AHL Morning Skate: 6.19.22

C1-Chicago Wolves vs. A2-Springfield Thunderbirds
Game 1 – Today, 4:00 ET, AHLTV

Game 1 – Sun., June 19 – Springfield at Chicago, 4:00
Game 2 – Mon., June 20 – Springfield at Chicago, 8:00
Game 3 – Wed., June 22 – Chicago at Springfield, 7:05
Game 4 – Fri., June 24 – Chicago at Springfield, 7:05
*Game 5 – Sat., June 25 – Chicago at Springfield, 7:05
*Game 6 – Tue., June 28 – Springfield at Chicago, 8:00
*Game 7 – Wed., June 29 – Springfield at Chicago, 8:00
*if necessary… All times Eastern

It has been 1,107 days since the last Calder Cup Finals game, but the venue is the same as it was on June 8, 2019 ― Allstate Arena hosts Game 1 between the Chicago Wolves and Springfield Thunderbirds this afternoon... The Carolina Hurricanes organization is looking for its second championship in as many opportunities; the Charlotte Checkers defeated Chicago in 2019 when the Wolves were affiliated with Vegas... The Wolves franchise is making its fifth appearance in the Calder Cup Finals, while the Thunderbirds are the first Springfield AHL entry to reach the Finals since the Indians won back-to-back titles in 1990 and 1991... The ’91 title came as the top affiliate of the Hartford Whalers (now the Hurricanes)... Chicago and Springfield both enter the series with 10-3 records this postseason, and both are coming off shutout victories to clinch their respective conference finals... The Wolves took a 3-0 series lead before ousting Stockton in six games; it marked the seventh consecutive time that a team that finished first overall in the regular season defeated the second-overall team in a Calder Cup Playoff series... The Thunderbirds won a decisive Game 7 against Laval on Wednesday, finishing a series in which the two teams alternated wins... Will Bitten (7-10-17) leads Springfield in playoff scoring, and is second in the league only to Chicago’s Josh Leivo (11-9-20)... Leivo, Jack Drury (7-9-16) and Stefan Noesen (7-9-16) each had seven points to lead the Wolves during the Western Conference Finals... The Thunderbirds’ line of Bitten, Dakota Joshua (7-5-12) and Mackenzie MacEachern (6-6-12) totaled 10-12-22 and a plus-26 rating in seven Eastern Conference Finals games... Springfield’s Joel Hofer (6-2, 2.08, .947) and Charlie Lindgren (4-1, 2.47, .924) have a combined .939 save percentage this postseason; Chicago’s Alex Lyon (8-2, 1.96, .924) and Pyotr Kochetkov (2-1, 1.94, .941) are at a combined .928... The Thunderbirds’ power play was 0-for-29 in the first six games against Laval last round before going 2-for-3 in Game 7... The Wolves have killed off 30 of their last 31 shorthanded situations over seven games... Chicago (4.15 goals scored per game) and Springfield (4.00) are the top two offensive teams in the league this postseason... In Calder Cup Finals history, the Game 1 winner has won the series 63 of 83 times (75.9 percent)... Today marks the latest in a season (June 19) that an AHL game has ever been played.

Sam Anas heard the whispers that grew increasingly louder as the Eastern Conference Finals against Laval progressed.

The American Hockey League’s hottest player had gone uncharacteristically cold. In Springfield’s first two playoff rounds, Anas had broken out with 13 points (four goals, nine assists) in six games, including four consecutive multi-point efforts.

Then the production stopped ― abruptly. Anas endured seven point-less games, and Springfield felt the pressure of a production shutdown from perhaps the biggest key in the team’s offense. Anas, whose 64 points (20 goals, 44 assists) in 75 regular-season games led the team, had not gone more than five games during the regular season without a point, and that drought came during a punishing run of five games in seven nights back in April.

At the worst possible time, Anas could not get the bounces and puck luck that any good scorer needs, especially when facing a hot goaltender like Laval’s Cayden Primeau.

Anas finally did break through in Game 7 on Wednesday, picking up an assist on a second-period power-play goal by Nathan Todd. It speaks to the early-round production for Anas that he still is averaging better than a point per game this postseason.

A sixth-year pro who won the John B. Sollenberger Trophy in 2019-20 as the AHL’s leading scorer with 70 points (20 goals, 50 assists) in 63 games, Anas had enough accumulated confidence to weather this slump.

“I think it’s one of those things that for me, at least, when I’m not producing points-wise, I’m more frustrated if I’m not getting any chances,” Anas said following practice yesterday. “And I felt like throughout that whole series, I was still getting chances or just hitting posts or Primeau making these saves.

“To me, it’s more frustrating when I feel like I’m not involved, and I’m not getting chances at all. So yes, it was frustrating to not produce or score or anything like that. But just the fact that I was in the mix every game is really what helped me get through it.”

That others, notably the Mackenzie MacEachern-Dakota Joshua-Will Bitten line, more than picked up Springfield’s scoring burden helped as well. So did advancing to the Calder Cup Finals and a chance to start fresh in this series.

“When you’re winning every other game, and when you win the series, all of a sudden you really don’t care at all [about a slump],” Anas continued.

“We’re moving on, and we’re happy.”

One unknown the Wolves may face against Springfield is the battle on special teams.

Against offensively dangerous Stockton in the six-game Western Conference Finals, the Wolves burned off 27 of 28 Stockton power-play opportunities. Through 13 playoff games, the Chicago penalty kill is 51-for-59 (86.4 percent).

“It’s just guys buying in,” Wolves defenseman Cavan Fitzgerald told reporters. “Blocking shots, getting the puck 200 feet.”

Now Chicago will be facing a Springfield power play that has been both a boost and a challenge for the Thunderbirds this postseason. Springfield sizzled on the man-advantage in the opening two rounds against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Charlotte, converting at a 37.9 percent rate (11-for-29). Against Laval, however, the Thunderbirds suffered a 0-for-29 power-play slump in the first six games before clicking twice on three chances in a 4-0 Game 7 victory.

Springfield’s penalty kill is operating at 85.7 percent (36-for-42) this postseason. The Thunderbirds will be tasked with stopping, or at least slowing, a Chicago power play with multiple looks and weapons. The Wolves are clicking at 25.9 percent (14-for-54).

“Special teams runs the playoffs,” Fitzgerald said.

Patrick Williams

Colorado took a 2-0 series lead in the Stanley Cup Final with a 7-0 victory over Tampa Bay in Denver last night... Valeri Nichushkin scored twice for the Avalanche, Andre Burakovsky added a goal and an assist and Mikko Rantanen recorded three assists... Darren Helm and Josh Manson also scored, while Alex Newhook notched two helpers... Darcy Kuemper finished with 16 saves for the shutout.

Watch the Calder Cup Playoffs on AHLTV
Don’t miss a second on the road to the 2022 Calder Cup championship. AHLTV features live streaming of every AHL game in high definition on desktop, laptop, tablet and mobile devices, as well as OTT platforms such as Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Android TV. A subscription is just $29.99 for the entire postseason, or just $8.99 for a day pass. Visit AHLTV.com for details.