Tonight’s Houston-Hamilton showdown for the Western Conference championship marks the eighth time since 2000 that an AHL conference final series has gone the distance.
The previous seven have been some of the best playoff games of the past decade. Here’s a quick look back:
2000 Eastern Conference Finals
Hartford 3, Providence 2 (OT) – at Hartford, Conn.
Providence breezed through the rest of the AHL on its way to winning the Calder Cup in 1999, then swept its first two series in 2000 before taking a 3-1 lead on Hartford in the conference finals. But the Wolf Pack clawed back, erasing a two-goal deficit to win Game 5 and then snapping the Bruins’ AHL-record 16-game home playoff winning streak in Game 6. In Game 7, Brad Smyth scored twice in regulation – including the equalizer at 9:47 of the third period – and former Bruins defenseman Terry Virtue banked a shot off the skate of former Wolf Pack forward Peter Ferraro 7:32 into overtime as Hartford advanced to the Calder Cup Finals.
2002 Eastern Conference Finals
Bridgeport 3, Hamilton 0 – at Bridgeport, Conn.
Bridgeport finished first overall in the AHL in its inaugural season, but their playoff road hit a bump when Hamilton erased a 3-1 series deficit in the conference finals, including Louie DeBrusk’s improbable overtime goal to win Game 6. Bridgeport controlled play for most of Game 7 with Rick DiPietro anchoring the defensive effort in net, but Bulldogs goalie Marc Lamothe kept the Sound Tigers off the board also. Bridgeport finally broke through with just 1:27 to play as Raffi Torres scored, and two empty-net goals later the Sound Tigers were off to the Calder Cup Finals.
2003 Western Conference Finals
Houston 2, Grand Rapids 1 – at Grand Rapids, Mich.
With a 3-1 series lead, Houston had two chances to close out Grand Rapids but lost both Game 5 and Game 6 in overtime. With a trip to the Calder Cup Finals on the line in Game 7, the Aeros and Griffins remained scoreless until Marc Cavosie put Houston on the board at 13:33 of the second period. Cavosie added another goal with 14:06 to play and Johan Holmqvist stopped 13 of Grand Rapids’ 14 shots in the third period to preserve a 2-1 Aeros victory. Griffins goalie Marc Lamothe, who had backstopped Hamilton to within a win of the Finals a year earlier, was again the hard-luck loser.
2004 Eastern Conference Finals
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton 2, Hartford 1 (OT) – at Hartford, Conn.
The upstart Penguins, who rang up just 86 points in the regular season, rode the goaltending of cult hero Andy Chiodo to upsets of Bridgeport and Philadelphia before running into Hartford and their own standout netminder Jason LaBarbera, who had set an AHL record with 13 shutouts in 2003-04. Game 7 was scoreless into the third period before the Pens’ Eric Meloche and the Wolf Pack’s Cory Larose traded goals; Matt Murley won it for Wilkes-Barre at 13:21 of overtime – their second Game 7 OT road win of the postseason.
2006 Eastern Conference Finals
Hershey 5, Portland 4 (OT) – at Hershey, Pa.
The story heading into this Game 7 was the addition of Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Dustin Penner to the Portland roster after the parent Anaheim Ducks were eliminated two days earlier. Penner would score twice and Perry once in the game, but Hershey erased deficits of 2-0, 3-2 and 4-3 to force overtime on Graham Mink’s goal with 2:09 left in regulation. Eric Fehr would win it on a blast 9:07 into OT, sending the Bears to the Calder Cup Finals for the first time since 1997.
2008 Eastern Conference Finals
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton 3, Portland 2 – at Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton staved off elimination in Game 6 by rallying from a 3-0 deficit to win in overtime, then grabbed a 2-0 lead in the first period of Game 7. But Portland responded with a pair of second-period goals, and the teams appeared to be headed to OT again. But former Pirates forward Tim Brent scored with 30.7 seconds left in the third, sinking his ex-mates and giving the Penguins their third conference championship in eight years.
2010 Western Conference Finals
Texas 4, Hamilton 2 – at Hamilton, Ont.
Hamilton brought a 3-2 series lead back home to Copps Coliseum, but dropped Game 6 in overtime to set up a winner-take-all match for the Western Conference crown. Looking to finally finish off the first-year Texas Stars, the Bulldogs blitzed Texas early in Game 7, jumping out to a 2-0 lead and outshooting the Stars 34-11 over the first two periods. But Texas rallied in the third, with Perttu Lindgren breaking a 2-2 tie with exactly six minutes remaining in regulation and sending the Stars to the Calder Cup Finals.