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Portland Pirates/Connecticut Whale Calder Cup Quarterfinals Series Preview

04/14/11
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The Portland Pirates take on the Connecticut Whale (neé Hartford Wolfpack) in quarterfinal action of the 2011 AHL Calder Cup Playoffs!

You can listen to Mark Jeanneret (yes, RJ’s son) call the games live on News-Talk WLOB 95.5FM’s website.

The Pirates finished the regular season with a record of 47-24-9, good for second in the conference as well as second overall. Their 280 goals for was best in the AHL and their goals-differential of +42 is in the top five of the league. Their winning percentage at home in the Cumberland County Civic Center is an impressive .713, second in the conference as well as second overall.

While Mark Mancari, the team’s leading scorer, is still up with the Sabres, the Pirates have plenty of depth scoring they can wreak havoc with. If the Pirates can roll three good forechecking lines, their scoring can run over anyone. They have two already with every member of their top 6 scoring 40+ points. With an offense like that, they need to just get good play in the neutral zone and along the walls to succeed. They’ve also got leadership with captain Matt Ellis having returned to Portland yesterday.

Franchise record-breaking defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani may be with the Sabres, but the Pirates have a stable of productive blueliners that can greatly aid the forward corps in the postseason. They need to get their play in their own zone sorted out, however. The Pirates may have a productive offense but they also have a high goals against from the style of up and down hockey they play.

Goaltending will be the biggest question mark for the Pirates, with two AHL rookies in net. However, both are winners at multiple levels. Williamsville’s own David Leggio won the ECAC championship with Clarkson University and then the Finnish SM-liiga’s championship last year with TPS Turku, while new backup John Muse was a two-time NCAA national champion (and former teammate of Nathan Gerbe’s) with Boston College. If they can call upon their previous winning experience, it can be a huge strength for the Pirates.

Their opponent, the Connecticut Whale, snuck into the playoffs in the 8th seed with a -2 goal differential and 500 more penalty minutes than the Pirates. They only have three skaters in the top 100 scorers in the AHL and none in the top 20. The Rangers – the Whale’s parent club – do draft well though, so the standings and results could be misleading. The Pirates need to keep their heads on a swivel, but if they can exploit the Whale’s skaters and force them to take dumb penalties, they should be fine.

There is reason for concern, as the Pirates have choked out of the first round both of the previous two playoffs 4-1 and 4-0. Fans in Portland are nervous that the multiple call-ups and deficient signings won’t be enough to propel their team to glory, but with junior playoff series coming to an end, maybe some top prospects and head coach Kevin Dineen can be the boost the team needs.

Pirates beat the Whale in 6

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