VANCOUVER, B.C. – Funnily enough, the first game in the Abbotsford Canucks history was against the Bakersfield Condors, a 5-3 loss all the way back on October 16, 2021. Since then, both teams have been in the Pacific Division dogfight for seeding position throughout the regular season.
It’s a matchup that sees both teams mirroring each other through their campaigns. The Condors had a rough start to the year, winning eight times through the first 22 games. They then went on a tear, winning 29 times in their final 46 games.
As for the Canucks, they were frustratingly mediocre, never able to string together results. Then, they chose to become the hottest team in the AHL, 29-11-2 in their final 42 games. Now, they face off in the AHL playoffs.
Final Regular Season Records:
Bakersfield Condors: 37-21-5-5, 84 points (4th in Pacific Division)
Abbotsford Canucks: 39-23-5-1, 84 points (5th in Pacific Division)
Game 1 – Tuesday, May 3, Abbotsford at BAKERSFIELD – 7:00 pm PST
Game 2 – Wednesday, May 4, Abbotsford at BAKERSFIELD – 7:00 pm PST
Game 3 – Monday, May 9, Abbotsford at BAKERSFIELD – 7:00 pm PST (If necessary)
Season Series Recap:
It was clear the Canucks and Condors would not get along from the first game. Will Lockwood and Brad Malone dropping the gloves was the cherry on top of a combined 32 penalty minutes. Each game proved to be high in penalties and offense. The winning side in each game scored three goals or more.
Bakersfield dominated the early season series. They won the first four games against the Canucks in emphatic fashion, the cherry on top probably being the 6-2 January 6th victory or the 4-0 win three days later. However, Abbotsford would flip that on its head, winning the next four head-to-head matchups. The Condors finished the season series 4-4-0, while the Canucks ended with a 4-3-1 record thanks to an OT loss.
Cooper Marody led the way for Bakersfield against Abbotsford, tallying three goals and seven assists for ten points in the season series. Seth Griffith tacked on two goals and seven assists, while Adam Cracknell scored the most with four goals in the matchups.
As for the Canucks, they were led by Sheldon Rempal, who scored five times to go with six assists through eight games against the Condors. Madison Bowey wasn’t far behind with seven points as Abbotsford’s second-leading scorer in the season series.
Canucks fans might remember the fireworks of January 16th, where AHL All-Rookie defender Jack Rathbone had to be stretchered off after a Colton Sceviour hit from behind. The bad blood between these teams runs thick, and with both sides nigh inseparable statistically, it promises to be a competitive series from start to end.
How Bakersfield Wins the Series:
The Condors can call upon one of the best scorers in the AHL in Griffith, who put up 80 points on 30 goals and 50 assists. Marody and Cracknell further support him with point-per-game paces of their own. Bakersfield can ice two high-powered offensive lines, while a solid bottom-six can wear down opponents with grit and chip in with the occasional goal.
Eyes should be on Vincent Desharnais to match up against the toughest assignments from the Canucks. The defender posted an impressive +36 on the season while notching 27 points. Young defenceman Philip Broberg is not available, at least for the first game, with the AHL transactions page showing him up with Edmonton.
In net, Bakersfield can rest easy knowing Stuart Skinner is between the pipes. The 23-year-old posted a 22-7-5 record with a .920 save percentage, finishing the regular season with a 2.21 GAA and a league-high five shutouts.
It’s a solid team from top to bottom for the Condors heading into the matchup. There are no clear glaring holes, with the defense being the only possible exception. The extent of the impact that the loss of Broberg will have remains to be seen. However, the x-factor might be Tyler Benson, the former second-round pick putting up 12 points in 18 games since being sent down in March. The combined offensive output might be too much for Abbotsford to match if he could get clicking in the Bakersfield lineup. Skinner will also be called upon to continue playing lights-out if the Condors want to move on to the next round.
How Abbotsford Wins the Series:
The Canucks have one of the deadliest duos in the AHL. Team Sheldon, Dries, and Rempal have been electric together, creating a fearsome season on the same line. Rempal leads Abbotsford in scoring with 69 points in 55 games, while Dries leads the team in goals with 35, good enough for fourth in the AHL. The rest of the Canucks offense comes from a wide variety of sources, with Nic Petan being the next leading point-getter with 44 in 37 games.
Rathbone should have a starring role in the playoffs. The accolades have been rolling in, and for good reason; the defenceman is one of the most electric players on the ice. He finished the season with 40 points and will be looked upon for more offense from the back end.
Abbotsford is going to get good goaltending as well. Spencer Martin appears to be the de facto starter, leading the Canucks with a 19-4-2 record, a .914 save percentage, and a 2.43 GAA to go along with it. Michael DiPietro held down the fort well when Martin spent time as an emergency call-up, but he did look shaky in his final start of the regular season.
If the Canucks want to beat the Condors and move on to the next round, they need to minimize the impact of the Condors’ top-six forwards. Given the opportunity, Bakersfield will prove lethal to handle. They’ll also be looking for the depth to step up as they have throughout the season. With Yushiroh Hirano away for the 2022 IIHF Division 1 Group B World Championships, look for Tristen Nielsen and Chase Wouters to continue their excellent rookie campaigns into the postseason.
The tipping point could prove to be a couple of NHL assignments. After an excellent stint in Vancouver, Lockwood will be returning to the fold with his boundless energy. The headliner, however, will be in the form of Vasily Podkolzin. The Canucks’ rookie had himself a spectacular end to his first NHL season, at one point going on a streak with nine points in eight games during April. His offensive instincts, playmaking, and tenacity might be what Abbotsford needs to tip the scales in their favor.
This series promises to be an exciting one. With the Condors and Canucks neck and neck, there’s a lot to look forwards to when the puck drops for game one. Will Bakersfield be able to assert its place as the higher seed? Or will Abbotsford continue to make history in their inaugural season?
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