The St. John’s Ice Caps are one step closer to the Calder Cup, but a new challenge stands in their way: The Norfolk Admirals, who have already knocked off a high-ranked team in this year’s post-season.
Just like the Albany Devils that the Ice Caps met in the first round, the Admirals are a vastly unknown opponent, as the two teams did not meet once in the regular season, but certainly have some history between them.
The Admirals and Ice Caps met in the 2012 Eastern Conference Final, where Norfolk swept the series en route to their first Calder Cup. All-time, St. John’s is 3-4-0-1 in regular season play.
The Admirals had to win their last five games of the regular season to punch their ticket to the Calder Cup Playoffs, and they did just that, ranking as the eigth seed. They came up against the Manchester Monarchs, and defeated them 3-1 in their best-of-five first-round series, allowing only six goals in four games against the AHL’s highest-scoring team.
The Ice Caps also won their first-round series 3-1, facing an Albany Devils team that threw everything they had at St. John’s. In the end, the Caps’ potent offense was too much for an experienced defensive group in Albany, and they scored 10 goals in four games, including four in their series-clinching Game Four win.
It will be much of the same story against the Admirals, who also have a tight defense. Garnet Exelby has 408 NHL games to his credit, including 15 with the Jets’ franchise, while Nolan Yonkman is a grizzled AHL veteran with over 700 games of experience. Young prospects in Sami Vatanen and Jesse Blacker round out a blue-line that allowed 192 goals in the regular season, fifth-best across the league. The Admirals’ defense is in full effect on the penalty-kill, which ranked 1st in the AHL this season at 88.1%.
The Admirals’ defense will have their hands full against an Ice Caps offense that really found their stride in the final part of their first-round series. Andrew Gordon scored a hat-trick in the Caps’ Game Four win, and only one Ice Caps player finished with a minus rating after their Quarterfinal series win.
The Ice Caps’ defensemen haven’t been resting on their laurels offensively, as two of three of the teams’ top scorers after the first-round come from the blue-line: Zach Redmond is tied with Gordon for the team lead in points with four, while Brenden Kitchon’s two goals have him in third place. Jason Jaffray, John Albert, and Jerome Samson round out the Ice Caps’ other multi-point players, while 14 different Ice Caps managed at least a point in the Devils series.
It is shaping up to be a classic battle in net, with two of the brightest young goaltenders in the entire league going head-to-head in this series: Michael Hutchinson of the Ice Caps, and John Gibson of the Admirals. Statistically, both are nearly even, with Hutchinson averaging a .952% save percentage and 1.51 GAA against Gibson’s 1.42 GAA and .947% save percentage. Hutchinson’s best performance of the first round came in Game Four where he made 39 saves, while John Gibson made a 35-save shutout in Game Three against the Monarchs.
The teams are at two different ends of the spectrum, when it comes to assistance from their respective NHL clubs. The Admirals lost their two leading scorers, Devante Smith-Pelly, and Emerson Etem to the Anaheim Ducks for their Stanley Cup Playoff run, while the Ice Caps gained six NHL roster players from the Winnipeg Jets after their season was ended: Patrice Cormier, Michael Hutchinson, Ben Chiarot, Zach Redmond, Eric O’Dell, and Carl Klingberg.
Both teams come with loads of playoff experience, with both going deep into the playoffs in 2012, although both clubs failed to make the post-season in 2013.
Here is the series schedule, courtesy of stjohnsicecaps.com:
Game 1 – Tue., May 6 – Norfolk at St. John’s, 7:30 NT/6:00 ET
Game 2 – Wed., May 7 – Norfolk at St. John’s, 7:30 NT/6:00 ET
Game 3 – Sat., May 10 – St. John’s at Norfolk, 8:00 ET/9:30 NT
Game 4 – Mon., May 12 – St. John’s at Norfolk, 7:15 ET/8:45 NT
*Game 5 – Tue., May 13 – St. John’s at Norfolk, 7:15 ET/8:45 NT
*Game 6 – Fri., May 16 – Norfolk at St. John’s, 7:30 NT/6:00 ET
*Game 7 – Sat., May 17 – Norfolk at St. John’s, 7:30 NT/6:00 ET
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