The playoff run continues for the Colorado Eagles in their quest for the Calder Cup. After sweeping the Ontario Reign, the Eagles have now advanced to the Pacific Division finals against the Stockton Heat, affiliate of the Calgary Flames, in another best-of-five series. Can the Eagles continue their undefeated run or will they have to deal with adversity like their parent club the Colorado Avalanche?
The Eagles made quite a statement in their opening game against Ontario winning 10-1 including five goals scored in the first 10 minutes of the game. Oskar Olausson made his North American professional debut and picked up two assists in the rout. The win was not achieved without a cost as both forward Kiefer Sherwood and defenseman Andreas Englund received one-game suspensions for hits they delivered in the contest.
It was a much closer affair in the second game as the Eagles needed overtime to grab a 5-4 victory. Jean-Luc Foudy was the hero scoring the game-winner and on his 20th birthday no less. Due to the aforementioned suspensions and also considering leading scorer Dylan Sikura was out of the lineup this entire series with an injury, it was finally time for Shane Bowers to see his first game action since April 16. He was rewarded by the coaching staff for the decision with two assists as well. Sampo Ranta was also back from an injury in what was a very Avalanche prospect-flavored lineup.
Moving on to California for their first of potentially three road games, the Eagles had a chance to close out the series with just one win after the momentum and success achieved at home. It only took one game in a 5-2 victory to dispatch the Reign for Colorado’s first official series win in the AHL. Justus Annunen has maintained the Colorado net for the entire run and now has five wins along with a .933 save percentage and 2.11 goals-against average in the postseason.
Up next is a much tougher task Colorado must deal with if they want to advance out of the Pacific Division. The Stockton Heat won the regular-season division title with a 45-16-7 record and also have gone undefeated in the postseason. They only had to play one series thus far after earning a bye in the play-in round but made quick work of the Bakersfield Condors in three games.
Stockton boasts one of the league’s best goaltenders in rookie Dustin Wolf who led the AHL with 33 wins to go along with a stellar 2.35 goals-against average and .924 save percentage. Stockton gave up the fewest goals allowed in the AHL but is not a pure defensive team because they have a dynamic offense led by two top 20 scorers in Matthew Phillips and rookie Jakob Pelletier.
The season series between the teams was very even with Colorado holding a 3-3-2 record against the Heat. One of those losses however was the worst of the year for the Eagles falling 10-3 at a home game in March. Pelletier has been a bit of an Eagles killer scoring five goals and five assists in the matchup including an overtime winner. Side note: Pelletier is one of my favorite prospects and I hope he’s on the Flames next year because he’s earned it.
Despite being the lower seed the Eagles somehow have been given home ice for the series. While they are starting on the road with two games in Stockton for a Monday and Tuesday back-to-back the Eagles will play on Friday, May 27 back at the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland as well as on the following Sunday and Tuesday if necessary. Travel budgets and building availability are always factors in the AHL but perhaps the league’s lowest attendance plus rumors of moving the affiliate from Stockton to Calgary next season might have been factors as well. Either way, the Eagles must take advantage of an extra game at home and close the series out. Hopefully, some of the younger players remain in the lineup as they were key components in getting the Eagles this far.