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Milwaukee starts playoffs Friday

The Milwaukee Admirals start their playoff run this Friday and we’ve asked Daniel Lavender of Admirals Roundtable to preview their series against the Toronto Marlies. Here is Daniel’s preview…

The Milwaukee Admirals start the opening round of the 2014 Calder Cup Playoffs on Friday. It is the twelfth consecutive season in which the team has made the playoffs. For a league well known for teams coming and going, swapping or losing their NHL affiliations, and constantly in a state of roster disorder year after year – the Admirals are seemingly a constant in the AHL. It was only Saturday night’s defeat to Chicago that prevented them from also extending a run of forty-win seasons up to eleven straight seasons. So many coaches. So many players. So much consistency. And this season’s team has been a very special group from start to finish.

There is a fantastic balance of veteran and up-and-coming talent on this team. There are veterans such as Scott Ford, Mark Van Guilder, and Joe Piskula. There are high-end prospects such as Colton Sissons, Filip Forsberg, and Calle Jarnkrok. Others such as Taylor Beck and Miikka Salomaki have been nothing short of brilliant to watch play the entire season (Daniel’s list of the Admirals player grades can be found here).

When it comes to the goaltending this season the Pekka Rinne effect could be felt down in here as well. No Rinne meant one up from Milwaukee of the AHL and one up from Cincinnati of the ECHL. In the way that Carter Hutton was presented with an opportunity to shine at a level he never before played in a regular basis. The same could be said of Scott Darling who worked his way into the net past Magnus Hellberg, came back from injury and continued to show his CCM/AHL’s Goalie of the Month award from December wasn’t some fluke. He finished the season with six-shutouts. The man who pipped him by one shutout for the most in the entire league, Jake Allen, played in twice as many games as Darling did. Between he and Marek Mazanec, someone Nashville fans got a very good glimpse of this season, the Admirals are truly spoiled for choice when it comes to who mans the cage.

With a final record of 39-24-6-7 (91 points), the Admirals ended up finishing third in the Midwest Division and sixth in Western Conference standings. They will play against the Toronto Marlies in a third versus sixth seed bout. The two teams from different divisions only see one another twice in a season. The Admirals have one both contests.

 Jan. 21, 2014 vs. Toronto: W, 3-2

Mar. 22, 2014 @ Toronto: W, 5-1

It’s worth mentioning at this point that the AHL playoffs start with a best of five match up split up as two home and three away. I know. Not like the NHL. In fact, it’s also the choice of the higher seeded team to choose which they prefer playing – start at home or finish at home. The norm is to start on the road, try to steal a game, and have the security of home ice for three games to conclude the opening round. The Admirals have twice been put in this situation and lost each time: 2011-12 to the Abbotsford Heat and 2012-13 to the Texas Stars.

The Toronto Marlies won the North Division this season with a record of 45-25-2-4 (96 points). Being the third seed in the Western Conference they trailed the Texas Stars (106 points) and the Chicago Wolves (100 points) to end up in the playoff spot that has them lined and primed to play the Admirals.

Their top scorer is T.J. Brennan who has 72 points (25 goals, 47 assists). He won the Eddie Shore Award for his efforts this season as the AHL’s most outstanding defenseman. He played in every game from the 2013-14 season. In the two games he played against the Admirals he didn’t score a point and recorded 11 penalty minutes. Of those penalty minutes a fight with Mathieu Tousignant from the two team’s last engagement is included. I wouldn’t expect spill over from anything like that. I would expect a player like Tousignant to continue getting under the Marlies top scorer’s skin though.

An element that was missing from the previous two games this season was the Marlies number one netminder, former-Admiral Drew MacIntyre. This season he has shouldered the load in Toronto: forty-eight games played, 29 wins, a 2.53 goals against average, 0.917 save percentage, and one shutout. Previously the Admirals saw a very young crop of goalies in Garret Sparks and Christopher Gibson. This will be the MacIntyre Show this go-round. It can make for a completely different playing environment that the Admirals previously went up against this season.

With the conclusion of the Admirals regular season the playoff schedule was announced:

Friday, Apr. 25 vs. Toronto: 7:00 pm CST

Saturday, Apr. 26 vs. Toronto: 7:00 pm CST

Thursday, May 1 @ Toronto: 6:00 pm CST

Saturday, May 3 @ Toronto: 2:00 pm CST

Sunday, May 4 @ Toronto: 2:00 pm CST

The final two games are “if necessary” of course. This should prove to be a very good series and one that I think the Admirals can legitimately win. The Ads have been playing their best hockey of the season en route to the playoffs. Now it is just a matter of converting that into playoff success.

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