Best-of-seven second-round series begins at Mile One Tuesday night
As St. John's IceCaps' defencemen Brett Festerling (3) and Paul Postma (4) look on, IceCaps' goaltender Eddie Pasquale stretches to make a save on Syracuse Crunch forward Riley Holzapfel (26) Friday night at Mile One Centre. Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram
IceCaps vs. Penguins. It's a match made for headline writers everywhere. It should be pretty good on the ice as well.
The second-round Calder Cup playoff series between the St. John's IceCaps and Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins starts Tuesday night at Mile One Centre and St. John's head coach Keith McCambridge figures his team is in for at least as tough as test as was presented by the Syracuse Crunch, whom the IceCaps dispatched in the opening round of the post-season.
"They have a real good balance up front of size, skill and some guys who can move," said McCambridge when asked for his take on the Penguins.
"They're defence is real big ... it's tough to generate shots through to the net, so that's a challenge we'll face. And they're goaltending is strong, too.
"It's a very balanced lineup, with a little more size than we saw out of the back end from Syracuse."
St. John's knocked off the Crunch 3-1 in their best-of-five opening-round series, capping things off with a 4-3 overtime victory in front of a frenzied full house at Mile One on Friday. The Penguins had to go the full distance to advance past the Hershey Bears, defeating their Pennsylvania rivals 2-1 Saturday night in a fifth and deciding game in Wilkes-Barre.
The Bears took the series to the limit despite missing some key players - goaltender Braden Holtby, forward Keith Aucoin and defenceman Dmitry Orlov - who were on Hershey's clear-day (playoff-eligibility) list, but were on recall to the parent Washington Capitals, who were just beginning their second-round Stanley Cup playoff series against the New York Rangers. Meanwhile, Wilkes-Barre had been buoyed by the return of defencemen Simon Despres and Brian Strait, who along with forward Eric Tangradi, had been sent down after the parent Pittsburgh Penguins were knocked from the NHL post-season in the first round.
After an IceCaps practice Sunday morning at Mile One, McCambridge agreed it was difficult not to note the players the AHL Penguins had received recently, but added it was folly to prefer opponents whose NHL affiliates were still busy in the chase for the Stanley Cup.
"As you go along, as you hopefully keep pushing forward, there's a greater chance you're going to be facing teams whose parent club is out of the Stanley Cup playoffs and have freed up guys on the (farm team's) clear-day list," said the St. John's coach.
"I'm more of a guy who says 'It is, what it is' and what it is in this round is that we're facing Wilkes-Barre."
It's a take also expounded by IceCaps' centre Patrice Cormier.
"Whoever the other team has in their lineup or doesn't have ... that's not what we should be worrying about. If you start doing that, you're in trouble right away.
"We'll worry about ourselves and making sure we step it a notch, because that's what you need to do to keep going this time of year."
Cormier is familiar with a number of the Penguins from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
"They've got a big team. I think all their defence are over six-foot-two, guys like Despres, (Alex) Grant and (Alexander) Picard, guys I know from the Q," said Cormier.
"They've got skill, They've obviously have good depth now, but it will be fun to start here and have the fans behind us. But we'll need to step up it up a notch."
Cormier had two goals in the series against the Crunch. He, along with Aaron Gagnon (three), Derek Meech (three) and John Albert (two), combined for two-thirds (10 of 15) of the markers St. John's scored in the four games with Syracuse.
Given the IceCaps were known as a team with the AHL's most balanced scoring attack in the regular season, McCambridge undoubtedly wants to see the goals more spread around.
"I wouldn't say I'm 100 percent (satisfied with the lines). There are times you can see where they're starting to fire and other times where they're out if synch. At the same time, every one of those lines has new pieces, either players coming in or players getting used to new positions," said McCambridge, pointing to Ben Maxwell and Marco Rosa, natural centres who have been moved to the wing, as examples of the latter.
The schedule for the second-round American Hockey League playoff series between the St. John's IceCaps and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (all times NT):
Game 1 - Tuesday, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at St. John's, 7:30 p.m.
Game 2 - Wednesday, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at St. John's,7:30 p.m.
Game 3 - Saturday, St. John's at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, 8:35 p.m
Game 4 - Sunday, St. John's at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, 5:35 p.m.
* Game 5 - Tuesday, May 8, St. John's at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, 8:35 p.m.
* Game 6 - Friday, May 11, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at St. John's, 7:30 p.m.
* Game 7 - Saturday, May 12, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at St. John's, 7:30 p.m.
* If necessary