The San Diego Gulls and San Jose Barracuda both needed five games to win their opening round series but are now ready to start their best-of-seven series tonight in San Jose. They finished one-two in the Pacific Division, and both teams were lethal on home ice in the ten games they squared off during the regular season. Breaking down the matchup, a tight series will now get underway
Both teams have an impressive blend of youth, speed and skill. For the Barracuda more consistent pressure and output from the line of Danny O’Regan, Marcus Sorensen and Kevin Labanc is needed as the postseason continues. All three played with the San Jose Sharks this season in varying capacities.
Gulls forward Nic Kerdiles bounced back from a scary preseason concussion into a prime playoff performer with six points for San Diego. Kerdiles, 23, has six points and trails only Barracuda forward Ryan Carpenter (four goals and three assists) in AHL playoff scoring.
The Gulls have a balanced attack and Kalle Kossila’s impressive rookie season carried over into the Calder Cup Playoffs. Stefan Noesen might return should the Anaheim Ducks lose in the second round. Noesen is a dangerous forward that would make this matchup much closer should he return to the series. Corey Tropp, the Gulls’ top scorer, only played in Game 1 of the first round and suffered an upper-body injury. The Gulls will miss their top point producer in the regular season if he cannot return during the series.
UPDATE: Kerdiles has been recalled by Anahiem Ducks ahead of Game 5 tonight against the Edmonton Oilers.
— Anaheim Ducks (@AnaheimDucks) May 5, 2017
The Barracuda’s defense is versatile, deep and strong. Joakim Ryan and Tim Heed headline the defensive crops and can make teams think twice about cheating in the defensive zone. The Barracuda have also enjoyed a strong showing from the newly signed Nick DeSimone, who leads the team in defensive scoring with four helpers. DeSimone’s emergence put two capable defenders in the press box in Patrick McNally and Dan Kelly.
For the Gulls, the defense is solid as-is but should both Shea Theodore and Brandon Montour return to the San Diego roster during the series, the Barracuda advantage is nil. Andy Welinski and Jaycob Megna are two capable two-way defenders that can add offense, but they are not the caliber of two soon-to-be NHL regulars.
Advantage: Barracuda (for now)
The Barracuda power play (one goal on 17 attempts) was outscored by the penalty killers (two goals) after their man advantage was second-best in the AHL during the regular season. It’s easy to point to the underperformance by both power play units, but the Stockton Heat were stupendous penalty killers in the first round. The Heat hounded San Jose’s power play with active sticks and sacrificing the body to block shots and passes. Their tenacious play mostly eliminating Heed and Ryan when San Jose had the man advantage. Still, there is a lot of skill on the power play to write off completely.
— San Jose Barracuda (@sjbarracuda) May 4, 2017
San Diego, without Montour and Theodore, have big holes on the back end and especially on the power play. Despite the lack of these two young emerging stars, the forwards are still filling the net. San Deigo is clicking at 26.7% efficiency in the postseason and against the 10th ranked San Jose penalty kill. For the Gulls, only one power play goal made it through in 16 chances against the Ontario Reign. The Barracuda penalty killers are dangerous and will need to be if the power play continues to struggle.
The chances San Jose gave up in the first round were mostly dangerous, and the defense was not as stout as it has been in front of AHL Goaltender of the Year Troy Grosenick. Grosenick battled and made key stops in the deciding Game 5 and his goalpost had a key save in overtime as well. He had three shutouts against the Gulls during the regular season, and all three came at SAP Center. The Barracuda goaltending is a weak spot.
The Gulls counter with NHLer Jhonas Enroth and his .945 save percentage this postseason. San Diego also has Kevin Boyle waiting in the wings should disaster strike. He stopped .924 of shots faced in the regular season. The Gulls turned into a different team when Enroth arrived and, coupled with Boyle, forms a complete duo, even if the head-to-head matchup between Enroth and Grosenick is a coinflip.
All season long and into the playoffs, Barracuda head coach Roy Sommer has known which Barracuda buttons to press and when. In the deciding Game 5, he reverted a lineup of seven defensemen and double-shifted a skilled forward, with Colin Blackwell and Nikita Jevplaovs, on the fourth line. Sommer and assistant coach Ryan Mougenel are likely in the lab as we speak trying to fix the power play.
Dallas Eakins’ track record at the AHL level is impressive, and for the second straight season, he has guided the Gulls to the second round. With Tropp out, Montour and Theodore missing from the roster and the Pacific Division leader coming to town, he’ll have his hands full.
Who Will Win?
The Reign were a handful in the first round, and without two Reign goalie injuries ahead of the deciding Game 5, the Gulls could have been home for the summer already. The Barracuda had a far more acute scare with only the right goalpost stopping Andrew Mangiapane’s breakaway in overtime of Game 5.
— San Diego Gulls (@SDGullsAHL) May 5, 2017
The Gulls were a challenge for the Barracuda consistently all season, and now the top two Pacific Division teams will do battle for a place in the Conference Final. The during the 2016-17 regular-season series the Barracuda were 5-0 at home against the Gulls, with three 3-0 shutouts. That sterling record turns on its head when visiting San Diego with a 0-3-1-1 mark. Calling home-ice in this series an advantage is an understatement.
Prediction: Barracuda in Six
Two games at SAP Center to start the series with three key Gulls players on the shelf will be pivotal for the Barracuda. The Valley View Casino Center in San Diego has been a tough play to play all season for any team, and the crowds are often near capacity. However, the overall depth of the Barracuda is the edge in this series as the powerhouses of the Pacific Division collide.