SPRINGFIELD, Conn. – The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins are facing the Springfield Thunderbirds in the second round of the Calder Cup Playoffs after Alex Nylander scored in overtime in Game 3 against the Hershey Bears. The series marks the first playoff action in Springfield since the Thunderbirds arrived and represents a successful first season of affiliation with the St. Louis Blues as the T-Birds look to make a splash in bringing playoff hockey back to the storied AHL location. On the other hand, Wilkes-Barre looks to parlay the momentum from their first-round series to make a bid for the Atlantic Division Finals. The series should be an interesting one based on the regular season. The teams played each other six times and went beyond regulation in four of those contests, with Wilkes-Barre taking the extra point in three of those games and leading the series with four wins overall. The two teams have played just once recently, with the Thunderbirds taking a 3-1 decision back on April 23.
Regular Season Records:
Springfield Thunderbirds: 43-24-6-3, 95 points (2nd Atlantic)
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins: 35-33-4-4 (4th Atlantic)
How They Got Here:
Springfield is entering play having earned a bye from the first round courtesy of their second place finish in the Atlantic Division. The Thunderbirds maintained their positioning despite losing first place to the surging Charlotte Checkers. Wilkes-Barre made it through their first-round playoff series with the Hershey Bears after a thrilling Game 3 win in overtime.
Game 1: Wednesday, May 11 – Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at SPRINGFIELD, 7:05 PM EST
Game 2: Thursday, May 12 – Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at SPRINGFIELD, 7:05 PM EST
Game 3: Sunday, May 15 – Springfield at WILKES-BARRE/SCRANTON, 5:05 PM EST
Game 4 (if necessary): Monday, May 16 – Springfield at WILKES-BARRE/SCRANTON, 7:05 PM EST
Game 5 (if necessary): Wednesday, May 18 – Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at SPRINGFIELD, 7:05 PM EST
Season Series Recap:
As previously mentioned, the two teams met six times during the regular season, with Wilkes-Barre taking four of six decisions by a 4-1-0-1 record. The major caveat in that record is three of the Penguins’ wins were decided in extra time, and the two teams haven’t seen too much of each other of late. Since mid-February, the two teams have played just once, with Springfield taking that decision by a regulation final of 3-1. That game was very close in addition to the overtime decisions, with Springfield making a 2-1 lead stand through regulation. Still, it only serves to further prove that the two teams are incredibly similar and expect many close, low-scoring games in this series. The only decision in the regular season that was beyond one or two goals was a 6-0 win for the Penguins on December 12; that game featured a roster that was a far cry from the current Springfield group due to COVID-19 related recalls by the Blues that left the Thunderbirds in bad shape until the organization eventually became healthy. Springfield finished the season strong with a four-game winning streak while Wilkes-Barre lost four straight to conclude the season, but the Thunderbirds are coming off of 12 days between games while the Penguins battled for the right to play in this round. It will be an exciting series of rested versus tested between the two teams.
How Springfield Wins:
Springfield will continue to rely on the tremendous seasons for top scorers Sam Anas, Matthew Peca, and Hugh McGing. The trio of sensational Springfield scorers paced the team, with Anas recognized with the Fred T. Hunt Memorial Award for sportsmanship, determination, and dedication to hockey. Starting goaltender Charlie Lindgren figures to be a key difference-maker with back-to-back shutouts in his last two games and ranking third in the AHL with a 2.21 goals against average and a 0.925 save percentage in 34 games played overall. Springfield has been the top team in the league for much of the season and maintained it even without forwards Nathan Walker and Dakota Joshua, who have both dressed for the Blues this spring. Veteran forward James Neal has been a key player for the Thunderbirds since joining the team in February with a near point-per-game pace, and his presence alongside Tommy Cross on the blue line is among the many reasons Springfield is among the top teams in the Atlantic and a contender for the Calder Cup. Springfield’s balanced mix of veterans and young stars will be difficult for any team to match up with. Springfield’s power play ranks third in the Eastern Conference and at the top of the Atlantic Division, and they will look to seize the special teams advantage.
How Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Wins:
The Penguins will need to play their defensive best to keep the second highest scoring team in the Atlantic at bay. Wilkes-Barre only allowed five goals over three games in the Hershey series, including a shutout in Game 1, and will look to continue their success in close games with Springfield this season and in recent times. The Penguins have strong scorers on their team who have chipped in during the first round, including Radim Zohorna, Sam Poulin, Felix Robert, and Nylander. These three players have been vital in turning around the Penguins’ season and will need to continue to be their best players in this series, in addition to goaltender Tommy Nappier, who has been thrust into the spotlight in light of the organization’s devastating injury struggles between the pipes and will continue to be the guy in the postseason. It will be a total team effort to earn wins in this series for the Penguins, but they’ve proven they are capable of doing so, and the season series between the two teams is an excellent reflection of it.
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