Welcome back to Earth 3! It’s been a journey to our current position heading into the Conference Finals — we’ve seen the top seed taken down, a seven-game win streak, and a fair share of overtime heroics. You can read the full recaps of the first and second rounds, which unfortunately included our beloved B-Sens losing to the Rochester Americans in five games.
If this is your first time and confused about what’s happening, the simulation explanation can be found here. Don’t scroll any further if you want to avoid spoilers.
Here’s how the bracket stacks up:
The Providence Bruins and Iowa Wild have firmly asserted themselves as the two scariest teams in the AHL, combined losing only a single game all playoffs. The Colorado Eagles have faced more adversity but overcame Tucson in a long seven-game series, meanwhile the Rochester Americans have taken down two high-offence teams by way of great depth scoring and strong goaltending from Jonas Johansson.
Now we’re down to the final four! Let’s look at each series game-by-game.
Providence Bruins (1) vs. Rochester Americans (2)
For the first time since October 30th, the Providence Bruins and Rochester Americans come together for an epic battle between the Atlantic Division champion and the North Division runner-up. All the way back in October, what could be described as a lifetime ago, the Bruins took both matchups with the Americans, each by just one goal.
There have been a few outstanding stars through each team’s playoff run. For the Bruins it’s been the Jack Studnicka and Anders Bjork show. On the side of the Americans it’s been all about the Swedes as Rasmus Asplund and Lawrence Pilut were heavy hitters in round two, defeating the Belleville Senators in five games.
The big task for the Americans will be shutting down the Providence forwards as all of Studnicka (10), Bjork (6) and Brendan Gaunce (4) have compiled the same or more goals than Rochester’s leading scorer so far (Pilut with 4).
With their offence firing on all cylinders, the Bruins will keep their high-flying lineup intact with Studnicka and Bjork running the show on the top line.
As for the Americans, former Ottawa Senator Curtis Lazar will continue to anchor their top line while Pilut will log a ton of minutes as the Americans’ top pivot. If things start to go south for Rochester, don’t be surprised to see Andrew “The Hamburglar” Hammond between the pipes.
In the opening tilt, the usual prospects for the Bruins came flying out of the gates. Bjork compiled a pair of goals while Oskar Steen got himself on the board. It wasn’t enough to overtake the Americans, however. Spreading the offence around the lineup is how they got here so why do things differently now? Andrew MacWillian, Eric Cornel, Andrew Oglevie and Lazar contributed the four goals needed for Rochester to take an important lead into game two.
After a tough start, you had to expect the Bruins to throw everything but the kitchen sink at Rochester in game two and that’s exactly what they did. Not only did they run up the scoreboard with a four spot of their own but Max Lagace shut down every shot that came his way for a statement shutout for the black and gold.
On the scoresheet, the usual suspects took a bit of a night off while 2016 first rounder Trent Frederic got his first of the series. After that Steven Kampfer got himself on the board while Jeremy Lauzon followed suit. Unfortunately for Lauzon, he later sustained an injury and will be held out for game three. Putting the cherry on top was Jakub Lauko who scored the fourth goal of the game, securing a series tie for his Bruins.
With Lauzon in the press box nursing his injury, Cooper Zech joined the lineup on the bottom pair while Jakub Zboril got bumped up to second pair duty alongside Alex Petrovic. MacWilliam and Lazar continued their solid play for the Americans while Jean-Sebastien Dea and Taylor Leier (cousin of Boston Leier) added goals of their own.
It wasn’t enough to solve the Bruins, though. After a quick break in game two, Bjork was... bjork at it (sorry) by adding another pair of goals to his impressive run. Ryan Fitzgerald, Urho Vaakanainen, Steen and former B-Sen Paul Carey helped Bjork fill the net and take a commanding 2-1 series lead.
After Johansson allowed six goals in game three, enter: The Hamburglar.
Unfortunately for Hammond, it was just another night for the red hot Bruins offense. After a quiet start to the series, Studnicka opened the scoring for this one. John Gilmour helped the Americans get on the board but Josiah Didier grabbed the lead right back for Providence. More exciting play from Fitzgerald and Carey ensured that the Bruins would walk out of the rink with a 3-1 series lead.
Unfortunately, Bjork went down early in this one, sustaining an injury that will see him miss the next two games. The Bruins’ top priority heading into game five will be rearranging their lineup to maximize on-ice production while missing their hottest player of the series. Can the Bruins complete the comeback after dropping game one and win four straight for their ticket to the finals? Well, you can probably already guess the answer since it’s located 3 inches below this sentence.
With a tight 2-1 victory, the Providence Bruins win their fourth straight to complete the series four games to one. With Bjork out of the lineup, the Bruins called upon Gaunce to step up into the role of top line left winger and he performed admirably, as he has throughout these playoffs. Carey potted his third of the series while Studnicka grabbed his second, bringing his playoff totals to 12 goals in 13 games. The lone scorer was the hamburger eater himself, as Lazar found the back of the net for the third time this series.
And there we have it — your Eastern Conference Champions from Providence! It was a nail biter for the Bruins but they managed to take home the win and get this team back to the Calder Cup Finals for the first time since they won in 1999 - funnily defeating the Rochester Americans in five games...
Iowa Wild (2) vs. Colorado Eagles (2)
There’s no other way to put it: the Iowa Wild have been on fire. They weren’t all that hot heading into the playoffs winning only one of their last five games of the regular season, but this offensive squad has proven time and time again that they can turn the dial up at a moment’s notice.
That’s been especially true of Gerald Mayhew and Sam Anas, who have a combined 15 goals over Iowa’s seven games so far. As a team they’ve incredibly averaged nearly 4.6 goals per game, and while their defence hasn’t been the tightest in the league, Kaapo Kahkonen has done more than enough to keep them in it. Their better regular season record also gives them home ice advantage.
On the other side is the Colorado Eagles, who have had to power themselves through a couple tough series against Stockton and Tucson. Their second round series was especially a rollercoaster, with the team still riding the high of the thrilling 3-1 victory in game seven.
Their goaltender Adam Werner has come in clutch when they’ve needed him most. Their forward corps has been no slouch either, with revered playmaker T.J. Tynan turning on the goalscoring jets with seven markers in eleven games. Jayson Megna’s return from injury also helped spark their performance in the second round.
Here’s how the lineup looks for Iowa (Gabriel Dumont alert!):
And for Colorado (Erik Condra alert!!!):
Playing at Wells Fargo arena, you’d guess by the atmosphere that it was a Minnesota Wild game. But T.J. Tynan shut down the crowd immediately with the opening goal, and the Eagles didn’t look back. Iowa’s depth was outmatched, with the two Kevins (Connauton and Davis) both chiming in, followed by goals from Colin Campbell and Megna to make it 5-0 before the end of the second period.
Mayhew had the team fired up for a potential third period comeback to keep the streak alive, and he nearly got them going scoring two quick goals both off his own stick. But it was too little too late, as the Wild’s winning streak was stopped dead in its tracks on home ice.
Something’s up with the Wild. Their high-flying offence came up short for their second straight game this series, as the Eagles have handily taken both games on the road. It was another story of the Eagles’ depth scorers shining through, including goals from the young guys Shane Bowers and Martin Kaut.
The post-game pressure was on Iowa to make some sort of change — Kahkonen has been beatable, and they’re already in deep trouble two games in. But head coach Tim Army didn’t want to mess with the magic they had against Grand Rapids and Chicago, opting to keep everything the same headed into game three.
Easily the closest game of the series to date, it was a goaltending battle for all 60 minutes between Kahkonen and Werner, with the latter coming out ahead. Once again it was Mayhew who got the opening and lone goal for Iowa, providing 60% of their offence so far this series. But goals from Bowers and Mark Alt went past Kahkonen in response, with the Eagles clutching for dear life for the remaining time, but not losing grasp for the victory.
It’s been a shocking turn of events for both teams who entered this series with very different momentum. But after two series of sweeping their opponents, the Wild are on the verge of being swept themselves.
The physical battle of this game took a toll on Colorado, as Megna, one of their top players from last series, would have to miss the next two games. Ryan Wagner draws in, while once again, the Wild head into game four confident with the same lineup, but this time with a bigger dash of worry.
The Wild are still in it, but they’re hanging by a thread. That was the story of game four, with Colorado fans packing the stadium to support their team potentially heading to the Calder Cup Finals in only their second season in the AHL. Tynan helped them early with his third goal of the series (seriously, where was this goal-scoring ability in the regular season?), and defenceman Jacob MacDonald scored twice, both on the power play.
It was all looking uphill for Colorado with the sweep looking likely, until a stretch of three goals in two minutes in the second period broke the silence from Iowa. Cody McLeod was first, followed by Josh Atkinson and Matt Bartkowski each scoring their first of the series. Folks, we have overtime.
The hero in this one was Luke Johnson, the ace up Iowa’s sleeve, to keep them in it for another day. Megna still has to stay on the sidelines for the next game, but this series is heading back to Iowa!
The Colorado Eagles are off to the Calder Cup Finals! They completed their dismantling of the league’s hottest team with yet another really close game — a back-and-forth affair culminating in A.J. Greer’s overtime goal to erupt the Eagles’ bench. Sam Anas finally scored his first of the series for Iowa to nearly restore hope, but Erik Condra’s game-tying goal in the dying seconds plus Greer’s heroics have kept the Eagles’ engines firing into the finals.
Now that we know who will be playing in next week’s Calder Cup Finals, here’s how the bracket looks:
And here are the leading scorers:
If there was any player to go on a big goal-per-game run these playoffs, it was Gerald Mayhew, as his stellar run ends here. The top of the board is now dominated by four Providence forwards, plus Tynan at the top for Colorado.
Who will reign victorious? Place your predictions in the comments and come back next week where we’ll crown the Calder Cup champion.