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St. John’s IceCaps 2014 Calder Cup Finals Preview

What better way to cap off a long season for the St. John’s IceCaps than to take even longer plane rides in hopes of eventually bringing home the Calder Cup. The fourth-seeded IceCaps will travel to and from Texas to take on the first-seeded Stars in the Calder Cup Finals, after defeating the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 5-0 in a deciding Game 6.

Since the Ice Caps arrival in 2011, the two teams have never met; but they’ll have a chance to make a first impression when the puck drops in Texas for Game 1 on Sunday. Full Schedule Here.

How They Got Here:

Facing unfamiliar foes has done the IceCaps well so far these playoffs. In the first round they went up against the Albany Devils; a team that they’ve only faced four times in three seasons. The Devils proved to be a heavenly first round match-up for the IceCaps, who took the series 3-1 after splitting the first two games. Andrew Gordon scored a hat-trick for St. Johns in Game 4 and has rode the momentum ever since, now holding the team lead for points with 16.

In the Eastern Conference Semifinals, the offence for the IceCaps proved to be too much for the eighth-seeded Norfolk Admirals. The teams didn’t meet each other in the regular season, and there’s a good chance Norfolk won’t want to meet again anytime soon. Although they took the series to six games after a 3-2 overtime victory in Game 5, the Admirals gave up 5 goals on three separate occasions (Games 3, 4, and 6).

In the Eastern Conference Finals, The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins proved to be the IceCaps’ toughest challenge yet. The Penguins took the series lead in Game 1 by a score of 3-2 before the series was tied up by another one-goal victory, this time by the IceCaps, 2-1. By winning 5-0 In Game 3, the IceCaps showed that their three 5-goal games in the previous round were no flukes; and that became even more evident when the team eventually took the series in Game 6 by the same score.

Looking At The Stars:

Just like the IceCaps, the Stars are coming into the Finals boasting a playoff record of 11-5. The difference is that three of those losses came in the Western Conference Finals when the Toronto Marlies took them to seven games. Before the Marlies, Texas faced no real adversity all playoffs. They swept the Oklahoma City Barons in the first round and took down the defending champion Grand Rapids Griffins in the semi-finals after trouncing them 7-1 in a deciding Game 5.

After the first period of the Western Conference Finals, it looked like we were headed towards a Canadian Calder Cup Finals. The Marlies, despite being heavily outshot, held a 2-goal lead; but in typical Toronto fashion, that lead collapsed, and badly. The Stars ended up scoring six unanswered, with the game winner coming in the third period to Brett Richie, who also had two assists in the contest.

Much like the IceCaps, the Stars have gotten to this point thanks to scoring depth and steady play in net. Since Jack Campbell (2-1, 2.54 GAA, .917 SV%) went down with an injury in the second round, all the goaltending duties have gone to Swedish netminder Cristopher Nilstrop. The 30-year-old has been just as reliable with a 2.14 GAA and .914 SV%.When it comes to the offence for the Stars, the scoring has been very spread out, with nine players having four or more goals.

How The IceCaps Win The Series:

–  Improving Their Power Play
The IceCaps production with the man advantage during the regular season was fairly pedestrian, and that hasn’t changed so far in the playoffs. Their power play percentage has actually dropped from 18.1% in the regular season to 16.9%. Against the Marlies, the Stars showed that if kept in a game, it’s only a matter of time until they take advantage of whatever momentum comes their way. If the IceCaps consistently score on the power play, it not only adds to their chances of winning on the scoresheet, but it takes away opportunities for the Stars to build momentum off of successful penalty kills; but that may be easier said than done. Although the Stars’ penalty kill ranks ninth in the playoffs, they had the third best PK percentage in the league at 86.4% during the regular season. The IceCaps themselves have learned firsthand just how valuable a strong penalty kill can be…

Keep Killing (Or Be Killed?)
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton had 32 chances on the power play in the Eastern Conference Finals and 32 times were denied a goal by the penalty kill of the IceCaps. Not surprisingly, the best penalty killing unit in the playoffs belongs to the IceCaps, with a success rate of 91%. Luckily for them, the Stars league-best power play from the regular season (25.3%) has struggled thus far in the postseason at 16.7 % (ranks 11th).  If they keep Texas from regaining their form with the man advantage, they could instill a sense of self-doubt in the Stars players’ minds as the series progresses. IceCaps’ John Albert, who scored 28 goals in the regular season but just one so far in the playoffs, has found other ways to help his team win. He, along with line-mate Kyle MacKinnon, have proved to be crucial to the team’s success on the penalty kill by using their speed and quickness to make up for lost ice while playing a man down. Rookie Adam Lowry (drafted in the third round by the Jets in 2011) has also impressed killing penalties, using his big frame (6’5, 201 lbs) to get in the way of shooting lanes and be physical along the boards. But, perhaps the most important piece of their penalty kill, has been goaltender Michael Hutchinson…

– The Stellar Play Of Michael Hutchinson

St. John's goalie Michael Hutchinson stops a shot from Penguins' Harry Zolnierczyk (7) in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals on May 28th, 2014. (Mark Moran/The Citizens' Voice)
St. John’s goalie Michael Hutchinson stops a shot from Penguins’ Harry Zolnierczyk (7) in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals on May 28th, 2014.
(Mark Moran/The Citizens’ Voice)

Originally drafted by the Boston Bruins in 2008, goaltender Michael Hutchison could in fact be the future answer in net for the Winnipeg Jets. For now, he’ll hope to (continue to) lead his St. John’s IceCaps to a Calder Cup Victory. His numbers have been godly thus far in the playoffs with a .946 SV%, 1.61 GAA and 3 shutouts. It’s safe to say that his play in net has caused the team to play more confident and loosely throughout the playoffs, which has in turn improved their offensive game as well. If Hutchison can be 75% of the player he’s been so far in the postseason, then there’s a good chance it’ll be enough for the IceCaps to find a way to win in front of him.

Come 2015, there’s a very good chance St. John’s IceCaps will no longer be the Winnipeg Jets minor league affiliate, so now is the time for those in the Jets’ system to bring the Calder Cup to Newfoundland and Labrador. The travel from Winnipeg to St. Johns has been challenging for players and management, so isn’t it fitting that the IceCaps end their season winning a championship in a city that’s a six hour plane ride away? It’s possible, although I’m sure they’d rather win it in their hometown, but against a team like the Stars there’s a slim to none chance that happens in Game 4.

My prediction? IceCaps in 7. That would be one plane ride home where they wouldn’t mind how long it takes to reach their destination; since they’ll have felt like they’ve already reached it.

Andy Bugelli

Andy Bugelli

Born into a family of die-hard football fans, I had to discover hockey on my own. A big reason why the first time I skated onto the ice in full equipment was when I was 18 years old. Now, a year later, with a whopping one career goal under my belt, I'm combining my passion for hockey with writing. I recently finished my second year of a Journalism program at Seneca College, and now I'm thrilled to be a member of the HOHM team.
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