Conference final series previews

The AHL’s final four are set.

Hartford and Rochester, who swept their respective division final series, were joined on Friday night by Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Milwaukee, setting up the match-ups for the AHL’s Calder Cup 2004 conference finals. The Wolf Pack will take on the Penguins in the East, while the Admirals and Americans tangle in the West.

For three of these teams, a trip to the conference finals is nothing new. Wilkes-Barre (2001), Rochester (2000, 1999) and Hartford (2000, 1998) have all gotten this far in recent postseasons.

Milwaukee is one step away from a league championship series for the first time since the Admirals’ days in the old IHL, where they were among that league’s final four in 1983, 1984, 1989 and 1995.

All four clubs are led by head coaches with championship experience. The Penguins’ Michel Therrien (Sherbrooke, 1985), the Amerks’ Randy Cunneyworth (Rochester, 1983) and the Admirals’ Claude Noel (Hershey, 1980) all won a Calder Cup title during their playing days, while the Wolf Pack’s Ryan McGill won an IHL championship in 1990, and later coached Kootenay to the Memorial Cup crown in 2002.

ETC. … Rochester and goaltender Ryan Miller allowed three goals in their sweep of Hamilton, tied for the fewest in a four-game series in AHL playoff history… After combining for one goal in the first round against Bridgeport, Wilkes-Barre’s Colby Armstrong, Shane Endicott and Michel Ouellet accounted for nine goals in six games against Philadelphia… Hartford’s Jason LaBarbera is 25-3-4 in his last 32 decisions, and 16-1-4 in his last 21 on the road… Chicago’s Kari Lehtonen made at least 40 saves in five of the Wolves’ six games against Milwaukee in the division finals… Libor Pivko had three goals and two assists for the Admirals in Game 2 vs. Chicago, the first five-point performance in the Calder Cup Playoffs since Mark Greig for Philadelphia on Apr. 27, 2001… The Wolf Pack enter the conference finals on an eight-game winning streak, the longest in a single Calder Cup Playoff since Rochester had a nine-game run in 1996… Of the 18 AHL players with double-digit point totals this postseason, 12 will be playing in the Milwaukee-Rochester series… There have been 21 overtime games in the Calder Cup 2004 Playoffs, tying the all-time record set in 2001… There have been 17 shutouts in 77 games this postseason, bettering the record of 16 (in 70 games) set in 2000… Over the last eight years, the team winning Game 1 has won 12 of 16 conference final series.

Eastern Conference Final – Series “M”
A1-Hartford Wolf Pack vs.
E3-Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins

Game 1 – Tue., May 18Hartford at Wilkes-Barre, 7:05 ET
Game 2 – Thu., May 20Hartford at Wilkes-Barre, 7:05 ET
Game 3 – Sat., May 22Wilkes-Barre at Hartford, 7:05 ET
Game 4 – Sun., May 23Wilkes-Barre at Hartford, 6:05 ET
Game 5 – Tue., May 25Wilkes-Barre at Hartford, 7:05 ET (if necessary)
Game 6 – Fri., May 28Hartford at Wilkes-Barre, 7:05 ET (if necessary)
Game 7 – Sat., May 29Wilkes-Barre at Hartford, 7:05 ET (if necessary)

Regular Season Comparison
Goals for198197
Goals against153197
PP% (rank)12.3 (24)14.8 (17)
PK% (rank)87.5 (7)80.3 (27)

Calder Cup Playoff History
Record (games)40-3124-16
Record (series)10-56-2
OT record6-58-5
Calder Cup titles1 (2000)0
Losing finalist01 (2001)

2003-04 Regular Season Series
at HFD1-0-0-00-0-0-1
at WIL1-0-0-00-1-0-0
Power play1/12 (8.3%)0/11 (0.0%)
ScoringLarose, 1+2=3
Wiseman, 1+1=2
Dusablon, 1+1=2
Murley, 1+1=2
Nemec, 1+1=2
Ouellet, 1+0=1
GoaltendingLaBarbera, 2-0-0, 1.93Chiodo, 0-2-0, 3.39

ResultsJan. 3HFD 4 at WIL 2
Apr. 10WIL 2 at HFD 3 (OT)

The Eastern Conference final pits two of the AHL’s hottest goaltenders against each other in Hartford’s Jason LaBarbera (8-1, 1.27, .950, 3 SO) and Wilkes-Barre’s Andy Chiodo (6-1, 1.41, .939, 3 SO)… The Wolf Pack have won eight in a row since a Game 1 loss to Portland on Apr. 20, while the Penguins have won seven of nine, including four straight at home by a combined score of 13-1… Hartford swept the teams’ season series, including a 3-2 win on Apr. 10 on an overtime goal by Jozef Balej… Balej has added four game-winners in the postseason, including two more in OT… Pack forward Jason MacDonald helped the Penguins to the Finals in 2001…The Pens’ Matt Hussey, who had 2+1=3 pts. in 55 regular-season games, has 2+2=4 pts. in four playoff matches… Tom Kostopoulos had a nine-game scoring streak snapped in Wilkes-Barre’s last outing… The series will be played in a 2-3-1-1 format because of a building conflict in Hartford.

Western Conference Final – Series “N”
W1-Milwaukee Admirals vs. N3-Rochester Americans

Game 1 – Tue., May 18Rochester at Milwaukee, 7:00 CT
Game 2 – Thu., May 20Rochester at Milwaukee, 7:00 CT
Game 3 – Sat., May 22Milwaukee at Rochester, 7:35 ET (at Buffalo)
Game 4 – Sun., May 23Milwaukee at Rochester, 5:05 ET (at Buffalo)
Game 5 – Wed., May 26Milwaukee at Rochester, 7:05 ET (if necessary)
Game 6 – Fri., May 28Rochester at Milwaukee, 7:00 CT (if necessary)
Game 7 – Sat., May 29Rochester at Milwaukee, 7:00 CT (if necessary)

Regular Season Comparison
Goals for269207
Goals against191188
PP% (rank)15.6 (11)18.1 (1)
PK% (rank)86.3 (11)87.2 (8)

Calder Cup Playoff History
Record (games)10-9199-174
Record (series)3-143-31
OT record4-129-35
Calder Cup titles06
Losing finalist010

2003-04 Regular Season Series
at MIL1-0-0-00-1-0-0
at ROC1-0-0-00-1-0-0
Power play3/12 (25.0%)0/9 (0.0%)
ScoringHrkac, 1+2=3
Darche, 2+0=2
Shishkanov, 1+1=2
Milley, 1+0=1
Pittis, 1+0=1
4 players tied, 0+1=1
GoaltendingFlaherty, 1-0-0, 1.00
Finley, 1-0-0, 1.00
Miller, 0-2-0, 3.50

ResultsJan. 22ROC 1 at MIL 5
Jan. 30MIL 2 at ROC 1

Rochester is seeking a trip to the Calder Cup Final for the seventh time in the last 15 seasons and the 17th time overall… The Amerks lost to Milwaukee, 2-1, in a qualifying series last postseason… Rochester’s Domenic Pittis, who played for the Admirals in 2002-03, leads the league in playoff scoring with 16 points… Pittis, Jason Pominville and Chris Taylor combined for 21 points in the Amerks’ last three games against Hamilton… Milwaukee’s Curtis Murphy and Jay Henderson and Rochester’s David Cullen were teammates on last year’s Calder Cup championship team in Houston… The Admirals’ Andrew Hutchinson leads all AHL defensemen in playoff scoring with 10 points (2g, 8a)… Five of Milwaukee’s seven goals in the season series came via special teams (3 PPG, 2 SHG)… Games 3 and 4 of this series at the HSBC Arena will be the first Calder Cup Playoff games in Buffalo since 1987 (Hershey vs. Rochester).