After a thrilling seven-game series win in the first round of the AHL Calder Cup Playoffs, the Binghamton Senators will head to Maine to take on the Portland Pirates in the Atlantic Division Final. The Pirates, who are affiliated with the Buffalo Sabres, finished the regular season in first in the Atlantic Division with record of 47-24-9 and 103 points, the second most in the AHL.
The Portland Pirates led the AHL in regular season goal scoring with 280, with former Ottawa 67 Mark Mancari their top offensive star with 64P (32G, 32A) in just 56GP (he missed a bunch of games while suiting up with the Sabres in the NHL, where he scored 8P [1G, 7A] in 20GP). Sabres prospect Luke Adam was second on the Pirates in scoring with 62P (29G, 33A) in 57GP. On the bright side for Binghamton is that Portland's leading defensemen Marc-Andre Gragnani, who was third in team scoring with 60P (12G, 48A) in just 63 games, is currently with the Sabres in the NHL playoffs.
Although the Pirates won their first-round series against the Connecticut Whale four games to two, it was a very close series. Overall, they outscored the Whale just 19-18 in the series, with only one game finishing with a margin of victory greater than one goal (the series-clinching game-six victory was a 6-4 final). But Binghamton's first-round series was even closer, with five of seven games going to overtime--including all four games the B-Sens won. This series will likely be evenly-matched, as well. Portland and Binghamton met only twice in the regular season, and they split the season series.
Although Mancari has played just three playoff games for the Pirates, he's tied for second in team scoring with 5P (2G, 3A). Leading Portland in post-season scoring is rookie right winger Corey Tropp, who's put up 7P (2G, 5A) in the six games they've played.
Binghamton gets some good news from the probable return of AHL leading scorer and MVP Corey Locke, who was in a full practice with the team on Monday. If Locke does return, he's likely to center a line with Colin Greening and Bobby Butler. A one-two punch of Locke and AHL leading playoff scorer Ryan Potulny (8G, 6A, 7GP) would be a force to be reckoned with for the B-Sens. Captain Ryan Keller (who is tied for third in AHL playoff scoring) will anchor a third scoring line.
Edge: Binghamton. The depth of the B-Sens scoring gives them the advantage, especially if Locke does return.
With Gragnani in Buffalo, the Pirates are rotating eight different blueliners in and out of the lineup. The "top six" is led by Dennis Persson, who's scored 4A in 5GP, but the Portland defenders don't provide much in the way of offense.
Binghamton's struggling on defence with David Hale, Derek Smith, Patrick Coulombe, and Eric Gryba all fighting various ailments and none of the four are expected to suit up for game one. Minutes have fallen mostly onto the shoulders of Andre Benoit, Geoff Kinrade, Craig Schira, and Patrick Wiercioch, with Mark Borowiecki used somewhat sparingly in the lineup. The B-Sens brought in Bob Raymond from the ECHL to play some time, and also have David Sloane on the roster.
Edge: Portland. Injuries have Binghamton in a tough spot, and even if the Pirates' defense aren't supplying offence, at least they're healthy.
In goal, Portland will start David Leggio, an AHL journeymen and former Binghamton Senator, who has played all six games for Portland in the playoffs. He has a 2.93 goals against average and a .897 save percentage. During the regular season he played 36 games for Portland, going 22-12-0 with a 2.80 goals against average, and a .911 save percentage.
Countering will be Binghamton rookie Robin Lehner. Since taking over for Barry Brust late in Binghamton's first-round series, Lehner is 3-0 with a 2.73 goals against average and a .919 save percentage. He won three straight games, each of which went to overtime, stopping all 25 shots he's faced when allowing any of them to get past would have led to his team's elimination from the playoffs.
Edge: Unknown. The difference could be Leggio's experience, or Lehner's ability to stay cool under pressure.
- Game 1 – Wednesday, April 27 – Binghamton at Portland, 7 p.m.
- Game 2 – Thursday, Apr. 28 – Binghamton at Portland, 7 p.m.
- Game 3 – Saturday, Apr. 30 – Portland at Binghamton, 7:05 p.m.
- Game 4 – Monday, May 2 – Portland at Binghamton, 7:05 p.m.
- *Game 5 – Tuesday, May 3 – Portland at Binghamton, 7:05 p.m.
- *Game 6 – Friday, May 6 – Binghamton at Portland, 7 p.m.
- *Game 7 – Saturday, May 7 – Binghamton at Portland, 7 p.m.