Greg Rallo, Ray Sawada and former Aero Max Fortunus. Those guys will help the Stars be better prepared (even if it’s marginally) for the Bears’ tendencies and their 18 returning players from last year’s championship club. On top of that, the Stars have showed an unbelievable resiliency in winning two, road game 7’s this postseason. That should bode well for them when facing adversity in this series. Now the Stars may be slightly star-struck (no pun intended) at Giant Center in front of 10,000 fans or so for games 1 and 2, but they should get passed that after a period or two and get back to playing Stars’ hockey. “Fill-in” goaltender and former Aero Matt Climie passed all the tests necessary so far this postseason, especially in game 7 in Hamilton where the Bulldogs out-shot the Stars 40-23. The Stars are a veteran defensive team that prides itself on being poised in their own zone and opportunistic on offense and if they can continue that philosophy they will certainly frustrate the heavily-favored Bears.
Meanwhile, the Bears, although dominant record-wise at 12-3 this playoff year, have won seven games in overtime and they’ve won five times when trailing after two periods. That’s living on the edge and that is why a team with as much gumption as the Stars will present a problem. You don’t erase third period leads against the Stars (6-0 record in postseason when leading after two). The Bears’ high-powered offense will “get theirs”; I have no doubt about that. In fact, the offensive numbers say we should see some higher scoring games in the Finals, which should make for exciting hockey. Defensively the Bears have been good, if not great, holding their opponents to just over 27 shots per game and there’s no reason to think they won’t keep that trend going. Keep in mind, the Bears have had another long layoff after they beat the Manchester Monarchs in the Eastern Conference Finals and at some point that has to catch up with them and cost them one of the first two games, right?
For some insight from the only AHL broadcasters remaining, here’s what the Bears’ John Walton and the Stars’ Josh Fisher provided when asked for the most important thing in order for their team to have success in the Finals:
John Walton, Hershey Bears
“Playing with a lead seems to be almost vital for Hershey now. Although the team has advanced back to the Finals, nothing about this postseason has come easy with an AHL record seven overtime wins, and more wins when trailing after two than leading after two. It's tough to maintain that kind of record through four rounds. Texas has that same comeback swagger as well this playoff year, making it a very intriguing matchup when you drill down into it. You have to believe with what both teams have done this postseason; this series could easily go six or seven games."
Josh Fisher, Texas Stars
“First goal, specialty teams and goaltending. Texas is 6-1 in the Calder Cup Playoffs when scoring the first goal of the night and 6-5 when allowing the first goal. The Stars have not scored the game’s opening goal in their last ten straight, dating back to Game 4 of the West Division Finals at home against Chicago. Texas’ power play has been much better on the road than at home in the playoffs. The Stars are converting 24.2% of their road chances compared to 18.9% of their home chances. Stars’ goaltender Matt Climie went 4-3 in the Western Conference Finals against Hamilton, sporting a 2.43GAA and a .931 save percentage in the series. In Game 6, Climie made an AHL playoff-high 51 saves at Hamilton, a 3-2 overtime win for Texas. Four of Climie’s five playoff wins have come in overtime games.”
With all that said, I’m confident this will be a long series and even as I’m typing this there’s a part of me that thinks I’m going loco…The Pick: Stars in 7 (via a 4-3 O.T. victory on the road).
One final thing from the world of hockey…check out this story about a reported Central Hockey League / International Hockey League merger from the Shreveport Times.
Also, my sincerest thanks to all of my colleagues that helped provide insight for my blog throughout the 2010 Calder Cup Playoffs. It was greatly appreciated!
Savor this time hockey heads, because in a matter of weeks there won’t be any live hockey until October…
- Aero Joe