It’s been a long time since Hartford hockey fans have had anything to talk about in the AHL’s second season.
The franchise, which has made the playoffs in 14 of its 15 seasons, hasn’t advanced past the first round since a 2006 victory over Manchester.
And the last time they extended things even further was in 2004 when the team came a goal away from an appearance in the Calder Cup Finals after Matt Murley of the Wilkes Barre/Scranton Penguins deflected one past Jason LaBarbera in a heartbreaking overtime loss.
So for all the regular season success this franchise has provided fans between October and April, it remains to be seen whether or not the team can provide that same success in the months beyond.
Tonight begins the first franchise playoff meeting with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. With the new AHL schedule going into place this year, the first series is a short five-game series, which could play in the Whale’s favor if they steal a victory or two.
Bridgeport and Connecticut are two teams heading in different directions. Bridgeport enters the playoffs hot, winning eight of their last 10 games, while the Whale have only managed to take three victories in that same time span. That said, the second season means new beginnings, and we should be able to throw those statistics out the window.
The Whale’s success simply depends on two things. Goaltending and primary scoring. If either Chad Johnson or Cameron Talbot can get hot and stay hot, they have a chance. If Kris Newbury, Jonathan Audy-Marchessault, Casey Wellman and Andre Deveaux turn into the dominating offensive force they’ve been previously this season, they have a chance. If neither of those things happen you can likely kiss the second round goodbye – and quick.
The team absolutely cannot depend on offense to come from young newcomers like Steve Moses and Christian Thomas, who both scored their first career goals in the final home game of the season, or its depth players. In the games I saw down the stretch, Newbury, Audy-Marchessault and others slowed. In their last 10 games, Newbury only scored two goals while Audy-Marchessault managed just one. This can’t remain if the Whale want to continue past the Sound Tigers, who have a full roster with the New York Islanders not being in the postseason.
There’s no doubt that the Whale will play hard. They’ve done that consistently this season, which is a breath of fresh air from previous seasons. But whether they execute and perform to capacity is another question. With player production being first on the mind of NHL executives, AHL head coaches don’t often make their living based on postseason success. But Ken Gernander has yet to bring his team out of the first round, and Whale fans won’t be happy to see another similar performance.
First Round Schedule:
Game One Thu., Apr. 19 Webster Bank Arena 7:00
Game Two Sat., Apr. 21 Webster Bank Arena 7:00
Game Three Sun., Apr. 22 XL Center 5:00
Game Four (if necessary) Wed., Apr. 25 XL Center 7:00
Game Five (if necessary) Sat., Apr. 28 Webster Bank Arena 7:00