Abbotsford Canucks vs. Calgary Wranglers AHL Playoff Preview

After dispatching the Bakersfield Condors in two games by scores of 3-0 and 4-2 respectively, the Abbotsford Canucks move on to the Calgary Wranglers – who have been sitting at home since April 15. By virtue of finishing first in the Pacific Division, the Wranglers got a bye for the first round and will be playing their first postseason game as a franchise on April 26 against the Canucks.

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The Canucks meanwhile will be looking for their third win as they made quick work of the Condors in the first round. While they have been a team in the American Hockey League (AHL) for two seasons already, they got eliminated in two games by those same Condors in 2022 and posted their first playoff win as a franchise when Spencer Martin posted a 21-save shutout in Game 1 on April 19. With all that said, let’s take a look at their journey so far and preview what’s in store for them when they travel to Calgary to take on the Wranglers in the Division Semifinals on Wednesday.

Canucks’ Journey to the Pacific Division Semifinals

First Round, Game 1 (Canucks 3 – Condors 0)

The Canucks began their road to the Calder Cup at home in Abbotsford surrounded by a raucous crowd that hadn’t seen playoff hockey since the Abbotsford Heat called the city home in 2014. Then housing the affiliate of the Calgary Flames, the Heat fell 3-1 to the Grand Rapids Griffins with Max Reinhart scoring the final playoff goal at Abbotsford Centre on April 26, 2014, until Nils Hoglander reignited the passion nine years later with his first AHL playoff goal on April 19, 2023 (the goal was initially credited to Max Sasson, but later changed to Hoglander).

Now rightfully the affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks, the crowd is much more passionate this time around as they are cheering on Canucks prospects rather than Flames prospects. As mentioned, Hoglander scored first to make it 1-0 1:28 into the second period and added an assist on Sasson’s first professional playoff goal at 4:58. Jack Rathbone rounded out the scoring on the power play in the third to make it 3-0, thus closing the book on the franchise’s first playoff win.

First Round, Game 2 (Canucks 4 – Condors 2)

After posting a shutout in Game 1, Martin turned the net over to his rookie backup (or 1B) Arturs Silovs for Game 2. Silovs couldn’t match his counterpart’s blank scoresheet but still got the 4-2 victory and the series win. Rathbone scored his second of the playoffs early in the second period and Hoglander put together his second-straight strong outing with a goal and an assist. He finished the series as the Canucks’ leading scorer with two goals and four points.

Canucks Face a Strong Opponent in the Wranglers

The Wranglers won’t be an easy out as they finished 19 points ahead of the Canucks and employ arguably the best goaltender not in the NHL in Dustin Wolf. He finished the regular season first in goals-against average (2.09), save percentage (.932), shutouts (7), and wins (42), and won the Les Cunningham Award as the AHL’s most valuable player for the 2022-23 season. To say the Canucks have their work cut out for them would be a massive understatement.

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What they can hang their hat on, however, is the fact that they beat these same Wranglers twice at the end of the regular season. They also were able to solve Wolf 18 times over the season series (2.25 GAA) and hold him to below a .900 SV% in two of his seven starts. Overall, the Wranglers won the season series 8-4 with the Canucks splitting their wins between Abbotsford and Calgary (two of those coming against the aforementioned Wolf).

The Wranglers were led offensively by 5-foot-8 Matthew Phillips who put up an insane 36 goals and 76 points in 66 games. Rounding out the top-five in scoring were Connor Zary (21 goals, 58 points), Ben Jones (17 goals, 54 points), Nick DiSimone (eight goals, 46 points), and Emilio Pettersen (19 goals, 44 points), as they finished the season with 11 forwards in the double-digits in goals.

Players To Watch Who Had Success Against Wolf & the Wranglers

Christian Wolanin

With a career-high 55 points in the regular season, it’s really no surprise Christian Wolanin put up points against the Wranglers. In the season series, he scored three goals and 13 points in 12 games and only failed to hit the scoresheet once – a 3-0 shutout on Jan. 4. Even with his extended period in the NHL with Vancouver, he still ended the 2022-23 campaign leading all AHL defencemen in scoring and walking away with the Eddie Shore Award as the league’s top defenceman.

Christian Wolanin Vancouver Canucks
Christian Wolanin, Vancouver Canucks (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

Wolanin will have to be at his best in this series as he will be relied upon to jump-start the offence from the backend. He put up two assists in the first round against the Condors, but more will be expected against the team that led the entire AHL in goals against with a measly 174. Luckily for him, he’s had a lot of success against the Wranglers and their starter Wolf, as he scored two goals against him in the season series.

Danila Klimovich

One of the forwards that feasted on the Wranglers in the regular season was Danila Klimovich. He scored five goals – including some very recent success when he put up three goals in three games to close out the season series. As a result, he’s entering this matchup on a three-game goal streak and should be confident coming in, even though he failed to record a point in the first round – despite a six-shot outing in Game 2.

Danila Klimovich Vancouver Canucks
Danila Klimovich, Vancouver Canucks (Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Klimovich finished his second season in the AHL with a career-high 17 goals and 29 points in 67 games. With five of those 17 coming against the Wranglers, fans will be hoping he can parlay that into an MVP-like performance in the second round. It also bears mentioning that four of the five came against Wolf.

Arshdeep Bains

Finally, we have Klimovich’s linemate, Arshdeep Bains. While he only had two goals and five points in the season series, he is a player that can make a difference against the Wranglers with his intense forechecking and work ethic. With a solid 13 goals and 38 points in his rookie season, he became the Tyler Motte of the Abbotsford Canucks. Killing penalties, blocking shots, throwing hits, and bringing energy every shift he was on the ice, he quickly became a fan favourite at Abbotsford Centre.

Bains is also no stranger to the playoffs as he scored four goals and 10 points in 10 games last season with the Red Deer Rebels. While no one is expecting that type of production in this series, if all he does is score one clutch goal, block a key shot, or simply inject energy into the lineup, he will have done his job.

Series Prediction: Canucks in 5

This will be a tough series from beginning to end. But I am predicting the Canucks to continue the Calder Cup dream and prevail in five games. Why? Simply because of their overall success against the AHL MVP Dustin Wolf. The key to this series will be ultimately beating him, and the Canucks have done that throughout the regular season.

Yes, the Canucks will have to play stout defensively and get more solid goaltending from the tandem of Martin and Silovs to counter the Wranglers’ potent offensive group. Also, given the possibility of Wolf going on a flawless run, they will also need continued contributions from Hoglander and Rathbone and their leading scorer Linus Karlsson (two goals in the season series) to come to play if they hope to upset the division champs and move onto the Division Final. Oh yes, and more production from the players above that had some success against them (and Wolf) in the regular season.

All in all, it’s going to be a fun series to watch. Buckle up Abbotsford, it should be an exciting ride.

Pacific Division Semifinal Schedule (Best-of-5)

  • Game 1 – Wed., April 26 – Abbotsford at Calgary, 6 pm PT
  • Game 2 – Fri., April 28 – Abbotsford at Calgary, 6 pm PT
  • Game 3 – Wed. May 3 – Calgary at Abbotsford, 7 pm PT
  • *Game 4 – Fri. May 5 – Calgary at Abbotsford, 7 pm PT
  • *Game 5 – Sun., May 7 – Calgary at Abbotsford, 7 pm PT

*if necessary