For the Isles in training, it is the first step in their quest for the Calder Cup. The first round in the tournament begins on Thursday as the Bridgeport Sound Tigers take on the Connecticut Whale, the AHL affiliate of the New York Rangers.
For the Sound Tigers, who won two of their last three games of the season secured their first division title in 10 years. This team, unlike the version from last year, has been together just about all season. With the limited number of injuries that the big club suffered this season, as opposed to last, the chemistry was pretty solid.
First year AHL coach Brent Thompson, fresh off winning the Kelly Cup for the ECHL Champion Alaska Aces, has done a fantastic job molding the team in the same style as the Islanders, making sure that the team rolls out all four lines, and making sure all six defensemen are active in the play.
For the offensive stats, three Tigers got over 20 goals; Justin DiBenedetto, and Rhett Rhakshani got to 20, and David Ullstrom led the team with 24. Both Ullstrom and Rhakshani completed their season both missing nearly 30 games due to call ups and injuries. Seven other players got to 10, giving testament to the fact that they are getting contributions from the entire team. Their defense shows solid two-way play from all six members. Rakhshani and Casey Cisikas led the team in plus-minus with +25 and +26 respectively.
In net, Kevin Poulin has been a solid player, ready for the NHL, won 26 games and a 2.79 goals against average. Anders Nilsson who won the AHL Goalie of the month, after Poulin had won it in January was a big help when Poulin was called up to the big club. He has been nursing an ankle injury and should be ready to go for the series.
For the opponents, the Whale and Tigers have been fighting for the top spot all season. Head Coach Ken Gernander has a solid nucleus of scoring and defense, which includes the six million dollar AHL player, former Ranger and Senator Wade Redden. Kris Newbury led the team in scoring with 25 goals and 64 points. Mats Zuccarello and Tim Erixon led the Whale in defensive scoring. Redden accumulated just 20 points in 49 games.
In net, Chad Johnson and Cameron Talbot shared the duties, with Johnson getting the bulk of the action winning 22 games, and a 2.49 average and .919 save percentage.
In summary, this should be a series of equally matched teams. Their numbers are similar in both the offensive and defensive sides of the game. It is quite hard right now to predict anything. As far as the overall series is concerned, the Sound Tigers did not lose at home to Connecticut this season, winning three of the five in overtime. At Hartford, the Tigers won the first game of the series in the shootout, and lost the remaining four games, with one of those in a shootout. With the teams so closely even in statistics and style, my gut feeling is saying that the Tigers will win in five with the home team winning each game. It will be a shocker if a visiting team gets an advantage.
I will be covering the game on Thursday, and attending the game as a fan on Saturday. Check out my tweets @islessection317. The tweets will have the hashtag #bst. These tweets will also be on my facebook page.
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