The second-round playoff opponent of the Abbotsford Canucks is a team they are extremely familiar with – the Calgary Wranglers.
Calgary and Abbotsford met 12 times during the regular season, including three times earlier this month at the Abbotsford Centre. The Wranglers won eight of the games, but three of those wins were decided in overtime or via the shootout.
The Canucks did take two of the final three games in April and also split a pair in Calgary in February.
All Western Conference playoff series are played in a 2-3 format and are best-of-five. Calgary, as the higher seed, chose to host the first two games at home. The final three games, if necessary, will all be played at the Abbotsford Centre. Game three is the only game guaranteed to occur at the AC.
The Wranglers received a first-round playoff bye after finishing first in the Pacific Division and posting the best record in the American Hockey League at 51-17-3-1. Calgary also had the best record on home ice, compiling a mark of 25-9-2-0.
The Wranglers were the most effective team in the league at killing penalties this season, with an 85.1 per cent rate. They also scored the second most shorthanded goals in the AHL with 12.
Dustin Wolf has been focused on simplifying his game and having ‘more fun’ lately, which hasn’t always been the case…https://t.co/VEqm5pZWeb— y- Calgary Wranglers (@AHLWranglers) April 26, 2023
Calgary is led by goalie Dustin Wolf, who earlier this month won the Les Cunningham Award as the AHL’s most valuable player. He was the first goalie to win that award since 2004. He also won the Bastien Award as the league’s top goaltender this season for the second time, becoming the first goalie to ever win it in back-to-back years.
Wolf’s regular season numbers this season were ridiculous, as he posted a record of 42-10-2, a save percentage of .932, goals against average of 2.09 and earned seven shutouts.
“We’re excited for the challenge.”— y- Calgary Wranglers (@AHLWranglers) April 25, 2023
Head coach Mitch Love chatted after practice on Tuesday, looking ahead to Game 1 against the Canucks. pic.twitter.com/9q89MjMm6E
Calgary is skilled up front with speedy wingers Matthew Phillips and Jakob Pelletier and centre’s Connor Zary and Ben Jones. Phillips was fifth in the AHL in scoring with 76 points and led the league with 15 game-winning goals. Pelletier collected 37 points in 35 games with the Wranglers before being called up to the Flames for much of the second half of the season.
Both Wolf and Phillips were named AHL first team all-stars for the regular season.
Defensively the leaders for Calgary are Nick DeSimone (46 points) and Jeremie Poirier (41 points). Forwards Walker Duehr and Adam Klapka could also prove to be dangerous playoff performers with their mixture of size and skill.
The Canucks are coming off a two-game sweep of the Bakersfield Condors and some great performances from the line of Nils Höglander, Kyle Rau and Max Sasson. The trio combined for eight points in that series and Höglander scored the game winners in both games.
Abbotsford’s goaltending was excellent in the first round, with Spencer Martin earning a shutout in game one and Arturs Silovs making 26 saves in game two. A starting goalie for game one has not yet been confirmed.
"The playoffs is a step up and we're excited for the challenge ahead."— X - Abbotsford Canucks (@abbycanucks) April 25, 2023
Chase Wouters spoke following today's practice at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary. pic.twitter.com/12r9dDAHtd
Here are five keys to the best-of-five for Abbotsford:
- Solving the riddle of Dustin Wolf
The Canucks were one of only three teams that managed to beat Wolf twice this season, posting a 4-2 win on Feb. 15 and a 4-1 win on April 14. He collected one shutout (Jan. 4) and also allowed one goal on 30 shots against Abbotsford on Feb. 14.
Peppering Wolf with shots is one possible way to break him down. Only one of his shutouts saw him face 31 shots or more. Another strategy to beat Wolf is exploit his only perceived weakness – his size. Wolf is listed at 6-feet, 175 pounds and getting bodies in front of him and making it hard for him to see shots could work.
"It's super special. It goes back to all the guys here in the room. The individual recognition doesn't come without all their help throughout the year."— Calgary Flames (@NHLFlames) April 21, 2023
Dustin Wolf on being awarded the Les Cunningham Award as the AHL's MVP! pic.twitter.com/hgfm0vLh94
- Abbotsford’s young forwards stepping up
Outside of the Höglander-Rau-Sasson line, the Canucks forwards failed to produce much offence against Bakersfield in round one. Aatu Räty and Danila Klimovich were held pointless, while Linus Karlsson, Tristen Nielsen and Arshdeep Bains each had a single point. Räty and Bains also did not record a shot against Bakersfield.
The Canucks will need scoring from other sources to defeat Calgary and cannot solely rely on Höglander to carry the offensive load.
"If you're a player, you relish these opportunities... playing in the playoffs is as good as it gets."— X - Abbotsford Canucks (@abbycanucks) April 25, 2023
Jeremy Colliton spoke following today's practice at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary. pic.twitter.com/ob5cRAToeE
- Playing physical with Calgary’s forwards
Abbotsford’s defence is the strongest it’s been all season long and could get even stronger with the possible addition of Filip Johansson. The Canucks ability to control Calgary’s forwards could turn the tide of the series. The Wranglers most talented players such as Phillips, Pelletier and Emilio Pettersen are all somewhat undersized. Abbotsford needs to make life miserable for those players – if they can catch them.
The squad’s all here 🙌 pic.twitter.com/NFwFtsrWYf— X - Abbotsford Canucks (@abbycanucks) April 26, 2023
- Earn a split in Calgary
Abbotsford was one of only three teams to win two or more games inside the Scotiabank Saddledome and all they need is one win in Calgary to gain home ice advantage in the series. The Wranglers decision to choose the 2-3 format is a curious one and may indicate they believe they can sweep Abbotsford and want to guarantee two games on home ice. No other higher seed made the choice that Calgary did, with all other teams choosing the potential to host three games at home rather than two.
The Canucks and Wranglers had a three-game set two weeks in ago in Abbotsford, with the Canucks winning two of three. Abbotsford just needs to steal one on the road and then win two of three at home to eliminate Calgary.
- Special teams war
The Canucks went just two for 11 (18.2 per cent) on the power play against Bakersfield and that has to be better if they hope to advance. The challenge with improving on the power play in round two is that Calgary had the best penalty kill in the AHL during the regular season at 85.1 per cent.
Abbotsford’s penalty kill was at 80 per cent against Bakersfield, but the club was disciplined and only took five penalties in the two games. Calgary had the second best power play in the Pacific Division during the regular season at 21 per cent, so the Canucks will have to avoid the penalty box.
Morning Skate : ✅ pic.twitter.com/l4SwtIelPw— X - Abbotsford Canucks (@abbycanucks) April 26, 2023
Another fun wrinkle to the series is that the Wranglers were, nine years and two locations ago, known as the Abbotsford Heat. That club played at the AC from 2009 to 2014 and the city of Abbotsford paid the team $5.5 million in 2014 to leave town. That organization left the city of Abbotsford with $12 million in losses due to a poor business deal.
The series opens tonight (Wednesday) at 6 p.m. Abbotsford time, with game two set for Friday at 6 p.m. The series then shifts to Abbotsford for game three on May 3. Game four, if necessary will occur on May 5 and game five, if necessary, will occur on May 7.
The winner of the Abbotsford-Calgary series will then play the winner of the Colorado Eagles vs. Coachella Valley Firebirds series in the Pacific Division final.
Visit abbynews.com for post-game coverage of all the games.