AHL Morning Skate: The rest of the field joins the party

Every game day from now until the end of the Calder Cup Playoffs, the AHL Morning Skate takes a spin around the AHL ice with recaps and previews, news and notes, facts and figures, and the top headlines from around the American Hockey League.

HARTFORD 2, Worcester 0 (HFD leads series, 1-0)
Hershey 4, PHILADELPHIA 2 (HER leads series, 1-0)
MILWAUKEE 3, Rockford 1 (MIL leads series, 1-0)

1. Cal O’Reilly came in with two goals in 20 career playoff games, but scored twice late in the third period to give Milwaukee a Game 1 win over Rockford.

2. Matt Zaba made his AHL playoff debut in style, stopping 38 shots in a 2-0 Hartford win over Worcester.

3. Kyle Wilson notched a goal and an assist as Hershey took Game 1 in Philadelphia.

Game 2 – Portland at Providence, 7:05 (POR leads series, 1-0)
Game 1 – W-B/Scranton vs. Bridgeport, 7:30 (at Uniondale, N.Y.)
Game 1 – Grand Rapids at Hamilton, 7:30
Game 2 – Houston at Peoria, 8:00 (PEO leads series, 1-0)
Game 2 – Toronto at Manitoba, 8:30 (TOR leads series, 1-0)

CC09ad_300x250.jpg2009 CALDER CUP PLAYOFFS:
Atlantic Division Semifinal – Series “A” (best-of-7)
A1-Hartford Wolf Pack vs. A4-Worcester Sharks || Preview
Game 1 – Thu., Apr. 16 – HARTFORD 2, Worcester 0
Game 2 – Sat., Apr. 18 – Worcester at Hartford, 7:00
Game 3 – Mon., Apr. 20 – Hartford at Worcester, 6:35
Game 4 – Wed., Apr. 22 – Hartford at Worcester, 6:35
*Game 5 – Thu., Apr. 23 – Worcester at Hartford, 7:00
*Game 6 – Sat., Apr. 25 – Hartford at Worcester, 7:05
*Game 7 – Mon., Apr. 27 – Worcester at Hartford, 7:00

Atlantic Division Semifinal – Series “B” (best-of-7)
A2-Providence Bruins vs. A3-Portland Pirates || Preview
Game 1 – Wed., Apr. 15 – Portland 3, PROVIDENCE 0
Game 2 – Fri., Apr. 17 – Portland at Providence, 7:05
Game 3 – Sun., Apr. 19 – Providence at Portland, 4:00
Game 4 – Thu., Apr. 23 – Providence at Portland, 7:00
*Game 5 – Fri., Apr. 24 – Portland at Providence, 7:05
*Game 6 – Sun., Apr. 26 – Providence at Portland, 4:00
*Game 7 – Tue., Apr. 28 – Portland at Providence, 7:05

East Division Semifinal – Series “C” (best-of-7)
E1-Hershey Bears vs. E4-Philadelphia Phantoms ||
Game 1 – Thu., Apr. 16 – Hershey 4, PHILADELPHIA 2
Game 2 – Sat., Apr. 18 – Hershey at Philadelphia, 7:05
Game 3 – Wed., Apr. 22 – Philadelphia at Hershey, 7:00
Game 4 – Fri., Apr. 24 – Philadelphia at Hershey, 7:00
*Game 5 – Sat., Apr. 25 – Philadelphia at Hershey, 7:00
*Game 6 – Sun., Apr. 26 – Hershey at Philadelphia, 5:05
*Game 7 – Tue., Apr. 28 – Philadelphia at Hershey, 7:00

East Division Semifinal – Series “D” (best-of-7)
E2-Bridgeport Sound Tigers vs. E3-W-B/Scranton Penguins ||
Game 1 – Fri., Apr. 17 – W-B/Scranton vs. Bridgeport, 7:30 (at Uniondale, N.Y.)
Game 2 – Sat., Apr. 18 – W-B/Scranton vs. Bridgeport, 7:00 (at Uniondale, N.Y.)
Game 3 – Sun., Apr. 19 – Bridgeport at W-B/Scranton, 5:05
Game 4 – Wed., Apr. 22 – W-B/Scranton at Bridgeport, 7:00
*Game 5 – Fri., Apr. 24 – Bridgeport at W-B/Scranton, 7:05
*Game 6 – Sat., Apr. 25 – Bridgeport at W-B/Scranton, 7:05
*Game 7 – Sun., Apr. 26 – W-B/Scranton at Bridgeport, 4:00

North Division Semifinal – Series “E” (best-of-7)
N1-Manitoba Moose vs. N4-Toronto Marlies ||
Game 1 – Wed., Apr. 15 – Toronto 3, MANITOBA 2 (OT)
Game 2 – Fri., Apr. 17 – Toronto at Manitoba, 8:30
Game 3 – Sun., Apr. 19 – Manitoba at Toronto, 4:00
Game 4 – Tue., Apr. 21 – Manitoba at Toronto, 7:00
*Game 5 – Thu., Apr. 23 – Manitoba at Toronto, 7:00
*Game 6 – Sat., Apr. 25 – Toronto at Manitoba, 8:30
*Game 7 – Tue., Apr. 28 – Toronto at Manitoba, 8:30

North Division Semifinal – Series “F” (best-of-7)
N2-Hamilton Bulldogs vs. N3-Grand Rapids Griffins ||
Game 1 – Fri., Apr. 17 – Grand Rapids at Hamilton, 7:30
Game 2 – Sat., Apr. 18 – Grand Rapids at Hamilton, 7:00
Game 3 – Mon., Apr. 20 – Hamilton at Grand Rapids, 7:00
Game 4 – Wed., Apr. 22 – Hamilton at Grand Rapids, 7:00
*Game 5 – Fri., Apr. 24 – Hamilton at Grand Rapids, 7:00
*Game 6 – Sun., Apr. 26 – Grand Rapids at Hamilton, 6:00
*Game 7 – Mon., Apr. 27 – Grand Rapids at Hamilton, 7:30

West Division Semifinal – Series “G” (best-of-7)
W1-Milwaukee Admirals vs. W4-Rockford IceHogs ||
Game 1 – Thu., Apr. 16 – MILWAUKEE 3, Rockford 1
Game 2 – Sat., Apr. 18 – Rockford at Milwaukee, 8:30
Game 3 – Sun., Apr. 19 – Milwaukee at Rockford, 6:05
Game 4 – Tue., Apr. 21 – Milwaukee at Rockford, 8:05
*Game 5 – Fri., Apr. 24 – Rockford at Milwaukee, 8:00
*Game 6 – Sun., Apr. 26 – Milwaukee at Rockford, 6:05
*Game 7 – Mon., Apr. 27 – Rockford at Milwaukee, 8:00

West Division Semifinal – Series “H” (best-of-7)
W2-Peoria Rivermen vs. W3-Houston Aeros ||
Game 1 – Wed., Apr. 15 – PEORIA 6, Houston 4
Game 2 – Fri., Apr. 17 – Houston at Peoria, 8:00
Game 3 – Sat., Apr. 18 – Peoria at Houston, 8:35
Game 4 – Mon., Apr. 20 – Peoria at Houston, 8:05
*Game 5 – Wed., Apr. 22 – Peoria at Houston, 8:05
*Game 6 – Sat., Apr. 25 – Houston at Peoria, 8:00
*Game 7 – Mon., Apr. 27 – Houston at Peoria, 8:00

*if necessary… All times Eastern

GAME NOTES (all times ET):
Game 2 – Portland at Providence, 7:05
Providence looks to bounce back from Wednesday’s Game 1 loss to Portland when the teams hit the Dunkin’ Donuts Center ice for Game 2 of their Atlantic Division semifinal tonight… The Pirates took a 3-0 win in the opener behind a 28-save shutout performance by rookie Jhonas Enroth in his AHL playoff debut… It marked Portland’s first Game 1 victory since May 2, 2006, snapping a string of four consecutive series-opening losses… Marek Zagrapan, who hadn’t registered a multiple-goal effort since Jan. 10, scored twice in Game 1 for Portland… Felix Schutz potted the other Pirates goal, and Mark Mancari had two assists… Providence, which was also shut out in its final regular-season game at Worcester, had not been blanked in the postseason since a 1-0 loss to Hartford on Apr. 26, 2007… Captain Jeremy Reich, Eddie Shore Award winner Johnny Boychuk and rookie defenseman David Kolomatis each registered four shots on goal for the Bruins in Game 1… Providence has dropped five straight playoff games, all to the Pirates, since a 7-1 win in Game 2 of the teams’ Atlantic Division Finals match-up in 2008.

Game 1 – Wilkes-Barre/Scranton vs. Bridgeport, 7:30
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton begins defense of its Eastern Conference title tonight against Bridgeport at Nassau Coliseum, home of the NHL’s New York Islanders… It marks the third postseason meeting in the last six years for these division foes; the Penguins captured seven-game victories in both 2004 and 2006… The Sound Tigers enter the postseason on a five-game winning streak and put up franchise records for wins (49) and points (106) during the regular year… Mike Iggulden paced Bridgeport with 66 points (25-41-66) in 72 games… 2005 Calder Cup champion Jon Sim put up 23 points (13-10-23) in 18 games after joining the Sound Tigers late in the year… This series features the AHL’s most recent two All-Rookie goaltenders in Nathan Lawson (19-9-2, 2.16, .927) and John Curry (33-15-1, 2.38, .916)… Curry is one of 14 returnees from last year’s Calder Cup finalist Wilkes-Barre club… Newcomer Janne Pesonen paced the Pens with franchise-record totals in goals (32) and points (82) during the regular season… Chris Minard racked up a team-high 34 goals, ranking him fifth in the league in that category.

Game 1 – Grand Rapids at Hamilton, 7:30 (Cable 14 Hamilton)
Hamilton and Grand Rapids, both on the sidelines at playoff time last year, launch their North Division semifinal series tonight… The host Bulldogs are in the playoffs for the first time since winning the 2007 Calder Cup title… Hamilton closed the regular season by winning five straight games and 14 of 20 (14-4-2-0) – including three over Grand Rapids in April – to edge the Griffins for second place and home-ice advantage in this matchup… It marks the first time Hamilton has opened a postseason series at home since the 2004 division finals vs. Rochester… The Bulldogs boast two of the AHL’s top four rookie scorers in David Desharnais (24-34-58) and Ben Maxwell (22-36-58)… Hamilton was led in scoring by Yanick Lehoux (19-41-60), who is in the playoffs for the first time since 2004… The Griffins counter with AHL All-Rookie forward Justin Abdelkader (24-28-52) and top sniper Darren Haydar (31-49-80), a two-time Calder Cup champion and the AHL’s all-time leading playoff leader in goals (55) and points (124)… Grand Rapids held the AHL’s third-ranked penalty kill (85.7 percent) during the regular season.

Game 2 – Houston at Peoria, 8:00
Fresh off its first-ever Calder Cup Playoff win, Peoria goes for a 2-0 series lead when it welcomes Houston back to Carver Arena for Game 2 of their West Division semifinal tonight… Yan Stastny, who had 11 points (9-2-11) in his last 10 regular-season outings, posted two goals and an assist in the Rivermen’s 6-4 triumph in Game 1… Jori Lehtera scored in his AHL playoff debut for Peoria, and the Rivermen also got goals from Carl Corazzini, Cam Paddock, Justin Fletcher and Steve Regier, who led the club with 22 tallies in the regular season (22-28-50)… The Aeros were led by Krys Kolanos and 2007 Calder Cup champion Corey Locke, who each registered a goal and an assist… Both sides netted a pair of power-play goals on the night… Peoria held a 17-6 shots advantage in the first period, and the Aeros came back with a 20-7 edge in the final frame… Rivermen goaltender Manny Legace made 29 saves in his first Calder Cup Playoff appearance since backstopping Springfield to the conference finals in 1997.

Game 2 – Toronto at Manitoba, 8:30 (Leafs TV)
Manitoba looks to bounce back from a 3-2 overtime loss on Wednesday as it hosts Toronto in Game 2 of their series at the MTS Centre… The Moose are the first AHL regular-season points champions to lose their playoff opener since Milwaukee in 2004; no regular-season champ has fallen behind 0-2 in the first round since Buffalo (vs. Hershey) in 1969… The Marlies have won seven straight games over the Moose since a 4-2 loss in Winnipeg on Nov. 15, 2008… Bates Battaglia netted the OT goal for the Marlies on Wednesday, his fourth game-winner in the last two postseasons… Kyle Rogers notched his first career AHL playoff goal (11th game), and Alex Foster also scored… Toronto netminder Justin Pogge made 37 saves in the win… Each of the Moose’s last six postseason losses have come in overtime going back to 2007, and goaltender Cory Schneider has been in net for the last five… 2008 Calder Cup champion Guillaume Desbiens and rookie Ray Sawada registered Game 1 goals for Manitoba… Toronto bench boss Greg Gilbert will coach his 50th career AHL playoff game tonight (23-26), the second-highest total among active coaches.


Garry McKay, Hamilton Spectator
Although the nets are each at least 60 feet away, the playoff series between the Hamilton Bulldogs and Grand Rapids Griffins could easily be won in the neutral zone. The two teams open their North Division semifinal tonight at Copps Coliseum and interim Bulldogs’ head coach Ron Wilson thinks the 80 feet between the blue lines will be key. That’s because both teams have good speed up front and counter-attack well after steals in the neutral zone. “We just can’t turn the puck over against them,” Wilson said. “They have good forwards and they’re a good counter team and they have some guys who can put the puck in the net.”

Scott Radley, Hamilton Spectator
It was just about this time last year she started sounding like she’d come down with a nasty case of laryngitis. Still, Darren Haydar didn’t worry too much about it. Sure, he felt badly for his girlfriend losing her voice but, with the playoffs just around the corner, the looming grind was front and center in his mind. Besides, the doctor said Sara Schuster’s issue was probably just the result of acid reflux. When tests for that came back negative, a second doctor suggested it was probably just caused by harmless polyps. Really not that big a deal. Except, when they went in to do the operation, they discovered the cause was far scarier. Cancer. “That’s a day of my life I’ll remember forever,” Haydar says. “Everything just stopped.”

Michael Zuidema, Grand Rapids Press
Aaron Downey could have had any number of reactions when the parent club Detroit Red Wings assigned him to the Grand Rapids Griffins at the start of this season. He could have tanked on the ice. He could have complained and been a cancer in the locker room. He even could have retired. Those options, though, were not really Downey’s style. “You know what, I would never trade this experience for anything. What I have learned up to this point, it’s about your everyday journey in life,” Downey said. He might show only two goals and seven assists in 65 games this season, but he won the Stanley Cup last year with the Red Wings and a Calder Cup title with the Providence Bruins in 1999. That kind of experience and leadership can be invaluable.

Tom Venesky, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader
It’s a daunting task for a goaltender – playing three games in three days – and it’s one that Wilkes-Barre/Scranton netminder John Curry may have to do twice in the first round against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. The first three games of the series will be played today, Saturday and Sunday. If the series goes the full seven games, the last three contests will be played on April 24, 25 and 26. That means Curry could log a lot of minutes without much time to breath. Is he ready? “Absolutely. I haven’t thought twice about it,” Curry said after Thursday’s practice.

Michael Fornabaio, Connecticut Post
Winning on the last day of the regular season earned the Bridgeport Sound Tigers home-ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs. Even though the first two games, tonight and Saturday, won’t be played in Bridgeport, that advantage could be important as the Sound Tigers try to win their first playoff series in six years. The East Division semifinal between Bridgeport and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins pits the two best AHL home teams in a best-of-7 series. They meet in the first round because they were second and third in the division behind Hershey, which was the third-best team overall. “I really didn’t notice (the home success) until late in the year,” Bridgeport defenseman Andrew MacDonald said. “I guess it kind of comes from being confident at home.”

Mark Divver, Providence Journal
Fifty-six seconds into Wednesday’s game, Providence’s Wacey Rabbit was about to shoot the puck into Portland’s goal when defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani pushed the net off its pins, drawing a delay-of-game penalty. No goal. Over the next three minutes, the Bruins buzzed Portland goalie Jonas Enroth and had “all kinds of chances,’’ said coach Rob Murray. The Bruins piled up 10 shots and rang one off the post, but had zero to show for it. The Pirates weathered the early storm, got a goal from Marek Zagrapan at 4:23 of the first, added another early in the third and a late empty-netter for a 3-0 win. It was that kind of night for the P-Bruins.

Ken Wiebe, Winnipeg Sun
Before the question was even complete, Scott Arniel let it be known he had no interest in discussing any NHL vacancies at this juncture. “I’ve got a job to do right now and I’m more concerned with where we are with Toronto and what we have to do.” While we understand and appreciate that Arniel’s sole focus is on the task at hand, it’s tough to ignore the fact he was found on several lists of potential successors for Craig MacTavish after the Edmonton Oilers announced there were looking for a new bench boss on Wednesday. “It’s exciting to see that he’s up for that job,” said Moose forward Jason Jaffray. “He definitely deserves it. He’s really grown as a coach and if he’s done that over the last few years, there’s only better things to come.”

Dave Eminian, Peoria Journal-Star
The Peoria Rivermen and Houston Aeros will meet up in the West Division semifinals again on Friday in Carver Arena. “Playoffs are really a chess game,” veteran Rivermen center and assistant captain Cam Paddock said Thursday. “You try to get certain guys on your team out on the ice against certain guys on their side.” Home teams have the right to make the last moves in these game-long lineup skirmishes. In Peoria’s 6-4 victory in Game 1 on Wednesday, it matched Paddock and fellow ex-NHLers Jeff Cowan and Jonathan Filewich on a line against Houston snipers Corey Locke or Krys Kolanos whenever it could. “The big thing that makes teams successful in the playoffs is every guy buying in to what we’re doing,” Paddock said. “It can’t be just one guy.”


Bill Ballou, Worcester Telegram & Gazette
The Sharks have a day to hire a tutor to work on their capitalization. It wasn’t very good at all here last night as they lost to the Hartford Wolf Pack, 2-0, in Game 1 of their first-round Calder Cup playoff series. Worcester outshot the home team, 38-23, but could not capitalize on any of those chances and get anything past Matt Zaba, who was terrific in net. Game 2 will be played here at 7:05 tomorrow night. “He was good,” coach Roy Sommer said of Zaba, “but we didn’t get in front of him enough, and that’s something we’re gonna have to talk about. We made him look better than he had to be. He saw too many pucks.”

Dave Boehler, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Welcome back, Cal O’Reilly. O’Reilly, back with the Milwaukee Admirals because the parent Nashville Predators missed the playoffs, scored the go-ahead goal with 2 minutes 52 seconds left in a 3-1 victory over Rockford in an American Hockey League playoff opener Thursday at the Bradley Center. “It was the right place at the right time,” said O’Reilly, who finished second on the Admirals with 69 points (13 goals, 56 assists). “We needed somebody to step up at that point and time,” Milwaukee coach Lane Lambert said. “Certainly, I didn’t think we were playing a very great game.”

Dan Sernoffsky, York Daily Record
When you’re the top-seeded team in the division and you have home-ice advantage for the series, it’s really hard to think about “stealing” a game, but the Hershey Bears did just that Thursday night. Building availability resulted in an odd configuration for the series, a configuration in which the first two games are in Philadelphia before the series returns to Hershey for the next three. That means the Bears now have four games at Giant Center to win the three it will take to advance while the Phantoms are faced with the prospect of having to win at least two in Hershey. “It’s a tough barn to play in, and especially with our schedule being the way it is, these games are really important,” Kyle Wilson said. “Taking one from them in their barn, it’s really a great start.”

2005 Calder Cup champion R.J. Umberger scored the first playoff goal in Columbus franchise history, but former AHL All-Stars Jiri Hudler,