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Colorado Eagles begin playoff run tonight

Another team up the road is hoping for a championship.

COLORADO EAGLES AHL HOCKEY Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Rules have always been unique and at times illogical for figuring out the postseason brackets in the American Hockey League. This year is no different and even further complicated by the fact that the Pacific Division contains nine teams while others have as few as seven. Such imbalance has necessitated a best-of-three play-in round before embarking on a traditional four-round playoff format and has set up the Colorado Eagles to host the Henderson Silver Knights in this mini playoff series.

Those in charge of the pacific division teams want to see their prospects engage in postseason play and thus created a scenario where seven of the nine teams are guaranteed to play at least two playoff contests. Despite the fact that the Colorado Eagles have a good enough record to make the full playoffs without the play-in as they finished third in the division they still have to get through this short best-of-three.

Because of the curtailed length of this play-in round and travel budgets, it was determined all three games would occur at the home of the higher-seeded team. While their home and road splits were actually similar this season the Eagles enjoy an incredible home-ice advantage with the full building they are able to draw each night and it was important to them to secure as many games as possible in front of their fans.

The Eagles surprisingly did not have any games rescheduled due to COVID-19 circumstances and have been idle since April 23rd waiting to find out their opponent and location as the other teams finished up their schedules. The last week of the regular season fell their way and the Eagles learned they secured that home-ice advantage and will face-off against the Henderson Silver Knights, naturally the affiliate of the Vegas Golden Knights. The series could go either way as the Eagles had a 3-3-2 regular-season result against the Silver Knights.

Leading the Eagles this season are those expected to put up big points as they were seasoned AHL veterans brought in to the organization on high-dollar NHL contract guarantees. Forwards Kiefer Sherwood (75 points) and Dylan Sikura (73 points) led the team in scoring in addition to Jordan Gross (65 points) as the big producer on the back end who is the primary power-play quarterback. Gross and Sherwood were selected to the first and second AHL all-star teams respectively for their efforts. Jayson Megna missed a lot of games due to injury and callup time but put up 33 points in 38 games as another top weapon for the Eagles.

As far as Colorado Avalanche prospects’ contributions on Entry-Level Contracts there were Mikhail Maltsev with 48 points in 56 games and Martin Kaut with 31 points in 46 games who round out the top six scorers with any significant power play time on the team. Jean-Luc Foudy has been quietly productive with 26 points in his second year with the team and most recently has been put on the second line with Kaut and Megna. A wild card is 2021 first-round pick Oskar Olausson who just saw his junior season in the OHL with the Oshawa Generals end as they were ousted in the first round of the playoffs. Olausson was reassigned to the Eagles and could be available to make his AHL debut or just gain familiarity for a debut next year while practicing with the team.

In net, it was Justus Annunen for the bulk of the season as he compiled a 24-13-6 record which was good for the third-most minutes in the AHL. Due to some inconsistent play, which led to an overall 3.01 goals-against average and .893 save percentage, particularly in some tough games down the stretch it is Hunter Miska who has taken the starter’s throne and is likely the game one starter. Both goaltenders should see time in net, however, and especially if the Eagles move on to the next round and engage in a best-of-five series.

The Eagles sit near the bottom of the Western Conference with a 19.2% power play and 76.5% penalty kill. However, Henderson only fares slightly better in each category. Due to their speed, Colorado draws a good number of penalties with the third most opportunities in the league they just aren’t as good at finishing. The Eagles hold the advantage in the goals for department in the regular season with 244 over Henderson’s 209 and each team has similar goals against with 207 and 203 respectively. If the series is played more at 5-on-5 the Eagles should find success with how their top six scorers can produce and the home crowd behind them.

Colorado hosts Henderson on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday (if necessary) at 7 p.m. MT at the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland. All games can be seen live on AHLtv.