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Previewing the 2008 Calder Cup Finals

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SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … The Chicago Wolves and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins are both making their third AHL championship series appearance this decade, and both sit four wins away from the title as the 2008 Calder Cup Finals prepare to get underway on Thursday night.

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton won the Richard F. Canning Trophy and the Eastern Conference championship with a thrilling seven-game victory over the Portland Pirates. The Penguins are the fifth consecutive East Division team – and the fifth straight from the state of Pennsylvania – to advance to the Calder Cup Finals, doing so by erasing a three-goal deficit late in Game 6 and winning in overtime, then claiming the deciding victory in the final minute of Game 7 on a goal by former Pirate Tim Brent.

With Pittsburgh competing for the Stanley Cup in the National Hockey League’s championship series, the Penguins organization is bidding to be the first to have teams crowned as NHL and AHL champions in the same year since New Jersey and Albany accomplished the feat in 1995.

Chicago captured the Robert W. Clarke Trophy and the Western Conference crown by shutting down the Toronto Marlies in five games. The high-powered Wolves, who boast the last two AHL MVP’s and scoring champions in Jason Krog and Darren Haydar, have won six of their last seven games overall and eight of their last nine at home entering the Finals.

The best-of-seven 2008 Calder Cup Finals begin on Thursday night and Sunday afternoon at Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Ill., which will also host Games 6 and 7, if necessary. The middle three games of the series are scheduled for the Wachovia Arena at Casey Plaza in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.. Stay connected to caldercup.com, the official Web site of the Calder Cup Playoffs, for live scores, broadcast and webcast information and the latest news from the AHL’s 72nd championship series.

In operation since 1936, the AHL continues to serve as the top development league for all 30 National Hockey League teams. More than 84 percent of today’s NHL players are American Hockey League graduates, and this season marks the seventh consecutive year in which more than 6 million fans have attended AHL games across North America.

ETC. … Chicago won the Calder Cup in 2002 and lost in the 2005 Finals; Wilkes-Barre was runner-up in 2001 and 2004… Both teams were swept in their most recent Finals appearance… Seven of the top 10 AHL scorers through three rounds are moving on to the Finals… Jason Krog (5g, 6a), Darren Haydar (2g, 8a) and Joel Kwiatkowski (4g, 3a) combined for 28 points in Chicago’s five-game win over Toronto in the conference finals… Nathan Smith led the Penguins with seven points (3g, 4a) in seven games vs. Portland last round… The lower seed has won five of the last six Calder Cup Finals… Brian Pochmara (second Finals), Dean Morton (first) and Francois St. Laurent (first) have been named the referees for the series… Chicago’s Jason Krog will enter the AHL Chat Room on caldercup.com to answer fans’ questions today; Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s Tim Brent will step in to do the same on Friday.