AHL Morning Skate: May 11, 2023

Photo: Jenn Pierce

A2-Hershey Bears vs. A5-Hartford Wolf Pack
Game 1 – Tonight, 7:00 ET,

Game 1 - Thu., May 11 - Hartford at Hershey, 7:00
Game 2 - Sat., May 13 - Hartford at Hershey, 7:00
Game 3 - Wed., May 17 - Hershey at Hartford, 7:00
*Game 4 - Fri., May 19 - Hershey at Hartford, 7:00
*Game 5 - Tue., May 23 - Hartford at Hershey, 7:00
*if necessary... All times Eastern

The Atlantic Division finals open up tonight with the Bears and Wolf Pack meeting up in Game 1 at Giant Center... Hershey defeated Charlotte in four games to win their division semifinal series, while Hartford is coming off a four-game triumph over first-place Providence... Sam Anas (2-4-6), who recorded just one point over his last seven games during the regular season, found the scoresheet in each game last round and leads the Bears in playoff scoring... Hershey got goals from 12 different skaters in the series against Charlotte, led by Aliaksei Protas (3-2-5) with three... Hunter Shepard (3-1, 1.77, .924) stopped 85 of 92 Checkers shots in the four games... The Wolf Pack have won 13 of their last 15 games going back to the regular season, outscoring their opponents 59-19... Tim Gettinger (2-5-7) and Tanner Fritz (1-6-7) share Hartford’s postseason scoring lead... Lauri Pajuniemi (3-2-5) has a team-high three playoff goals... Dylan Garand (5-1, 1.17, .954) recorded two shutouts against the Bruins in the last round, and leads all AHL goaltenders in goals-against average and save percentage this postseason... Current Bears captain Dylan McIlrath skated for Hartford the only previous time these clubs met in the playoffs, a 4-2 series win by the Wolf Pack in 2015.

N1-Toronto Marlies vs. N3-Rochester Americans
Game 1 – Tonight, 7:00 ET,

Game 1 - Thu., May 11 - Rochester at Toronto, 7:00
Game 2 - Sat., May 13 - Rochester at Toronto, 4:00
Game 3 - Wed., May 17 - Toronto at Rochester, 7:05
*Game 4 - Fri., May 19 - Toronto at Rochester, 7:05
*Game 5 - Sun., May 21 - Rochester at Toronto, 4:00
*if necessary... All times Eastern

History is on Toronto’s side as the North Division finals get underway with Game 1 at Coca-Cola Coliseum this evening... The Marlies have never lost a postseason game against Rochester (9-0), sweeping the teams’ best-of-five meetings in 2012, 2013 and 2019... The Amerks made some more recent history of their own, defeating Syracuse on Saturday to become just the 12th AHL team ever to win a best-of-five series after losing the first two games... After scoring just twice over the first two games against Syracuse, the Amerks scored 17 goals in the final three... Lawrence Pilut (3-2-5) netted the series-clinching goal in overtime of Game 5, while Malcolm Subban (3-2, 2.71, .921) made 44 saves in the win... Rochester captain Michael Mersch (4-3-7) leads the team in postseason scoring... The Marlies ousted Utica in four games in the division semifinals, rebounding from a 7-2 loss at home in Game 2 to close out the series with back-to-back road wins... Logan Shaw (4-1-5), Kyle Clifford (3-2-5) and Joseph Blandisi (1-4-5) are tied for Toronto’s playoff scoring lead... Shaw led all scorers in the season series with 13 points (2g, 11a) in eight games against the Amerks... Erik Källgren (2-0, 1.50, .945) returned to the Marlies for Game 3 and stopped 52 of 55 shots in his first two postseason starts... After ranking second in the league in power-play efficiency during the regular season (23.6 percent), Toronto went 3-for-12 (25.0 percent) in its opening series... Rochester was 5-for-11 on the power play (45.5 percent) in its last three games.

C1-Texas Stars vs. C2-Milwaukee Admirals
Game 1 – Friday, 8:00 ET,

Game 1 - Fri., May 12 - Texas at Milwaukee, 8:00
Game 2 - Sat., May 13 - Texas at Milwaukee, 7:00
Game 3 - Wed., May 17 - Milwaukee at Texas, 8:00
*Game 4 - Fri., May 19 - Milwaukee at Texas, 8:00
*Game 5 - Sun., May 21 - Milwaukee at Texas, 8:00
*if necessary... All times Eastern

P1-Calgary Wranglers vs. P2-Coachella Valley Firebirds
Game 1 – Tonight, 9:05 ET,

Game 1 - Thu., May 11 - Coachella Valley at Calgary, 9:05
Game 2 - Fri., May 12 - Coachella Valley at Calgary, 9:05
Game 3 - Mon., May 15 - Calgary at Coachella Valley, 10:00
*Game 4 - Wed., May 17 - Calgary at Coachella Valley, 10:00
*Game 5 - Fri., May 19 - Calgary at Coachella Valley, 10:00
*if necessary... All times Eastern

The highly anticipated showdown between Calgary and Coachella Valley gets underway tonight with Game 1 of the Pacific Division finals... The Wranglers edged the Firebirds for the Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy as the AHL’s regular-season champions, finishing with 106 points to Coachella Valley’s 103... Both clubs have already been tested this postseason: Calgary got past Abbotsford, three games to one, in a division semifinal series that featured four one-goal margins (including two overtime decisions), while Coachella Valley went the distance in series wins over Tucson and Colorado, winning three potential elimination games... Defenseman Nick DeSimone (1-4-5) is the Wranglers’ leading scorer through four playoff games... Dryden Hunt (2-0-2) and Adam Klapka (2-0-2) are the only Calgary skaters with multiple goals so far... AHL MVP Dustin Wolf (3-1, 2.32, .917) led the AHL in goals-against average and save percentage during the regular season, but had a 3.25 GAA and an .896 SV% in six games vs. the Firebirds... Coachella Valley forward Kole Lind (4-7-11) leads the AHL in playoff scoring... The Firebirds are 5-0 this postseason when captain Max McCormick (5-5-10) records a point... Joey Daccord (5-3, 1.88, .942) is coming off a 33-save shutout in Game 5 against Colorado... The top two regular-season teams have met in the Calder Cup Playoffs 39 times previously, with the #1 seed winning 27 of those series.

The Manitoba Moose know this feeling all too well.

It felt too much like last year.

“It seems like we’ve seen this before,” Moose captain Jimmy Oligny said after the team’s season ended in Saturday’s last-minute 2-1 loss in Milwaukee. “It’s getting old. I really have no words. It’s just really disappointing.”

The Moose came into Game 4 having two chances to eliminate the Milwaukee Admirals in the teams’ Central Division semifinal series. Instead they suffered two losses and saw their season come to another painful end against a Milwaukee team that knocked the Moose out in 2022 as well. An own-goal in Game 4 led to an eventual 5-3 loss. Then in Game 5, the Moose had seemingly forced overtime with 1:57 to go in regulation only to see a mid-ice collision between Cole Maier and Dean Stewart spring Milwaukee loose for Spencer Stastney’s winning goal.

“We got the one at the end that we wanted, so everything was kind of going to plan,” head coach Mark Morrison said. “We wanted to take it into overtime, and then… it’s one shot.”

Oligny was also in the Moose lineup when they suffered three one-goal losses in a Central Division semifinal series with the Admirals last year. After overtime wins in Games 2 and 3 had positioned the Moose to end this series, he regretted the missed opportunities.

“When we won in OT,” Oligny said, “we had the momentum there. We should have closed [Game 4], and I think that changed a lot of things. It changed the momentum. It went to the other side.”

It may take some time for the sting of another postseason ending at Milwaukee’s hands, but Oligny is hopeful that there will be long-term benefits that emerge from it.

“I hope we just learn from it,” Oligny said. “It’s not every year that you can have a group that goes into the playoffs. It can’t be taken for granted, so hopefully we learn from that, especially the young guys. They’ve got to think about it and make sure to come ready. That’s valuable experience for them as well to be able to play some playoff games.”

Just in case Hershey Bears captain Dylan McIlrath needed a reminder, he has a lot of fans in his dressing room.

The defenseman helped to put away Charlotte in Game 4 of the teams’ Atlantic Division semifinal series last week with an empty-net goal, banking the puck off the right boards deep in his own zone and into the Checkers net. McIlrath, who was mobbed by his teammates after the goal, appeared in 60 regular-season games for the Bears and did not have a goal; the empty-netter was his first tally since May 8, 2022. He has 29 total goals in a combined 615 AHL regular-season and Calder Cup Playoff games.

The plaudits continued afterward from a tight-knit Bears roster.

“To see Big Mac get that goal was great,” Bears forward Beck Malenstyn said. “We were really happy for him. It just makes it really easy when you care about the people around you to go out there and give up yourself for someone else.”

A Calder Cup champion with the Grand Rapids Griffins in 2017 — a team coached by current Hershey bench boss Todd Nelson — McIlrath is trying to get his name on the trophy again with the Bears. In his second season with the Washington Capitals organization, McIlrath was named the 45th captain in Bears history.

“That guy wears his heart on his sleeve,” Malenstyn continued. “He has a ‘C’ on his chest for a reason. Every single night, whether it’s blocking shots, being physical, winning puck battles, winning battles around the net — he’s the heart and soul of our group.

“To see him go the regular season without a goal was unfortunate, because he definitely earned more than that. But to have a big goal to close out a series, I don’t think we could have drawn it up any better for him.”

Bears forward Aliaksei Protas had two goals, including the game-winner, that night, but reserved his excitement for McIlrath.

“We were so happy for him,” Protas said. “He needed this. He was waiting for it for pretty much the whole year, so we were really happy for him when he finally got it. That’s how tight this group is.”
A rugged four-game battle with Abbotsford in the teams’ Pacific Division semifinal series took away any rust that the Calgary Wranglers may have had coming out of the long break that followed the regular season for the team.

The Wranglers had a first-round bye, but quickly found themselves in a physical, hard-nosed series with the Canucks. Calgary required overtime to win Games 1 and 2 at the Scotiabank Saddledome, then faced an animated Canucks crowd in Abbotsford, losing Game 3 before managing to put away the series in Game 4.

Wranglers forward Matthew Phillips had the overtime winner in Game 2 along with three assists in the series. He reasons that it is a good thing that his club did not have a smooth ride against Abbotsford now that they have the Coachella Valley Firebirds next on their playoff schedule.

“We know it’s going to be a challenge,” Phillips said of the heavyweight battle that starts tonight in Calgary. “They got their tough five-game series. We got through a tough series as well. [Abbotsford] was a better team than a fourth seed. They were a well-rounded, tough playoff match-up.”

― Patrick Williams

In the latest action around the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs, 2023 AHL All-Star Joseph Woll made 24 saves to earn the win in his first career Stanley Cup Playoff start, a 2-1 Maple Leafs victory at Florida... 2020 AHL All-Star Evan Bouchard scored his fourth goal of the playoffs to help Edmonton to a 4-1 win over Vegas... On Tuesday night, 2023 AHL All-Star Thomas Harley notched a goal and an assist as Dallas defeated Seattle, 6-3... 2019 Calder Cup champion Martin Necas scored twice and Jordan Martinook added a goal and two assists as Carolina beat New Jersey, 6-1.

Watch the Calder Cup Playoffs on AHLTV
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