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St. John’s IceCaps kick off their playoff campaign tonight against the Syracuse Crunch

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The Habs’ AHL affiliate is ready for a taste of the post-season for the first time in six years.

Charles Hudon
St. John’s IceCaps

It was a nail-biting series last weekend when the St. John’s IceCaps waited until the very last game of the season to qualify for the playoffs. Adding to the excitement was the 4-1 victory over the Toronto Marlies on the back of two goals by Chris Terry.

In doing so, Terry became the first 30-goal-scorer for the Montreal Canadiens’ AHL farm team since Brock Trotter scored 36 in 2009-10. With his 68 points, Terry also became the highest scorer since David Desharnais tallied 78 points back in 2009-10. Terry led the AHL with 19 power-play goals, which makes it easy to understand why he was signed to an extension by the Canadiens for next season.

Charles Hudon was also an offensive wrecking ball for the IceCaps this past season. Despite missing a month of action due to injury, he still appeared near the top of the table in numerous AHL offensive categories:

Between them, Terry and Hudon scored 57 of the 206 goals by the IceCaps. They’ll need to continue providing this kind of offence if the IceCaps hope to see success against the Syracuse Crunch in the first round of the playoffs.

Syracuse Crunch

The Crunch will present a serious challenge for the IceCaps. The two teams faced each other eight times this season with each team winning four games. However, the IceCaps only managed to beat them once in regulation time, adding two wins in overtime and one in a shootout. In those eight games, the IceCaps scored 25 goals and gave up 28.

Another stat line to pay attention to is the penalty minutes, as two games spilled over 100 penalty minutes while another two had more than 40. Suffice it to say that there has been some bad blood that has developed between the team coached by Sylvain Lefebvre and the one coached by Benoit Groulx. This shouldn’t be surprising, as the Crunch were the most penalized team in the AHL during the regular season and the IceCaps were fourth.

Since the Tampa Bay Lightning were eliminated from the NHL post-season, we can expect the Crunch lineup to be stacked. Headed back to the Crunch are Jake Dotchin, Adam Erne, Yanni Gourde, and team-leading scorer Cory Conacher. There are also some familiar faces that the IceCaps will be going up against: former captain Gabriel Dumont; former winger Michael Bournival; Jonathan Racine, who started the season with the IceCaps, and; Stefan Fournier, who was traded last season as part of the John Scott trade.

At least the IceCaps won’t have to contend with noted crazy person Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond who was traded by Tampa Bay to Toronto, and is currently punching faces for the Marlies. Who they will have to contend with, however, is the player he was traded for — Byron Froese — who has been a point-per-game player for the Crunch.

In nets, the Crunch will probably alternate between Mike McKenna and Kristers Gudlevskis, as neither one has really established himself as the true number one.

Injuries

The IceCaps are mostly healthy heading into the playoffs, which is great news. Two injured players, Daniel Carr and Jeremy Gregoire, have resumed skating, but given the media blackout on detailed injury information, there is little to go on to know whether these players will be ready for tonight. Markus Eisenschmid, who has only played in three games since the end of January, is reportedly far from a return.

IceCaps’ projected lineup

There has been a certain level of consistency for the IceCaps in the lineup thanks to a healthy NHL club that didn’t require many call-ups:

In addition to this projected line-up, they have several alternates available to step in at a moment’s notice.

On forward they have Mark MacMillan and Guillaume Asselin. On defense there’s Tom Parisi and Ryan Johnston, as well as the recently signed Victor Mete who joined the team after his junior season came to an end, and Noah Juulsen whose WHL playoff run ended this week. I don’t really expect Juulsen or Mete to see action in game one, but given a few practices under the belt they should definitely draw in.

In the ECHL, the IceCaps also have access to forward Connor Crisp, defencemen Mathieu Gagnon and Dalton Thrower, goaltender Zachary Fucale, and anyone else they would want to sign to a tryout contract, but that is really worst-case scenario.

A big boost for the IceCaps would be if the Canadiens decided to send Michael McCarron down.

A game of firsts

Tonight is the first game of the series and will mark the first professional playoff game for Hudon, Nikita Scherbak, Daniel Audette, Charlie Lindgren, Brett Lernout, and Keegan Lowe, among others.

The most playoff-tested player on the IceCaps squad is backup goalie Yann Danis with 52 AHL playoff games, then Zach Redmond (31), followed by Terry (29), and Bobby Farnham (26). Rounding out the AHL playoff experience is Julien Brouilette (15), David Broll (11), Max Friberg (10), Joel Hanley (5), Yannick Veilleux (5), and Stefan Matteau (4).

Jacob de la Rose is the only player on the team with NHL playoff experience (12), but this will be his first AHL playoff game.

First round schedule (Best-of-five)

  • Game 1: Friday, April 21st @ St. John’s, 6:00pm EDT
  • Game 2: Saturday, April 22nd @ St. John’s, 6:00pm EDT
  • Game 3: Wednesday, April 26th @ Syracuse, 7:00pm EDT
  • Game 4: Friday, April 28th @ Syracuse (if necessary), 7:00pm EDT
  • Game 5: Saturday, April 29th @ Syracuse (if necessary), 7:00pm EDT

Listen to Andrew weekly on TSN 690 Radio Sundays at 8:05am on Habs Breakfast, part of Weekend Game Plan.