The Binghamton Senators are hoping the return of Eric Gryba, seen here in pre-season NHL action, will boost their defense corps.
Heading into the Eastern Conference Finals, the Binghamton Senators meet a familiar face as they take on their division rivals, the Charlotte Checkers. The Checkers, AHL affiliate of the Carolina Hurricanes, won the East Division Final over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in six games.
Zach Boychuk, the 14th overall pick in 2008, led the Checkers during the regular season with 65 points (22 goals, 43 assists in 60 games), and Zac Dalpe, a second rounder in 2008, has 12P (5G, 7A) in all 12 playoff games. Charlotte was tied with the Norfolk Admirals atop the division in goals for with 265, but they allowed 243 goals, which is more than any other teams which appeared in the Calder Cup playoffs. The Checkers finished 44-27-9 with 97 points, but Binghamton won the season series, 4-3-1.
Charlotte scored and allowed 10 goals in their series again Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, winning all four games by one goal. In the first round, Charlotte defeated the back-to-back Calder Cup champion Hershey Bears in six games, three of those games by one goal (the fourth by two).
Let's take a closer look at the series, on a position-by-position basis:
Binghamton's offense has really stepped it up in this year's playoffs, with 46 goals so far, and Charlotte's only put 29 past their opponents' goaltenders. After Zac Dalpe, only three forwards on Charlotte's roster have more than three goals (Nick Dodge, Brett Sutter, Chris Terry). Binghamton's offense has four players with more than ten points (Kaspars Daugavins, Ryan Keller, Ryan Potulny, and Zack Smith), and four players with six or more goals (Potulny , Daugavins , Bobby Butler , and Keller ). The Senators have three lines which could, on any given night, lead the team offensively, while the Checkers' offense is somewhat more concentrated on their top-line performers.
Edge: Binghamton. The offensive depth, as well as being the top powerplay in the league (both in season and playoffs), will give Charlotte's defense a tough time.
Charlotte has allowed 27 goals, with Binghamton's defense allowing 41. But the B-Sens have fought through some serious injury problems through much of the playoffs, and by the end of the second round were without five regulars on their blue line. Andre Benoit and Geoff Kinrade have provided strong leadership, and the addition of Mark Borowiecki and Jared Cowen have bolstered the D-corps. It's expected that Eric Gryba will return for game one of the playoffs, and Patrick Wiercioch shouldn't be too far off, so the blue line may see a huge boost early in the series. It will still be a young group, though, so Bingo's offense may have to lead the way once again.
Charlotte's defense is lead by Bryan Rodney, who has 3 points (all assists) in all 12 games. Charlotte's defense has been healthy for the playoffs, but the team only has a +2 goal differential, and only Casey Borer has a positive plus-minus among blueliners.
Edge: Charlotte. Although when Binghamton gets back to full-strength, they could flip the balance of power, Charlotte's defense is healthy and has allowed the fewest goals in the conference in the playoffs. They're also the best penalty-killing team in the AHL.
Charlotte is expected to start Mike Murphy in the series. Murphy, a rookie just like Robin Lehner, is the Calder Cup playoffs' best goaltender. Leading with a .944 save percentage and a 1.79 goals against average, Murphy has allowed only 18 goals in his 10 playoff games this season.
Robin Lehner is currently 7-2 in the playoffs, with a .926 save percentage and a 2.59 goals against average, allowing only 23 goals in all nine of his playoff games. Robin Lehner got his first playoff shutout with the series win in game six.
Edge: Charlotte. Both goaltenders are rookies, but Murphy is older and more experienced than Lehner.
Game 1 – Thursday, May 12 – Binghamton at Charlotte, 7:05 p.m.
Game 2 – Friday, May 13 – Binghamton at Charlotte, 7:05 p.m.
Game 3 – Tuesday, May 17 – Charlotte at Binghamton, 7:05 p.m.
Game 4 – Wednesday, May 18 – Charlotte at Binghamton, 7:05 p.m.
*Game 5 – Saturday, May 21 – Charlotte at Binghamton, 7:05 p.m.
*Game 6 – Monday, May 23 – Binghamton at Charlotte, 7:05 p.m.
*Game 7 – Tuesday, May 24 – Binghamton at Charlotte, 7:05 p.m.