Hockey At It's Best

With the possible exception of World Cup Soccer, there is no contest in sports more intense than playoff hockey, at any level. Tonight at 7pm The Webster Bank Arena will play host to the AHL’s opening round of the Calder Cup Championships. This years contest starts with an historic battle between the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, proud affiliate of the New York Islanders, and Hartford’s Whale, the New York Rangers sister club.

While the two teams have met some 130 times in the last 11 years, they have never faced each other in the playoffs. While Bridgeport holds a slight advantage in this years’ regular season 10 game competition, the only advantage that earns them is home ice. This is only an advantage if the fans come out and make it one. The fans that do show up can expect to see professional hockey at its best. Here is how I see it:

  • Goaltending – Hartford’s Chad Johnson, Cam Talbot tandem is a very good one capable of shutting down any offense and all it takes to advance is a hot goalie. Bridgeport’s answer with Kevin Poulin (January AHL goalie of the month) and Anders Nilsson (February’s winner of the same award) give the Sound Tigers the advantage between the pipes.
  • Defensemen – While Hartford as a decided experience advantage with team captain Wade Redden leading the defensive corps for the Whale, I give Bridgeport the advantage here as well. If you have read any of my previous posts, you know that, I have been impressed by this group from the very beginning.
  • Forwards – Led by Kris Newbury this is a very physical group. Newbury, who played his first professional game in 2003 when most of the Tigers were struggling with puberty, is a tough opponent and will mix it up with anyone. The Whale’s little guy with a big name, 5’9” Jonathan Audy-Marchessault, is a very talented scorer with a long career ahead of him. JAM could be a difference maker. Bridgeport is much more balanced here as all four lines contribute to the scoring. David Ullstrom, probably playing in Bridgeport for his final season before moving to the NHL, leads the group but the list runs deep and gives Bridgeport a very slight edge.
  • Special Teams – Bridgeport has been too inconsistent all season long in this category to know what to expect so Hartford has the advantage here.
  • What to expect – The teams have played one another too closely all season to expect anything less than a full 5 game series and my prediction is Bridgeport in five.

This is going to be a great series and one that should not be missed. Tickets are available and reasonable. If every year you have said to yourself, “I should go to a Tiger game this year” and haven’t made it, now is the time. Hockey at it’s best, playoff hockey at the Webster Bank Arena.

- Mike Flannery 

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