As a team that has had to face major obstacles in year one, the San Jose Barracuda start off their first endeavor into the American Hockey League playoffs by continuing that trend. The task? Merely knock off the defending Calder Cup champions, the Ontario Reign, in round one.
Tonight the Barracuda (8) will play host to the Reign (1) in the first game of a best-of-five playoff series. This series will be daunting for San Jose, who were just 3-6-3 against the Reign in the regular season. It is a slightly misleading stat for the Barracuda, who led with under two minutes left in regulation in two of those losses and also seemed to be continually victimized by “AHL-level” officiating throughout this series. Still, there were also games where the Reign completely outclassed the Barracuda in every way. Perhaps San Jose can draw inspiration from their last meeting on March 30, a 3-1 win, in which the Barracuda chased Ontario starting netminder Peter Budaj.
Budaj will be the X-factor in this series and has been all season for the Reign. The 33-year-old Slovakian won the Hap Holmes and Baz Bastien Memorial Awards as the AHL’s top goaltender, though in fairness, he’s an NHL goalie and it would be a concern if he did not dominate the way that he did. Without Budaj, the Reign were a dreadful 2-5-1 between Michael Houser and the half-dozen tryout goalies they had over the season. As deep of a team as they have, especially on defense, if Ontario is forced to use anyone other than Budaj in net, the Barracuda will be in a great spot.
For the Barracuda to pull off the upset, they will need to maintain a steady course on the back end. The “World’s Okayest Goalie” Aaron Dell has been the calming influence that changed the confidence in the team after taking over the #1 role in late-December. The defensive corps will have the added advantage of having Matt Tennyson involved, who looked strong on Sunday on rehab from his devastating concussion. Mirco Mueller will have more eyes on him than ever before. Will we see the Swiss cheese (pun intended) abomination of the first five months of the season or will we get someone more like the first-round-worthy draft pick that we last in this past month?
It’s Sharks-vs.-Kings-lite this evening at SAP Center. Although most focus will be on whether the Sharks can close out their NHL playoff series tonight, the battle between NorCal and SoCal organizations is guaranteed to last at least another week regardless. It may not be “Beat LA” but “End the Reign”really does have a nice ring to it.
Players to watch tonight:
John McCarthy, San Jose – Has a six-game point streak (2 goals, 6 assists)
Sean Backman, Ontario – Posted 4 goals and 11 assists against San Jose in season series
|San Jose Barracuda||Ontario Reign||Advantage|
|31-26-11 (73 pts)||Record||44-19-5 (93 pts)||Reign|
|4th, Pacific||Div. Standing||1st, Pacific|
|4-5-1||Last 10 Games||6-4-0||Reign|
|15.4% (24th)||Power Play||16.0% (20th)||Reign|
|18.4% (19th)||Penalty Kill||88.7% (1st)||Reign|
|2.91 / gm||Goals For||2.82 / gm||Barracuda|
|2.84 / gm||Goals Against||2.03 / gm||Reign|
Barracuda Projected Lineup
89 Goodrow – 40 Carpenter – 53 Jevpalovs
82 Goldobin – 86 Langlois – 21 Morin
11 Lerg – 17 McCarthy – 84 Parkes
79 Gallant – 49 Boudreau – 71 Martin
70 Young – 47 Ryan
41 Mueller – 80 Tennyson
3 Stollery – 63 Bergman
Reign Projected Lineup
9 Kempe – 26 Dowd – 16 Backman
27 Mersch – 7 Sutter – 12 J. Brodzinski
39 Auger – 11 Newbury – 21 Crescenzi
15 Bissonnette – 28 Lowry – 18 Samuels-Thomas
20 MacDermid – 5 LoVerde
55 Schultz – 33 Raine
3 Forbort – 23 Ebert/8 Leslie
Unlike in the National Hockey League, it is common in minor league professional sports that the lower seed will begin a series at home instead of on the road. This is primarily to cut down on travel costs, but also adds the intrigue of the lower seed potentially ripping away the higher seed’s home-ice advantage. In the case of this series, the Barracuda and Reign will indeed play a 2-3 format, with Games 1 and 2 being played in San Jose tonight and Saturday night. The remainder of the series will play out in Ontario, California.