TORONTO– Ben Scrivens may finally meet his match when the Toronto Marlies face off against the Oklahoma City Barons in the AHL’s Western Conference final.
The 25-year-old Marlies goaltender has been solid for Toronto through the first two rounds, compiling a record of 7-1 with a league leading goals-against average of 1.61 and a .944 save percentage.
The Barons, who are the Edmonton Oilers’ top affiliate, will be countering with 30-year-old Yann Danis. The AHL’s goalie of the year, Danis has led his Barons to the West final with a 7-2 record in the post-season.
“In the first two series Scrivens was the best goalie, we knew we had the best goalie,” said Marlies’ head coach Dallas Eakins. “(But) now, we’re facing a guy down at the other end who’s had great success. This is going to be a big challenge for Ben. I think you can say it’s a coin toss. Both goalies have had excellent years and I think the goalie that wins this battle wins the series.”
Scrivens’ post-season play was at its best in a second-round elimination of the Abbotsford Heat, when he allowed only five goals against in four straight victories. But he doesn’t want to take all the credit for stopping 147-of-154 shots in the five-game set.
“It’s just that my job is to stop the pucks, so that can put you in the focal point instead of the guys in front of me blocking shots and clearing lanes,” said the Spruce Grove, Alta, native. “I just want to give the guys a chance to play.”
The best-of-seven series starts on Thursday when Oklahoma City hosts Game 1 at the Cox Convention Center.
Toronto (44-24-5-3) faced the Barons (45-22-4-5) twice in the regular season and each team came away with a home-ice victory. Scrivens didn’t suit up in either as he was with the parent-club Toronto Maple Leafs at the time.
Despite being the top seed in the West, the Barons had to wait until their second last game of the season to clinch the title as the Marlies pushed for first place, finishing just three points behind.
This is the first series Toronto will not have home-ice advantage, but the Marlies are currently 4-0 on the road in the playoffs and knew if they were to make it this far they would have to win away from the Ricoh Coliseum.
“I think home ice is not only a real comfort level, it gives me the ability for last change and I think the crowd can affect the game,” said Eakins. “But it’s something we didn’t earn and we’ll have to deal with it.”
Toronto flew to Oklahoma City on Tuesday after one final practice at home. With a few players on the limp, they took along some extra bodies along. Forward Carter Ashton hasn’t been cleared from a concussion he received in Game 2 of the opening round against the Rochester Americans, while forwards Joe Colborne and Jay Rosehill suffered injuries that caused them to miss time against the Heat.
Eakins is uncertain if any of them will be ready for the opening game, but isn’t too concerned.
“We’ll just have to see how it goes day to day,” he said. “We have guys still banged up and we’re able to dip into our depth and move on without missing a beat.”
Through the first two rounds Toronto has had offensive production from three different lines, but the combo of Jerry D’Amigo, Nazem Kadri and Matt Frattin sit one-two-three in team scoring and will have to continue being a threat to the opposition.
“Fratty and Jerry are two great hockey players,” Kadri said about his line mates. “As a line we almost know where each other’s going to be before the puck gets there. All of us are skilled, we can skate and there’s some grit out there too.”
The Marlies will also look to continue their dominance on the penalty kill. They killed all 24 short-handed chances against Abbotsford and 33 straight dating back to Game 1 against the Americans. They have only given up one power-play goal in the post-season despite being the second most penalized team in the west.
“We don’t look at streaks but, overall, to get this far we had to play well and good on our guys for buying in,” said Eakins about his team’s success killing penalties. “(But) I hope we can take less penalties. We want to create offence and you can’t do that by taking penalties.”
Neither Toronto or Oklahoma City have ever made it to the Calder Cup final. The winner will take on either the St. John’s IceCaps or the Norfolk Admirals, who are duelling it out in the East final, for the Calder Cup.
*THIS ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN FOR THE CANADIAN PRESS