It's gameday in Oklahoma City. After a week's worth of waiting, the Barons welcome the San Antonio Rampage with white knuckled fists in what will be a fun Western Conference semi-final in the Calder Cup Playoffs. Why? Because these two teams have quick legged offense, and sturdy consistent defense. Despite both teams having different levels of success during the regular season, these two are nearly mirror images of each other. On the Rampage side, you have a potent offense, solid but young goaltending, and a disciplined defensive core. On the Barons side, you have NHL-caliber offense in spurts, veteran goaltending, and young defensive prospects galore. And I'm thoroughly convinced that the Rampage record would have been better if it weren't for call-ups at the worst time during the home stretch of the season.
The key difference between these two teams is depth. The Barons can roll three and sometimes four scoring lines. From Antti Tyrvainen to Ryan Keller -- there is a chance to score on almost every shift. Likewise, even in the loss of Colten Teubert, the Barons have defensive stoutness that is nearly unmatched in the minors. Goaltending depth also favors the Barons. Yann Danis, named goaltender of the year by the AHL, is backed up by David LeNeveu who might get consideration as a starting minor leaguer next season. LeNeveu has a good record against the Rampage, albeit slightly skewed based on whom the opposing netminder for San Antonio was during that stretch, and is great in relief if it were to come to that.
It would be silly for anyone to assume the Rampage are a push over type of team. Because they are anything but. Names like Matsumoto, Thomas, Kerns and Wright are prone to score quickly and score often. Yonkman and Robak are solid closers at the blue line. Markstrom will likely play tons of goaltending in the NHL in the not so distant future. They are a team to be reckoned with.
Over the duration of the season (and once briefly in the first round) the Barons often find themselves prone to what fans have dubbed The Fade. It's an 8-10 minute stretch of time where the skilled Barons forget to be skilled. They get lazy. Dump the puck in. Coast through neutral ice. Often resulting in an opposing goal or the ending of a period before they snap back to reality. That was something that could happen in the Houston series, but will need to be addressed immediately in the San Antonio series. Because you can't fade away -- relaxing the aggression, slowing the skating, mishandling the puck -- and expect to come out unscathed. With a week off, and much time to digest what is to come, the Barons need to concentrate their efforts 100% on going hard.
Prediction: Barons in 7
Game 1 - Thurs., May 3 - San Antonio at Oklahoma City, 8:00
Game 2 - Sat., May 5 - San Antonio at Oklahoma City, 8:00
Game 3 - Mon., May 7 - Oklahoma City at San Antonio, 8:00
Game 4 - Thurs., May 10 - Oklahoma City at San Antonio, 8:00
*Game 5 - Fri., May 11 - Oklahoma City at San Antonio, 8:00
*Game 6 - Sun., May 13 - San Antonio at Oklahoma City, 5:00
*Game 7 - Tue., May 15 - San Antonio at Oklahoma City, 8:00
A couple of pre-game things that caught my attention this week.
The Cochrane Eagle did a nice piece on rookie Tanner House. He gives his opinion on the season, Chris VandeVelde, and where he'd like to end up:
"Our depth was really a strength of ours," House observed of the Edmonton Oilers farm club. "I don't think we had one player in the top-50 scoring in the league. So we had a pretty good team and really good goaltending. It was a fun year, for sure."
That fun involved a lot of shut-down hockey, something at which House excels. Barons head coach Todd Nelson has shown an innate ability to plug players into gaps where they are needed most at the right time.
"For the most part, all year we were able to just roll four lines," House said. "It didn't matter if we had guys called up (to Edmonton) or in and out of the lineup, we were able to win with the team we put out there."I play a lot with Chris Vandevelde, who just came down from Edmonton," House said. "He's a player who's a lot like me, I think. We both came out of college. We're both centremen and defensive-style players. I think we play pretty well together.
"We keep it simple. That makes it easier."
Rampage blogger, Nate at the fantastic site Runnin' With The Herd, breaks down the semi-final matchup between the Oklahoma City and San Antonio:
The Barons have a terrific defensive corps, anchored by Calder Cup champion and former Rampage defenseman Bryan Helmer. They are backstopped by reigning AHL goalie of the year Yann Danis. Up front, the Barons are a balanced and dangerous offensive team. No player more dangerous than Ryan Keller. Keller is a point per game performer in his playoff career and knows what it takes to win a cup, having done so last year in Binghamton.
Meanwhile, the Rampage got some huge first round performances from Jon Matsumoto (3-6-9), James Wright (2-4-6) and goalie Jacob Markstrom (3-0 2.46GAA .922 Save%). Also stepping up with some HUGE goals were the Rampage defensemen. Colby Robak and Roman Derlyuk each scored OT winners in the series and rookie Alex Petrovic also added 4 points.
Ryan Aber gives some nice quotes, as usual, from the locker room concerning the absence of Colten Teubert in the lineup. But the rare Teemu soundbite is even nicer:
"He'll be missed in the locker room too," Teemu Hartikainen said. "He's one of the guys in there that's always talking. "Hopefully we can get him back soon."
The San Antonio Rampage defeated the Chicago Wolves in five games to make it to the Western Conference semi-finals. That Wolves team (affiliated with the Vancouver Canucks) was coached by Craig MacTavish. Naturally the conversation within that organization is coaching. So this gets a mention:
The fact Canucks ownership is not meeting with general manager Mike Gillis until next week to discuss Vigneault's future - both the coach and GM have one year remaining on their contracts - doesn't bode well as a vote of confidence in the win-ningest coach in Canucks history.
But the Aquilinis, along with the legion of Canucks fans who love to hate Vigneault, should ask this simple question: Who would replace him?
Craig MacTavish down on the farm? How is that an upgrade? The Oilers got worse over Mac-T's eight years in Edmonton.
Join us for the game. You can catch it LIVE via the iHeartRadio app or online by finding 96.1 KXXY. There's also a more consistent, but with lesser quality, stream over at Sports Juice. And as always, purchase the game via the online stream at AHLLive.com. Game starts at 7pm Central.