For the second straight season, the Abbotsford Canucks and the Bakersfield Condors square off in a best-of-three round one playoff series but this time all three games will occur inside the Abbotsford Centre.
Tonight’s (Wednesday) game one will be the first professional playoff hockey game inside the AC since the Abbotsford Heat fell 7-2 to the Grand Rapids Griffins in game two of the Western Conference quarterfinals on April 26, 2014.
The Canucks were bounced in two games by the Condors in 2021-22, but both teams have had significant changes since last year’s clash.
Abbotsford hired Jeremy Colliton to replace former coach Trent Cull on July 1, 2022 and he has helped transform the team into becoming more responsible on both ends of the ice. The Canucks have also relied heavily on young talent up front this season as opposed to mostly veterans in 2021-22. Defenceman Christian Wolanin also emerged as a top player in the AHL.
Bakersfield has seen last season’s starter Stuart Skinner move on to Edmonton and become the number one goalie for the Oilers. The Condors had another excellent season from forward Seth Griffith (60 points, 20th overall in the AHL) and forward Raphael Lavoie had a breakout season with 25 goals. There are also solid veterans like Tyler Benson and Justin Bailey up front.
The Canucks are reliable in goal with Arturs Silovs and Spencer Martin, while the Condors will go with Calvin Pickard – who had outstanding numbers over the second half of the season.
The Condors had a poor start to the season and finished with the third-best record in the AHL after the all-star break, going 19-9-0-1 (.672) in the final 29 games. Bakersfield ended the 2022 calendar year in last place in the Pacific Division and ended in fifth place.
Here are three keys to the best-of-three series:
- The Special Teams Battle
The Abbotsford Canucks have the worst penalty kill percentage (79.9 per cent) of any playoff team in the Pacific Division and with officials likely hoping to set the tone early in the playoffs – the club’s play shorthanded will be a big factor. However, Bakersfield had the fewest power play goals (45) of any Pacific Division team playoff team. The Canucks ability to handle the Condors power play could determine the series.
Abbotsford’s power play finished the season at 18.1 per cent, but roster fluctuation saw the number take a big dip in the second half. With Wolanin back in the fold manning the point that could see a bump in the postseason. Bakersfield’s penalty killing rate finished at 82.7 per cent for the season, but the Condors were more penalized than the Canucks during the season. New defensive addition Filip Johansson could also play a role for Abbotsford on special teams. Local product and defenceman Noah Juulsen will also be a big factor on Abbotsford after a stint in Vancouver.
- Home Ice
The top teams in the Pacific Division dominated on home ice in the regular season and the Canucks followed that trend. Abbotsford had the sixth best home record in the AHL (22-10-1-3) and outscored the opposition 129-89 in those 36 games. The Canucks finished 7-2-0-1 inside the AC in the final 10 home games.
In the seven first round best-of-three series in 2021-22, the lower seed advanced just once. In the Western Conference where the lower seed did not host a playoff game, the higher seed did not lose a single game.
Fans in Abbotsford and the Lower Mainland are also likely beyond hungry for professional playoff hockey, as the Vancouver Canucks have not hosted a playoff game since 2015.
Gearing up for game day 🏒 pic.twitter.com/qkj20g05Az— X - Abbotsford Canucks (@abbycanucks) April 19, 2023
- Playoff Experience Up Front
The Abbotsford Canucks have rode their young talent up front most of the season with rookies like Linus Karlsson and Arshdeep Bains and sophomores like Tristen Nielsen and Danila Klimovich producing significant offensive numbers. All four of those players will be making their playoff debuts tonight. Defenceman Jett Woo was played at forward ahead of both Nielsen and Klimovich in 2021-22.
The ability of those four players to produce when called upon could be the difference maker in this series. Abbotsford does have solid veterans such as Justin Dowling and Kyle Rau to compliment the youth, but the young talent has to step up. The Canucks will also need contributions from Nils Höglander and Aatu Räty.
Bakersfield has the aforementioned Griffith, Lavoie, Benson and Bailey for the Canucks to worry about. Rookie Noah Philp has also emerged as a promising scorer with 19 goals. The Condors also have players up front like James Hamblin and Luke Esposito, who are difficult to play against and have some playoff experience.
Another factor for Bakersfield is that their parent club in Edmonton is currently competing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which means some last-minute roster changes could occur.
The teams met four time this season, with Abbotsford winning three of those games. The most recent time the two teams clashed was on March 22 when Bakersfield won 3-1.
Visit abbynews.com for post-game coverage and additional coverage following Friday’s (April 21) game two and Sunday’s (April 23) game three (if necessary).