The hype continues in Hartford, for the New York Rangers AHL team continues to make history. In their first Calder Cup playoff series since 2015, the fifth-seeded Wolf Pack used a balanced offensive attack to sweep the fourth-seeded Springfield Thunderbirds(St Louis Blues affiliate). The triumph sends Hartford to the best of five Atlantic Division semifinals against the top-ranked Providence Bruins.
Entering the series, Hartford knew overcoming Springfield would be a challenging task. The Thunderbirds took the ‘I-91 Rivalry’ in convincing fashion, winning nine of the 12 regular season meetings between the clubs, including four shutouts. Three came against goaltender Joel Hofer, who entered the series with a 202:38 shutout streak against the Wolf Pack.
However, the Wolf Pack proved the playoffs are a different story and thumped the Thunderbirds 6-1 at MassMutual Arena in game one. Then, they routed their rivals 7-1 in the friendly confines of the XL Center to complete the sweep.
GAME 1: Hartford 6, Springfield, 1
The Wolf Pack quickly broke the ice, silencing the Thunderbirds fans for good. A mere 3:37 into the contest, Lauri Pajuniemi blasted a one-timer from Tanner Fritz for his first Calder Cup playoff goal, giving Hartford a 1-0 lead.
In the second, Zac Jones joined the fun at 6:02 into the middle stanza. Out of the penalty box file king his interference infraction, Will Lockwood spring Jones who made a series of moves on goaltender Joel Hofer before scoring, doubling the Wolf Pack’s advantage.
A few minutes later, Blidh did the same to Pajuniemi, who quickly redeemed himself after taking a hooking penalty and scored on a breakaway at the 10:43 mark, extending Hartford’s lead to 3-0. With ten seconds remaining in the period, Bobby Trivigno found Blake Hillman on a backdoor play, which served as the forward’s first Wolf Pack goal, making it 4-0.
The route was on, and Hartford finished it in style. They scored 3:42 into the third period, as Will Cuylle found Ryan Carpenter in the slot. The Wolf Pack continued to dominate possession and limit Springfield’s scoring chances. But at the 11:44 mark of the third,
Adam Gaudette scored a powerplay goal, snapping a penalty kill streak of 29 for Hartford, dating back to March 26th. Pressing for offense and trailing by four, the Thunderbirds pulled Hofer before Ty Emberson made them pay. The empty net goal sealed the 6-1 victory and the defenseman’s three-point night, joining Fritz atop the game-one leaderboard.
Between the pipes, Dylan Garand shined in his Calder Cup playoff debut, making 24 saves on 25 shots.
GAME 2: Springfield 1, Hartford,7
Seven different Wolfpack players had a hand in this one, as they collectively sent the Thunderbirds back to Springfield for the remainder of Spring and the upcoming Summer. Tanner Fritz put Hartford on the board 8:03 into the game, kickstarting the onslaught.
On the play, Blidh found Pajuniemi down low, who connected with the speedy Fritz, whose shot beat Hofer, giving the Wolf Pack an early lead. Two minutes later, trade acquisition Wyatt Kalynuk netted his first Wolf Pack goal off the rush following passes from Blidh and Fritz, doubling the Hartford advantage. Then, TY Emberson continued his offensive resurgence, blasting a one-timer feed from Fritz to make it 3-0.
In the first period’s final minute, the Thunderbirds got on the board when Will Bitten scored on the power play from the slot in what would be their season’s final goal. Garand, who backed up Louis Domingue during the regular season, got the starting nod after Domingue joined the Rangers as the third-string goaltender for their playoff run.
He was sharp and mechanically sound, stopping 19 of the 20 shots that came his way, finishing the series with a .995 save percentage, allowing nothing to beat him at even-strength play.
Hartford pulled away in the second period as Bobby Trivigno scored on the man advantage. Then, Blake Hamilton, who had zero goals in the regular season, recorded his second of the series. Blidh and Tim Gettinger scored empty-net goals in the third to bookend the scoring, allowing the XL Center crowd to celebrate early.
The series schedule for the second round is as follows:
Game 1: Friday, April 28th, @ Providence (Amica Mutual Pavilion, 7:05 p.m.) Game 2: Saturday, April 29th, @ Providence (Amica Mutual Pavilion, 7:05 p.m.) Game 3: Wednesday, May 3rd, @ Hartford (XL Center, 7:00 p.m.) Game 4*: Friday, May 5th, @ Hartford (XL Center, 7:00 p.m.) Game 5*: Sunday, May 7th, @ Providence (Amica Mutual Pavilion, 7:05 p.m.)*If necessary
ICEMEN COMPLETE THREESOME:
The Rangers ECHL affiliate, Jacksonville Ice Men, recently completed a franchise record 44-win season and qualified for the Kelly Cup Playoffs.
The accomplishment made the Rangers one of ten NHL organizations (Boston, Colorado, Dallas, Edmonton, Florida, Los Angeles, New Jersey, Seattle, and Toronto) with a representative in the playoffs at each of the three highest levels of professional hockey. Conversely, four organizations failed to qualify in all three leagues. Those were Anaheim, Columbus, Pittsburgh, and San Jose.
The Ice Men paced the ECHL in attendance, averaging 7,749 fans per game. Their 93 points were good for second in the Southeast Division. Currently, Jacksonville leads the third-seeded Greenville Swamp Rabbits(LA Kings affiliate) 2-1 in their best-of-seven first-round series. The Ice Men have rebounded from a 4-1 game one defeat, with a 2-1 overtime victory in game two and a 6-4 road win in game three.
BRENNAN OTHMANN ADVANCES:
The Rangers have one remaining prospect in the Memorial Cup race, their top one, Brennan Othmann(RD1, 2021, 16th overall). The center recorded an assist on Monday as the Peterborough Petes eliminated the OHL-best Ottawa 67s in six games in the second round of the playoffs.
In ten playoff games, Othmann has four goals and 12 points, along with a +2 rating.
Up next for the Pete’s are the North Bay Battalion in the Conference Championship, who defeated the Barrie Colts 3-1 at home in game seven on Tuesday.
Othmann, 20, registered 29 goals and 38 assists for 67 points in 56 games with the Flint Firebirds and Petes this season. He’s expected to join the Wolf Pack, where he’ll play next season once Peterborough’s postseason ends.