The stage is set for the AHL’s Calder Cup final as the Utica Comets defeated the Grand Rapids Griffins in six games to be crowned Western Conference champions. In the final, Utica will meet the regular season juggernaut and Eastern Conference champion Manchester Monarchs.
On the eve of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final, the Utica Comets punched their ticket to play for the AHL’s top prize with a 2-0 Game 6 victory over the Grand Rapids Griffins.
The Comets’ Western Conference championship is the first in the history of the two-year-old franchise and came thanks to a second-peroid goal by Cory Conacher and a perfect performance from Jacob Markstrom, who stopped all 21 shots he faced. The shutout was the second of Markstrom’s post-season and every save was key as the insurance marker didn’t come for Utica until Alexandre Grenier hit an empty net with 1:14 remaining in the third frame.
While they were far from an underdog coming into the post-season – having won the North Division title certainly helped Utica’s cause – the Comets will head into the Calder Cup final as a team that doesn’t have much playoff experience. The franchise itself is only two seasons old, and they missed the playoffs altogether in 2013-14.
As for the roster, there is some playoff experience, though it came back in 2011-12 when the Canucks affiliation wasn’t with Utica, but instead with the Chicago Wolves. However, that Wolves team only featured four current Comets players, one of which was then-rookie Nicklas Jensen, who suited up for only eight games. The others are Darren Archibald, Frank Corrado and goaltender Joe Cannata.
No matter how much or how little experience they may have, the Comets are coming into the Calder Cup final as the clear-cut underdogs. The Monarchs were the regular season champions, were the only club to lose fewer than 20 games in regulation and Brian O’Neill and Jordan Weal finished first and third in regular season scoring. Utica, on the other hand, didn’t have a single scorer finish in the top 10 and only Cal O’Reilly finished inside the top 20.
In the post-season, it’s been much of the same for the Monarchs, too, as they have three of the top five post-season point-getters in O’Neill, Weal and Michael Mersch.
Where the Comets may have the edge is in goal, though. On top of his two shutouts in the playoffs, Markstrom has posted a 1.87 goals-against average and .931 save percentage in 18 games thus far. His counterpart, the Monarchs’ Jean-Francois Berube, has a 2.38 GAA and .894 SP. With as much firepower as the Monarchs have, though, Berube’s numbers have been good enough to earn him an 11-3 record this post-season.
The best-of-seven Calder Cup final begins Saturday, June 6 in Manchester.