AHL Roundup: Marlies last Canadian team to exit Calder Cup Playoffs

Garret Sparks (Andrew Krech/CP)

The last Canadian representative has exited the American Hockey League for this season.

The Toronto Marlies will head home for the summer after the Syracuse Crunch eliminated them in a seven-game second-round Calder Cup Playoffs series on Wednesday.

“The desire is that we’re developing everybody to the best of their ability but also that we’re teaching players that hockey goes to May and June,” Marlies general manager Kyle Dubas said Friday, according to the team website.

Indeed, long spring runs have become the norm around Ricoh Coliseum.

The Marlies have advanced to at least the second round in five of the past six seasons. Last season the Marlies went to the Eastern Conference final after a franchise-record 114-point season before being eliminated by the Hershey Bears.

Aggressive work by Dubas and Toronto management reshaped head coach Sheldon Keefe’s roster at the NHL trade deadline and the AHL roster deadline. Those moves turned around a season that had hit mid-season turbulence. Their record stood at 15-19-2-1 on Jan. 20.

Their turnaround resulted in a 42-29-4-1 mark that earned them second place in the North Division.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Toronto’s departure is the latest among the top echelon of the Eastern Conference.

The regular-season champion Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins went down in the first round, as did the Lehigh Valley Phantoms (tied for second in the AHL with 101 points). Hershey, a 97-point team that was a Calder Cup finalist last season, fell in seven games to the Providence Bruins.

It all will set up an Eastern Conference final between Providence and Syracuse. Game 1 of the best-of-seven series goes Friday at Providence.

The Bruins, a team that plays a heavy, grinding style, continues an impressive run through the Eastern Conference. In defeating Hershey in Game 7 Wednesday they became the first team in one AHL post-season to win four elimination games on the road.

Leading the way is goaltender Zane McIntyre. He has a 7-5 mark to go with his 2.11 goals-against average and .921 save percentage.

Providence’s 2.17 goals-against per game leads all AHL playoff teams.

The Bruins rely on a scoring-by-committee approach, but their first line of Wayne Simpson, Jordan Szwarz, and Danton Heinen gave Hershey trouble in the second round. Szwarz, who led Providence in regular-season scoring, rebounded after a relatively quiet playoffs to score two Game 7 goals against Hershey. Providence forward Danton Heinen leads all AHL rookies in playoff scoring with 12 points (5-7-12).

Heinen is part of a pair of rookies to lead Providence in playoff goals with five. Winger Jake DeBrusk, a 2015 first-round selection by the parent Boston Bruins, also has picked up five goals.

Syracuse, who was stocked heavily by the parent Tampa Bay Lightning at the end of the NHL regular season, will bring its own well-rounded group of scorers into the series. Former Ottawa Senator Erik Condra captains Syracuse and has 11 playoff points (4-7-11), placing him third in AHL playoff scoring.

Former Marlies centre Byron Froese is a key part of that deep group of Syracuse forwards. He has gone 3-6-9 in 11 post-season contests, putting him a point behind Matt Taormina, the Eddie Shore Award winner as the AHL’s top defenceman this season, and forward Matthew Peca.

Veteran netminder Mike McKenna will continue to handle the Syracuse goaltending duties. He is 7-4 with a 2.59 GAA and .900 save percentage.

Four of Providence’s five playoff losses this spring have been in overtime.

The Crunch have gone 6-0 on home ice and will host Games 3-5 next week. Four of those wins came against the Marlies. However, they have one win in five playoff road games.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

The Western Conference regular-season champion San Jose Barracuda have a big obstacle to what would be the San Jose Sharks organization’s first-ever trip to a Calder Cup final.

Standing in their way are the Grand Rapids Griffins, who have stormed through the first two rounds of the post-season. The Detroit Red Wings AHL affiliate put up a first-round sweep of the Milwaukee Admirals before taking out the Chicago Wolves in a five-game second-round series.

Long playoff runs have become a bit of a tradition in Grand Rapids. Along with winning the Calder Cup in 2013, the Griffins also advanced to the 2015 Western Conference final.

Each team brings potent offensive firepower. Grand Rapids has an AHL-best 4.25 goals per game in the playoffs, and San Jose sits second at 3.50. The Barracuda feature the AHL’s leading playoff scorer in forward Ryan Carpenter. He is 7-6-13 through 10 games.

The Grand Rapids power play finished first during the regular season and is clicking at 22.2 per cent in the playoffs, second-best in the league. San Jose is fourth at 20.5 per cent.

They also each play a game built around puck possession. San Jose’s 38.2 shots per game rank first in the AHL, and Grand Rapids is third (35.6).

San Jose has one of the AHL’s best blue-lines and is headed by Tim Heed and Joakim Ryan.

For all of their offensive exploits, each team has a goaltender capable of taking over a series. San Jose’s Troy Grosenick won the Baz Bastien Award as the AHL’s top goaltender, and has carried that play through the first two rounds (2.21 GAA, .920 save percentage).

Jared Coreau, who spent part of the regular season with the Red Wings, has a .908 playoff save percentage for Grand Rapids but posted a .917 mark in the regular season.

ELSEWHERE

Two Canadian NHL affiliates are part of AHL realignment for next season. The Belleville Senators (Ottawa Senators) and Laval Rocket (Montreal Canadiens) will be new affiliates for their respective parent clubs and play out of the North Division. They will make up a 401 rivalry that will also include the Marlies.

The Utica Comets’ head-coaching vacancy remains open since the parent Vancouver Canucks promoted Travis Green to take over their bench.

The Hartford Wolf Pack will have a new face behind their bench next season. The parent New York Rangers fired head coach Ken Gernander after the Wolf Pack finished last in the AHL. Gernander’s 388 coaching wins over 10 seasons place him sixth in AHL history. Long-time NHL forward Chris Drury will be the new Hartford general manager as well.

Gernander joined Ted Dent of the Rockford IceHogs as head coaches that will not return. The Chicago Blackhawks affiliate filled the opening with 32-year-old Jeremy Colliton. The former AHL centre has spent four seasons coaching in Sweden.

The Tucson Roadrunners will have a new general manager. Steve Sullivan, a veteran of 1,011 NHL games, will take over for Doug Soetaert with the affiliate of the Arizona Coyotes.