The Tampa Bay Lightning's AHL affiliate will participate in the Calder Cup Finals for the second straight year (which will be starting Saturday, June 8th and Onondaga County War Memorial Arena in Syracuse). Last year, then-affiliate Norfolk continued on its trek into the history books when they swept the Toronto Marlies in 4 games and capped a historic season that ended with 28 straight regular season wins.
But that was then, that was the team playing in the Scope under the Admirals banner. This team, the Syracuse Crunch, has faced its own adversities this season. The NHL lockout loaded the roster, only to see it picked apart after the major league resumed play in late January. Key figures were called up to the big show, key figures were sent out of town in trade, head coach Jon Cooper was promoted to Tampa Bay as the new head coach... And even personal loss reared its head with the Crunch and affected the roster.
Yet when the 2013 AHL playoffs started, none of that mattered anymore; it was over, done with, moot. The Crunch moved forward. There was a job to do.
And good God damn, have they done it well.
The Crunch have played 12 playoff games in three rounds, going 11-1. Their single loss was the series opener against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton during the Eastern Conference Finals. They swept the Portland Pirates in three games in the first round; they dispatched the Springfield Falcons in a similar sweeping fashion in 4... The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins took 5 games, but what started as a tight struggle (the 4-2 loss, the 3-2 win in game 2) turned into a laugher (the 7-0 series clinching blowout).
All in all, with good defense, great offense, and capable goaltending, the Crunch outscored their opponents 48-23 up to this point and are vying for the glory of a Calder Cup championship.
The Grand Rapids Griffins, AHL affiliate for the Detroit Red Wings, were the #3 seed in the Western Conference and needed 18 games to get to this point. They needed the full 5 games in the quarterfinals against the Houston Aeros, another 6 games to dispel the defending AHL Western Conference champion Toronto Marlies, and another 7 games to take down the Oklahoma City Barons. The Griffins have shown resilience and tenacity if nothing more.
In a way, this starts what will be a regular season rivalry between their parent clubs starting next year when Tampa Bay and Detroit are in the same division. Some of these players will face off against each other in the NHL.
I can't tell you much about Grand Rapids and in a way I really like that aspect of the playoffs. I'm not one for much inter-conference play or a "face every team" schedule like the NHL will be implementing next season. It leaves some mystery in how two teams will play each other in the title game.
The full Calder Cup Finals schedule is as thus:
Game 1 - Sat., June 8 - Grand Rapids at Syracuse, 7:00
Game 2 - Sun., June 9 - Grand Rapids at Syracuse, 6:00
Game 3 - Wed., June 12 - Syracuse at Grand Rapids, 7:00
Game 4 - Fri., June 14 - Syracuse at Grand Rapids, 7:00
*Game 5 - Sat., June 15 - Syracuse at Grand Rapids, 7:00
*Game 6 - Tue., June 18 - Grand Rapids at Syracuse, 7:00
*Game 7 - Thu., June 20 - Grand Rapids at Syracuse, 7:00
*if necessary... All times Eastern
It's not quite a repeat if the Crunch close out the AHL playoffs with a title... But it's sure as shit close.