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Calder Cup Playoff Atlantic Division Preview: Charlotte vs. Springfield

Calder Cup Playoff Atlantic Division Preview: Charlotte vs. Springfield

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The Atlantic Division Finals are set for the 2022 Calder Cup Playoffs as the top seeded Charlotte Checkers face off with the second-place Springfield Thunderbirds starting on Sunday afternoon. The best-of-five series will send one club to the Eastern Conference Finals.

The two teams finished with identical points percentages to conclude the season, with Charlotte playing four fewer games but earning the top spot with five more regulation wins this season in contrast to Springfield. The two teams clashed eight times over the course of the regular season, with Springfield winning six contests including a pair of close games in mid-April that indicate that this should be a close series. Both teams are coming off of series wins that featured plenty of drama but ultimately did not go the distance, further cementing these two clubs as the top dogs of the Atlantic Division.

Regular Season Records

Charlotte Checkers: 42-24-5-1, 90 points (72 games played), first in Atlantic Division

Springfield Thunderbirds: 43-24-6-3, 95 points (76 games played), second Atlantic Division

How They Got Here

The Checkers enter play after a four-game series win over the Bridgeport Islanders, with a double-overtime 7-6 win in Game 2 that proved to be one of the more unusual games of the Calder Cup Playoffs. Bridgeport proved to be a difficult opponent despite entering as the sixth and final seeded team, taking the third game but were ultimately blanked in a fourth and decisive game. Springfield took it to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in a three-game sweep that saw a goalie goal for Joel Hofer in Game 2 followed by a similarly high-scoring Game 3, where the T-Birds overcame a 4-1 deficit for a 7-6 final of their own.

Series Schedule

Game 1: Sunday, May 22 – Charlotte Checkers at Springfield Thunderbirds, 3:05 PM EST

Game 2: Wednesday, May 25 – Charlotte Checkers at Springfield Thunderbirds, 7:05 PM EST

Game 3: Saturday, May 28 – Springfield Thunderbirds at Charlotte Checkers, 6:00 PM EST

Game 4: Sunday, May 29 – Springfield Thunderbirds at Charlotte Checkers, 6:00 PM EST (if necessary)

Game 5: Tuesday, May 31 – Springfield Thunderbirds at Charlotte Checkers, 7:00 PM EST (if necessary)

Season Series Recap

The two teams played each other eight times in the regular season, with Springfield taking six decisions including two that went beyond regulation. The two teams played a pair of games in mid-April that saw Springfield take a regulation decision as well as another in a shootout.

The record breaks down to 2-2-1-1 for Charlotte, which gives the series a fairly even look considering the matchups came sporadically across the season schedule. The final two games in the series came late in the season and give a more accurate depiction of how the series could play out, with a strong defensive structure for both teams as well as clutch performances from key players proving to be the difference.

Goaltending depth is a strength on both teams, with the tandem of Charlie Lindgren and Joel Hofer each playing Chris Gibson and Joey Daccord in those two games down the stretch. It’s more than likely the two teams will tighten up after some high scoring, although each club proved they were more than up to the task of putting the puck in the back of the net with a variety of goal scorers. Only Sam Anas is among the top ten in terms of points at this stage of the playoffs, and with both teams putting up seven goals in one of their wins each, makes that another stat to watch.

How Charlotte Wins

The Checkers will face their biggest test yet with the Thunderbirds, who have both the defensive skills and offensive prowess to match. Charlotte has plenty of strong scorers in their own right, and they’ll be counting on the likes of Zac Dalpe, Alexander True, Max McCormick, and Aleksi Heponiemi to find the back of the net in this series.

Those players did not get on the scoresheet as much as the Checkers would like in the April set of games between the two teams, and the Checkers will look to change that as well as continue their identity as a stingy defensive team as their 197 goals against was second-fewest in the Atlantic Division. The Checkers will look to take advantage of a Thunderbirds team that struggled a bit more on the penalty kill this season, where they rank seventh in the Atlantic Division in the regular season while Charlotte ranks atop the division in that category.

Provided Charlotte takes advantage of their opportunities and shuts the door on the talented Springfield team, they’ll have the edge in this series.

How Springfield Wins

Springfield will rely on their offensive strength in addition to their strong goaltending to win this series. Their mix of veteran depth and young scorers is among the best in the AHL, with the likes of Tommy Cross and James Neal complemented by seasoned AHL forwards like Sam Anas, Klim Kostin, and Matthew Peca. Their young talent like Nikita Alexandrov, Hugh McGing, and Mackenzie MacEachern have to come up big in these playoffs so far, and it makes their ability to roll multiple skilled lines a tough task to defend. The team has relied upon both of their netminders this season, and their power play ranked third best in the Eastern Conference at 20.3%. Taking all these factors into account, the Thunderbirds will look to use the 2-3 scheduling to take advantage of their home ice and put pressure on the Checkers early, but their secret weapon lies in their strength on the road. Springfield’s power play has excelled away from home in the regular season, and it doesn’t seem as though opposing atmospheres phase this team, as exemplified by their last win in Wilkes-Barre by overcoming a 4-1 deficit to win. If Springfield is able to take advantage, it’s hard to see many teams stopping them at this rate.

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