Calder Cup Primer:Flames face Penguins in Calder Cup Final.
May 15, 2001
Pardon the pun, but the Saint John Flames are "red hot". The team has dominated its first three playoff series, losing just two out of thirteen playoff games. In fact, since the return of Marty Murray on November 24th, the Flames have a winning percentage of .733 (107 points in 73 games). Reigning league MVP Martin Brochu is playing his best hockey of the season (1.75 GAA, .931 save %), while Sergei Varlamov leads the AHL with 13 playoff goals and is tied for the lead with 18 points. The supporting cast has been very strong as well. Steve Begin has 9 goals and 15 points, Marty Murray has 13 points, and the tandem of Darrel Scoville and Steve Montador has been nearly flawless on defense. As a team, the Flames are scoring on an amazing 31.3% of power plays, while killing close to 86% of their own penalties. To top it off, the Flames have made the most of their home-ice advantage, winning all six contests at home thus far, including three Game One shutouts.
The Penguins can best be described as a surprise finalist. After a dismal 58 points in their inaugural AHL season last year, the young Penguins squad rode the performance of rookies Milan Kraft, Eric Meloche, Toby Petersen, and Billy Tibbetts to an 83 point regular season. While many expected them to falter during the playoffs, they've been able to score a ton of goals (49 in 15 games), and be successful in overtime (5 wins). While the Pens are mainly composed of first and second-year players, the team is led by a pair of veterans. Dennis Bonvie is an eight-year pro with 56 NHL games and a Calder Cup appearance in 1997, while goaltender Rich Parent has 32 games of NHL experience and has always been a strong minor league performer.
Even without the call-ups and injuries, the Flames have a significant advantage in depth. The 3rd line of Dave Roche, Rico Fata, and Blair Betts had a combined 138 regular season points, and could play a major role in the finals against the shallower and less-talented Penguins forwards. The Flames have seven solid defensemen, while Wilkes-Barre rotates only five blueliners during most games. Finally, the Flames have a strong goaltending duo in Brochu and Levente Szuper, while Parent is backed up by a talented, but very unreliable Sebastien Caron, who allowed 7 goals against the Flames in a game earlier this season. The Flames have the edge in nearly every statistical category, including goals per game (3.46), fewest goals allowed per game (1.85), and special teams. While the Penguins have also scored at an impressive rate (3.27 per game), they've allowed nearly a goal more per game than the Flames.
Saint John's system and team effort have been extremely impressive during the playoffs, and they haven't shown any major weaknesses thus far. Wilkes-Barre has also been strong, but injuries and call-ups have left the team thin and have left a group of talented, but inexperienced players to carry the load. If the Flames can win early at home, they'll be awfully tough to beat in this series.
(My series pick can be found below).
Saint John Flames vs. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins Series Facts
Game 1: Thursday, May 17 Wilkes-Barre/Scranton @ Saint John (7:30 p.m.)
All times are ADT -- 3 hours ahead of Mountain Time.
(* if necessary)
Radio: The Penguins will broadcast the games live via their website http://www.wbspenguins.com. The game will be broadcast in the Greater Saint John area on 94.1 FM.
Records: Saint John (44-24-7-5, 100 points) vs. Wilkes-Barre (36-33-9-2, 83 points). The Flames are 11-2 in the postseason, Wilkes-Barre is 11-4.
Overtime Records: Saint John was 2-5-4 in the regular season, but has won both playoff overtime contests. Wilkes-Barre was 4-2-9 during the season, and is 5-2 so far in the playoffs, including three wins in a row against Hershey.
Season Series: The Flames won both games during the season; 3-1 at Harbour Station and 7-3 in Wilkes-Barre.
Playoff History: The Flames went to the Calder Cup final three years ago, losing in six games to the Philadelphia Phantoms. This is the first time the Penguins have made the playoffs in their two-year history.
Forward 1: Murray - Varlamov - Botterill
Forward 2: Tkaczuk - Begin - Clark
Forward 3: Betts - Fata - Roche
Forward 4: Doull - Royer
Defense 1: Walser - Martin
Defense 2: Scoville - Montador
Defense 3: Dupont - Mrozik
Reserves: Chris St. Croix, Bobby Russell, Jeff Mitchell, Jamie Ling, Dany Sabourin.
Injured: Miika Elomo (out), Jason Morgan (out), Kenny Corupe (out).
Forward 1: Peterson / Meloche / Crozier
Forward 2: Mathieu / Kostopoulous / Zevakhin
Forward 3: Verot / Bonvie / Sonnenberg
Forward 4: Gyori
Defense 1: Rozsival / Melichar
Defense 2: Cull / Buckley
Defense 3: Peet
Reserves: Caron (goaltender), Moore, Gaffaney.
Injured: Kelleher (questionable), Tibbetts (ineligible in Canada), MacDonald (questionable)
On recall to Pittsburgh: Milan Kraft, Andrew Ference.
Facts and Figures
Wilkes-Barre: The Penguins have two defensemen, Chris Kelleher and Michal Rozsival, that each have a playoff-high 18 points. Amazingly, Kelleher had only 19 points in 66 regular season games. Wilkes-Barre has scored first in only 6 of their 15 games.
I've been correct with my first three picks, and I'm certainly not going to change my mind for this round! The Flames have dominated every series thus far, and have rebounded with strong games after their only two losses. Combine this with home ice advantage, and I think the Flames will win the Calder Cup in six games.
Aaron McCracken is a freelance writer from New Brunswick. He covers the Saint John Flames for Calgary Puck / Fire on Ice. He can be reached at email@example.com .