For all of the devastated Calgary Flames faithful who were counting on a much deeper NHL playoff run this spring, I have good news — all is not lost. While the Flames failed to reach the Western Conference Final last week, their American Hockey League (AHL) counterparts are absolutely cruising through the Calder Cup playoffs and kick off their third-round series against the Chicago Wolves on Friday night in the Windy City.
Having just completed their most successful regular season in franchise history, the Stockton Heat have barely broken a sweat in the AHL playoffs. Finishing first in the Pacific Division gave the Heat a bye to the second round, and they wasted very little time dispatching the Bakersfield Condors, sweeping the Edmonton Oilers’ affiliate in three games. Next up, Stockton faced the Colorado Eagles, and this time, rookie netminder Dustin Wolf completely stole the show.
Wolf Posts Three Shutouts As Stockton Downs Colorado 3-1 to Advance to the Western Conference Final
A deserving winner of the AHL’s goaltender of the year award, Wolf posted a sparkling 33–9–4 record and a .924 save percentage in 47 appearances to lead the Heat to the second best record in the entire league. And yet, somehow, the 6-foot, 170-pound netminder didn’t have a single shutout during the regular season.
Wolf certainly remedied that situation in Stockton’s best-of-five series against the Eagles. After Game 1 on May 23, he registered his first professional shutout after holding opponents to just one goal a whopping 17 times during the regular season. He followed that up with another goose egg the very next night, stopping all 27 shots he faced as the Heat defeated the Eagles by a 1–0 score to take a 2-0 series lead.
After a barnburner 6-5 overtime loss snapped Stockton’s five-game playoff winning streak, the 21-year-old puck stopper made 40 saves in Game 4 to blank Colorado 1-0 and win the series. With 90 saves in his three shutouts, this undersized goalie from Gilroy, California, is putting on a goaltending clinic in his first professional postseason, and that should have Flames fans very excited about his future in the organization.
Philips, Pelletier Continue to Lead the Heat’s Offence
Matthew Phillips and rookie Jakob Pelletier were one and two in scoring for the Heat in the regular season, and they are both top postseason producers during the team’s impressive 2022 Calder Cup run. Phillips is tied with winger Justin Kirkland for the team lead with seven playoff points, while Pelletier is right behind them with six.
Phillips is now in his fourth year with the Heat and is the franchise’s all-time scoring leader. The 24-year-old finished ninth in AHL scoring and led the Heat with 68 points in 65 games. Being a point-a-game player in the second-best league in North America is a pretty big deal, but I fear his diminutive size has the Flames thinking twice about giving the 5-foot-7 winger a well-deserved chance to succeed with the big club.
Meanwhile, many pundits are predicting that Pelletier, and not Phillips, could be next in line to play in the NHL in 2022-23. After a decent final campaign in the QMJHL, his offensive game blossomed with the Heat this season, setting a franchise rookie scoring record. The 21-year-old winger put up an impressive 62 points in 66 games and was also named to the AHL’s All-Rookie team. If the native of Quebec City can keep up his solid play into the next round of the Calder Cup playoffs, that would go a long in proving his readiness to suit up for the Flames next season.
Returning Flames Players Will Give the Heat a Huge Boost vs. the Wolves
After the Flames were eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs last week, the club returned four players to Stockton: goaltender Adam Werner, blueliners Juuso Valimaki and Connor Mackey and forward Adam Ruzicka. Having a quartet of veteran guys with 124 collective NHL games under their belt get back into the Heat’s lineup should really boost their chances against a very good Chicago Wolves squad.
The Heat are going to need all the help they can get, as Chicago was the top team in the AHL this season, losing just 16 times in regulation. The Wolves are led by Andrew Poturalski (the league’s top scorer) and by former Flame Josh Leivo (remember him?), who sits atop the Calder Cup playoff points race with 13 in seven games. Mackey was the Heat’s best defenceman during the regular season, so I’m thinking his return to the roster should have the biggest impact.
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The only question some of you might be pondering right about now is: “How can I watch the Heat’s playoff run?” All of Stockton’s games are streamed on AHL TV, and fans have the option of buying a package that gives access to every game of the Calder Cup playoffs or a day pass that allows you to stream any AHL game on a specific day. For diehard Flames fans that desperately miss seeing their NHL team in action, watching the organization’s top AHL prospects try and bring home a championship has to be the next best thing.