AHL Morning Skate: 6.10.22

A2-Springfield Thunderbirds vs. N3-Laval Rocket
Game 4 – Tonight, 7:00 ET, AHLTV
(Springfield leads series, 2-1)

Game 1 – Sat., June 4 – SPRINGFIELD 2, Laval 1 (OT) | Recap
Game 2 – Sun., June 5 – Laval 4, SPRINGFIELD 2 | Recap
Game 3 – Wed., June 8 – Springfield 6, LAVAL 3 | Recap
Game 4 – Fri., June 10 – Springfield at Laval, 7:00
Game 5 – Sat., June 11 – Springfield at Laval, 7:00
*Game 6 – Mon., June 13 – Laval at Springfield, 7:05
*Game 7 – Wed., June 15 – Laval at Springfield, 7:05
*if necessary… All times Eastern

Laval hosts Springfield in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals tonight, trailing two games to one after the Thunderbirds’ 6-3 win on Wednesday... Former Montreal Canadiens prospect Will Bitten was the star of Game 3, scoring four goals in the victory... Bitten (7-7-14) has moved into second place in the league in playoff scoring... Nathan Todd (2-5-7) and Hugh McGing (3-2-5) also scored for Springfield... Mackenzie MacEachern (5-5-10) notched three assists in Game 3... Joel Hofer (6-0, 1.63, .958), who made 37 saves on Wednesday, has faced at least 35 shots in each of his six playoff starts... Rafaël Harvey-Pinard (2-5-7) scored for the second straight game, and Corey Schueneman (1-2-3) and Nate Schnarr (2-2-4) added goals for the Rocket... Cayden Primeau (7-3, 2.20, .932) stopped 37 shots in Game 3, his ninth game with at least 30 saves out of 10 starts this postseason... Joshua Roy, a fifth-round pick by Montreal in the 2021 NHL Draft, made his pro debut for Laval in Game 3... Laval has scored first in each of the first three games of the series... The Rocket have killed off 20 consecutive opposition power plays, including all 15 for Springfield this series... The Thunderbirds are now 5-0-0 all-time at Place Bell... Springfield has outscored its opponents by a 23-5 margin in the third period and overtime this postseason, despite being outshot 130-99... Attendance for Game 3 was 10,043.

C1-Chicago Wolves vs. P1-Stockton Heat
Game 4 – Tonight, 10:00 ET, AHLTV
(Chicago leads series, 3-0)

Game 1 – Fri., June 3 – CHICAGO 5, Stockton 4 (OT) | Recap
Game 2 – Mon., June 6 – CHICAGO 3, Stockton 2 | Recap
Game 3 – Wed., June 8 – Chicago 3, STOCKTON 0 | Recap
Game 4 – Fri., June 10 – Chicago at Stockton, 10:00
*Game 5 – Sat., June 11 – Chicago at Stockton, 9:00
*Game 6 – Tue., June 14 – Stockton at Chicago, 8:00
*Game 7 – Wed., June 15 – Stockton at Chicago, 8:00
*if necessary… All times Eastern

Chicago can wrap up the Robert W. Clarke Trophy and its fifth Western Conference championship with another victory over Stockton in Game 4 tonight... Following a pair of one-goal victories at home to open the series, the Wolves took a commanding 3-0 series lead with a 3-0 win at Stockton Arena on Wednesday, backed by Alex Lyon’s 23-save shutout... It was the first shutout for Lyon (8-1, 1.90, .925) in 22 career Calder Cup Playoff games; the sixth-year pro is now 14-7 with a 1.95 GAA and a .935 save percentage in postseason play with Chicago and Lehigh Valley... Game 3 was scoreless until the final minute of the second period, when Richard Panik (1-4-5) gave the Wolves a 1-0 lead with his 15th career AHL playoff goal... Ivan Lodnia (2-0-2), playing his first game of the series, also scored for the Wolves, and Stefan Noesen (7-6-13) added an empty-netter... Dustin Wolf (6-4, 2.27, .926) made 27 saves in Game 3 for the Heat, who have lost three straight for the first time all season... Chicago is 4-for-11 on the power play in the series, and a perfect 11-for-11 on the penalty kill... Only three teams in AHL history have won a series after trailing 0-3, most recently Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in 2013 (vs. Providence).

That was more like it for Springfield head coach Drew Bannister.

The Thunderbirds took to heart Bannister’s main point of emphasis from the first two games of the series: create traffic in front of Laval goaltender Cayden Primeau. The result was a 6-3 masterpiece in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Wednesday night.

Bannister calls Mackenzie MacEachern, Dakota Joshua, and Will Bitten the team’s “identity line.” In Game 3, Bitten had a career night with four goals, MacEachern supplied three assists, and Joshua added a pair of assists to drive much of the Springfield offense.

But the trio has also been an abrasive, physical line capable of wearing down defenders. That down-low play, stressing puck protection, also deprives the Rocket of utilizing their excellent transition game, something that the Thunderbirds will aim to duplicate tonight in Game 4 at Place Bell.

“They are a big part of this hockey club,” Bannister said of the line. “They make life difficult on the other team. As a group, I thought everybody contributed. We came to play.”

The MacEachern-Joshua-Bitten line offers an excellent blueprint for that style. Bitten now ranks second in Calder Cup Playoff scoring with 14 points (seven goals, seven assists) in nine games. MacEachern has five goals and five assists, and Joshua has added three goals and four assists.

MacEachern said the key for the line is playing to their strengths.

“I think we all know how to play, and we feed off that,” he said. “[Bitten is] fast. I like to use my speed. [Joshua] likes to hang on to it.”

Of course, few head coaches are ever completely satisfied even after a win, and Bannister is no exception. The Thunderbirds are 0-for-15 on the power play in the series, including a pair of lengthy 5-on-3 chances in Game 3.

“Our group as a whole has to be better on the power play and can’t rely just on 5-on-5 scoring,” Bannister said. “But you have to give [Laval] credit. They’ve done a good job.”

Difficult starts are another area that Bannister has targeted. Laval has scored first game of the series, but both Bannister and MacEachern liked how the Thunderbirds managed Game 3 in the difficult environment of a sold-out Place Bell.

“I think as weird as it sounds, I think when they scored that first one it kind of settled us in,” MacEachern said. “I think we were a little nervous. A lot of guys haven’t played [in front of] a crowd like this before.”

Patrick Williams

In Stanley Cup Playoff action last night, Ondrej Palat scored with 1:50 remaining to lift Tampa Bay to a 3-1 win over the New York Rangers last night... The Lightning have a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Conference Final heading home for Game 6 on Saturday... Andrei Vasilevskiy made 24 saves in the Game 5 win... Ryan Lindgren, whose brother Charlie is playing in the AHL’s Eastern Conference Finals with Springfield, scored for the Rangers.

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