There's no Stanley Cup Playoff action scheduled for Saturday, but that doesn't mean there's any lack of intrigue in the pro hockey community, with three teams facing elimination in the AHL Calder Cup Playoffs.
The Toronto Marlies have the Albany Devils on the ropes with a chance to close out the series at home in Game 6 of the North Division Final Saturday at 3 p.m. Albany earned a split on the road in the first two games, then took a 2-1 lead in the series with an overtime victory last Sunday at home. Toronto completely dominated Games 4 and 5, though, outscoring the Devils 12-3 in the two games to gain a 3-2 series lead.
Oddly, both teams have been led offensively to this point in the playoffs by defensemen. The Marlies' Connor Carrick (five goals, eight assists) and the Devils' Damon Severson (eight assists) sit first and second among AHL blueliners, respectively, in playoff scoring. If Albany plans to force Game 7, they'll have to slow down Carrick, who has collected at least a point in four of the five games in the series. The Devils have a track record of starting quick in these playoffs, outscoring opponents 12-6 in first period. The Marlies are outscoring playoff opponents 28-8 from the second period on, so Albany will need to find a way to sustain its first-period success.
Tonight in Cleveland, the Lake Erie Monsters will look to put away the Grand Rapids Griffins in Game 5 of the Central Division Final at 7 p.m. The Griffins avoided the sweep in Game 4 by scoring four unanswered goals, capped off with a game winner by center Andreas Athanasiou with less than two minutes to play to complete a 5-4 comeback victory. Grands Rapids goaltender Jared Coreau stopped all 16 shots he faced in Game 4 in relief of start Tom McCollum, who was pulled after allowing four goals on 21 shots in just under 34 minutes.
Despite the lopsided 3-1 series lead the Monsters own, every game in the series has been decided by one goal. Lake Erie's Game 4 loss snapped a nine-game winning streak going back to the regular season. If the Griffins are to stay alive, they'll need veteran center Andy Miele to keep his hot streak going. He has points in all four games in the series. They'll also need to slow down the Monsters' power play, which is clipping along at a league-best 35.7 percent pace.
The San Diego Gulls will try to stay alive tonight when they visit the Ontario Reign in Game 5 of the Pacific Division Final. Two games in the series have been decided in overtime, with Ontario coming out on top on both occasions. San Diego avoided going down 3-0 last Sunday with a shutout road win, backed by 29 saves from goaltender Matt Hackett. Friday night, the Reign took a stranglehold on the series when rookie center Mike Amadio scored his first professional goal 6:29 into overtime.
San Diego will need the strong play of center Chris Mueller to continue to give the club its best chance to prolong the series. Mueller has points in six straight games and in seven of eight playoff games. The Gulls are in tough to win three straight against the Reign, though, who boasts the AHL's best netminder, Peter Budaj. The 33-year-old veteran goalie earned a league-best 1.75 goals-against average and collected a league-dominating 42 wins in the regular season.