We are about 57 hours away from the opening faceoff for game 1 of the Calder Cup Finals. Hershey is playing in their 4th Calder Cup Finals in the last 5 years and their 22nd overall. The Texas Stars are playing in their first.
How Did Both Teams Get Here?
Hershey was the #1 overall seed in the AHL this season after accumulating 123 points during the regular season. They scored 342 goals and allowed only 198 while winning 60 games. They finished 29 points ahead of second place Albany in the East division.
During the playoffs Hershey is 12-3 with 55 goals for and 39 goals against. They have gone 8-0 at home and 4-3 on the road. And they are 7-1 in overtime games during the 2010 playoffs. They have come from behind in the third period to win in 9 of their 12 victories.
In the playoffs Hershey needed 5 games to eliminate the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in the first round and only 4 games to eliminate Albany in the East division finals.
Then in the Eastern Conference Finals they faced the Manchester Monarchs in what ended up being an epic 6 game series that saw 4 overtime games and only one game decided by more than 1 goal. Hershey won 3 of those overtime games.
Texas finished 2nd in the West division, 6 points behind the division champ Chicago Wolves. They scored 238 goals and allowed 198 while going 46-27-3-4.
Overall the Stars are 12-6 during the playoffs. They have scored 56 goals and have allowed 47. They are 5-2 in overtime games, 6-2 at home, and 6-4 on the road.
In the playoffs they started it off with a 4 game sweep and beating of Rockford in the first round as they outscored the Ice Hogs 15-5 in the series.
Then they faced off against the AHL's #3 seed, the Chicago Wolves, in the West division finals. That series ended up going 7 games with 3 overtime games. Early in the 2nd period of game 7 Texas was down 4-2 on the road before scoring 4 goals to Chicago's 1 which resulted in a 6-5 overtime win.
Which got them a date with the AHL's #2 overall seed, the Hamilton Bulldogs. Another 2-3-2 series format kicked off with Hamilton winning the first 2 and Texas taking the next 2 before game 5 and the final game in Texas for the series. I thought Texas had to win that game to win the series. They lose game 5 and they have to win 2 straight in Hamilton.
Well they lost game 5 in Texas but won games 6 and 7 in Hamilton to end the Bulldogs season. In fact they needed more dramatics in game 7. Yet again they were down 2 early in the 2nd period before storming back with 4 goals. This time they were all unanswered goals and no overtime was required and Texas was headed to Hershey.
Michal Neuvirth is the man in Hershey again. Overall he is 10-2 with a 2.17 goals against average and a .917 save percentage. In the Manchester series he went 4-2 with a 1.85 goals against average and a .936 save percentage. He always seems to step up in big games and is as clutch as any goaltender in the league.
Brent Krahn started 10 games early in the playoffs before suffering an injury and giving way to Matt Climie. Climie started one game against Chicago (filled in for 2 other games too) and in all 7 games against Hamilton. Overall he is 5-3 with a 2.62 goals against average and a .922 save percentage in the playoffs.
Incredibly deep unit with guys like Amadio and Miscokic not even dressing for some games. Karl Alzner and John Carlson lead the blue line and are as good as any pairing in the league. Next season they will likely be blue line mates in Washington.
Bryan Helmer leads the team with a +11 rating while Alzner leads the defensemen in scoring with 2 goals and 4 assists in his 14 playoff games. But Patrick McNeill was the hero late in the Manchester series with an assist, goal, and huge save in the clinching game 6.
Overall they are as good a unit as their is in the league. There are guys who can jump up on the rush and become wingers, Carlson and McNeill, and guys who are as sound positionally as anyone, Alzner and Helmer. Add in players like Ammo, Wellar, Sean Collins and Miscovic and they truly go 8 deep.
Defensive numbers are hard to quantify. Especially when you don't see a team play. Texas has 4 defensemen in the top 9 playoff scorers. Leading the way and 2nd on the team in points is Andrew Hutchinson who has 4 goals and 1o assists in 18 games. Dan Jancevski, who has 1 goal and 9 assists, is the team leader in plus minus with a +12.
Offensively they have 4 defensemen with 7 or more points which is 4 more than the Bears have. But again that doesn't say too much considering I have yet to see Texas play.
Is there a better offense in the league? No. You don't score 342 goals during the regular season unless you are the best. They have since added 55 more in 15 playoff games. And they will be fully healthy for game 1 with Andrew Gordon coming back and Mathieu Perreault getting over his injuries as well.
For much of the Manchester series the Bears depth advantage was non-existent due to Gordon being out and the lines getting shuffled around. There were a couple games, when Hershey dressed Della Rovere and/or 7 defensemen, that they Hershey 4th line barely saw any ice time. While that is common place in the AHL it has been extremely rare for the Bears who have have run 4 lines each and every game for the last 2 postseasons.
It is a distinct advantage for a team if they continue to do that. Obviously it has helped the Bears late in the 3rd periods as even when they are trailing they are still likely to win it seems.
While Texas has the overall scoring leader in the playoffs Hershey boasts 3 of the top 10 goal scorers in the playoffs, Bouque, Giroux and Gordon. Add assists to the topic along with Aucoin and Hershey has 4 of the top 7 in points during the playoffs.
Basically it comes down to this....Hershey's top line is an all-star line. Gordon has 10 goals, Giroux 12, and Aucoin has 18 assists during the playoffs. Then you look at the 2nd line and see Bourque who actually leads the team in points with 23 (7g, 16a) along with Perreault who has 5 goals and 8 assists.
You still have Wilson (4 and 6), Pinner (4/2), and Bouch (2/4) in their spots. Guys like Beagle and Kane are skating on the 3rd/4th lines for Hershey that would spend time on many teams 1st/2nd lines. The depth is unbelievable and it will be a difference maker again.
Texas does have one thing Hershey doesn't...the AHL goal and point scoring leader. Jamie Benn, the NHLer I might add, has 14 goals and 10 assists to lead all players. He played in all 82 games for the Dallas Stars this season totaling 22 goals and 19 assists this season.
There is apparently some rule that allowed Benn to play in the AHL playoffs even though he did not spend a minute there during the regular season. Not sure what it is but I am pretty sure it would have to do with junior eligibility but whatever.
After Benn there are a bunch of role players it seems. Like the defensive analysis it is kind of tough to really give proper analysis when you have never seen a team play.
As mentioned in my post last week, Travis Morin, the former Bear and Stingray, is in the top 5 in points for the team with 3 goals and 1o assists. Add to him and Benn other players (mainly centers) like Perttu Lindgren (6/8), Aaron Gagnon (6/3), and Warren Peters (4/3) and you see that while they don't have a dominating top line they do have depth.
Before the Manchester series I offered up a Bears in 7 prediction. It ended up close to that as Hershey won in 6 but it was definitely a closer series than many people thought it would be. But that was close because Manchester had the league's best goalie and a defense that blocked as many shots as anyone.
Does Texas have that? Not sure about the defense but considering they have allowed 47 playoff goals I would say they aren't. And they definitely don't have Bernier in goal.
Hershey has been here before, they are rested and healthy, and they are ready. Texas is talented don't get me wrong but they have already played two 7 game series against the #2 and #3 team in the AHL. They are not as rested and let's be honest...not as talented as the Bears.
Now if it all came down to paper we would all be getting rich betting on sports. They play the games for a reason. I haven't seen Texas play...ever...so this is kind of a tough pick to make. The Stars are obviously resilient having one 2 straight 7 game series on the road. But if the NHL is any indication their road ends here.
Montreal won 2 game 7s on the road in the NHL this season and I heard this stat. Every team that had done that before failed to win the following series.
Hopefully that translates to the AHL.
I think it will. While I would love to see Hershey win the game in 6 on home ice I am not certain it will get that far.
My pick...Hershey in 5.
LET'S GO BEARS!!!