Top four seeds left in Cup race

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … After two playoff rounds the cream has risen to the top, leaving the two highest seeds in each conference to battle it out beginning Thursday for the right to go to the 2012 Calder Cup Finals.

The Norfolk Admirals, the AHL’s regular-season champions in 2011-12, advanced to the first conference final in the franchise’s 12-year history by defeating the Connecticut Whale, four games to two, in the second round. The Admirals lost Game 1 before winning four of the last five, including the decisive Game 6 on Richard Panik’s overtime goal. After finishing the regular season on a 28-game winning streak, Norfolk is 7-3 in the postseason, getting at least one point from all 20 skaters who have appeared in a playoff game.

The Admirals will meet St. John’s for the Eastern Conference championship after the IceCaps won the first Game 7 of these Calder Cup Playoffs, 3-2 over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. St. John’s won Games 3 and 4 in overtime on the road to take a 3-1 series lead, then lost Games 5 and 6 before prevailing in the winner-take-all finale on goals by Aaron Gagnon (two) and Raymond Sawada.

Both Western Conference semifinals needed just five games and were decided in similar fashion: Oklahoma City and Toronto lost their respective Game 1’s at home before rallying for four straight victories, including sweeping Games 3-5 on the road. The Marlies contained the Abbotsford Heat, with Ben Scrivens allowing just seven goals in five games to improve his league-leading goals-against average (1.61) and save percentage (.944) for the postseason. The Barons, meanwhile, gained the edge in their series with San Antonio by winning three consecutive overtime games before finishing off the Rampage with a 4-3 regulation decision in Game 5. Chris VandeVelde’s winners in Games 3 and 4 made him just the second player in AHL history to score sudden-death overtime goals in consecutive games in a series.

Of this season’s conference finalists, only Toronto, a final-four team in 2008, has reached the league semifinal before. Norfolk and Oklahoma City have never advanced this far in the AHL postseason, and the first-year IceCaps have the city of St. John’s one step away from hosting the Calder Cup Finals for the first time since the AHL Maple Leafs made the championship series in their own inaugural season, 1991-92. Four weeks from now, one of these cities will be home to a first-time Calder Cup champion.

CONFERENCE SEMIFINAL NOTES … This postseason marks the first time since 1987 that the top two teams from each side of the draw are meeting in the league semifinals… Toronto, Oklahoma City and Norfolk were the top three teams in the AHL in goals allowed during the regular season, and all four conference finalists placed among the top five in fewest shots allowed… For the first time ever, there are affiliates of three Canadian NHL teams (Winnipeg, Edmonton, Toronto) in the AHL’s final four… This marks the third postseason in a row that a first-year team has reached the conference finals (St. John’s 2012, Charlotte 2011, Texas 2010)… Wilkes-Barre/Scranton forwards Eric Tangradi (3-4-7) and Colin McDonald (2-5-7) led all AHL scorers with seven points in the second round.

Eastern Conference Finals – Series “M” (best-of-7)
1-Norfolk Admirals [TB] vs. 2-St. John’s IceCaps [WPG]

Game 1 – Thurs., May 17 – St. John’s at Norfolk, 7:15 ET
Game 2 – Sat., May 19 – St. John’s at Norfolk, 8:00 ET
Game 3 – Mon., May 21 – Norfolk at St. John’s, 6:00 ET
Game 4 – Tue., May 22 – Norfolk at St. John’s, 6:00 ET
*Game 5 – Sat., May 26 – Norfolk at St. John’s, 6:00 ET
*Game 6 – Tue., May 29 – St. John’s at Norfolk, 7:15 ET
*Game 7 – Wed., May 30 – St. John’s at Norfolk, 7:15 ET

Western Conference Finals – Series “N” (best-of-7)
1-Oklahoma City Barons [EDM] vs. 2-Toronto Marlies [TOR]

Game 1 – Thurs., May 17 – Toronto at Oklahoma City, 8:00 ET
Game 2 – Fri., May 18 – Toronto at Oklahoma City, 8:00 ET
Game 3 – Mon., May 21 – Oklahoma City at Toronto, 3:00 ET
Game 4 – Wed., May 23 – Oklahoma City at Toronto, 7:00 ET
*Game 5 – Fri., May 25 – Oklahoma City at Toronto, 7:00 ET
*Game 6 – Mon., May 28 – Toronto at Oklahoma City, 8:00 ET
*Game 7 – Wed., May 30 – Toronto at Oklahoma City, 8:00 ET

   *if necessary

Download previews here (PDF)