While the New York Islanders have a day between their playoff Games 5 and 6, their AHL affiliate Bridgeport Sound Tigers begin their playoffs Saturday night against heavy championship favorite, the Toronto Marlies. The two teams have not met this season, but everything points in the direction of the Marlies.
The Marlies were easily the top team in the league, and some are calling them among the best in AHL history (54-16-6, 114 points). The Sound Tigers are the crossover team who made the playoffs by beating out the Hartford Wolfpack for fifth place (40-29-7, 87 points) in the Atlantic Division.
For starters, even without the standings, talent and depth mismatch, the Sound Tigers are missing key players. Top defensemen Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech are up with the Islanders. So is top forward Alan Quine and top goalie Christopher Gibson, the latter who was acquired from the Marlies' NHL parent before the season.
Their other "top" goalie this season was Jean-Francois Berube, the former Calder Cup winner who won four out of his five games with Bridgeport on a conditioning stint earlier this season. He too is with the Islanders backing up Thomas Greiss.
There are also a handful of players helping ECHL Missouri's drive for another championship.
But this creates opportunities for others, like Islanders goalie prospect Stephon Williams, who looks to start on Saturday night, and Michael Dal Colle, who joined the Sound Tigers after his junior season ended. Veteran pro Bracken Kearns carries a lot of the scoring burden, especially with Quine up in the NHL.
Owned by the same sports-media conglomerate that owns their parent Maple Leafs -- with more resources than one franchise can figure out to spend in a cap league -- the Marlies not only have lots of good players to augment their young talent, they also live in style. NHL-level nutrition, meals and comfort. (Outside of charter jets. Gotta graduate for that.)
The Marlies are Deep
In contrast, the Marlies' NHL parent is not in the playoffs (insert your LOLeafs jokes here), and they're so deep they're talking about how many prospects might sit these playoffs out.
Lots of attention is on hot Leafs prospect William Nylander, who impressed in his late-season callup to the NHL. And they have the long-running top AHL offensive blueliner T.J. Brennan, who was briefly an Islander before being included in the Nick Leddy trade.
As favorite the Marlies were allowed to choose whether they wanted to begin the best-of-five series at home or on the road. As most teams do in that situation, they chose the road, so they can be assured any series-deciding game will be played on home ice.
Games 1 and 2 are Saturday (7 p.m.) and Sunday (5 p.m.) in Bridgeport. The series switches to Toronto for the final three games (if necessary, etc.) Thursday, Friday and Sunday.
Where to Find More
- Get all the best Sound Tigers coverage from the Connecticut Post, where Michael Fornabaio handles coverage for the daily and on the Soundin' Off blog.
- With no Leafs games to cover, the Globe and Mail will keep an eye on the Marlies and their future Leafs. For example, check out James Mirtle's story on how much they invest in their players (and nutrition).
- Official team sites: Sound Tigers | Marlies
- History: Fornabaio goes into the Sound Tigers' checkered and eventful Game 1 history, and recalls the franchise's deepest run, back in 2002.
- Former Marlie Matt Finn, part of that preseason Isles-Leafs trade involving Gibson and Michael Grabner, talks about what this series means. [Connecticut Post]
- Get to know the Marlies from the Bridgeport perspective. [Sound Tigers]
- Get to know the Sound Tigers from the Toronto perspective. [PPP]
- The series at a glance, from Fornabaio. [CT Post]
How to Watch
In addition to actually going to the games (novel idea!), where Bridgeport is running various promotions, you can watch online through the AHL's AHL Live service. They have a team playoff package (rounds 1 and 2) for about $45. Individual games run about $10. (All prices U.S. dollars.)