Monday, April 21, 2014

On to the next round: Ice vs. Fighting Saints preview

It's on to the next round for the top-seeded Indiana Ice, who meet up with the third-seeded Dubuque Fighting Saints in the USHL Eastern Conference Final. Both teams won their opening-round best-of-5 series in four games -- the Ice beating fourth-seeded Green Bay behind three shutouts from goaltenders Hayden Stewart and Jason Pawloski, and the Fighting Saints upending second-seeded Cedar Rapids.

The schedule is as follows -- as has been the norm, stacked with weekend games (all times EDT):
Friday, April 25: at Pan Am Pavilion, Indianapolis, 7:05 p.m.
Saturday, April 26: at Pan Am Pavilion, Indianapolis, 7:05 p.m.
Friday, May 2: at Mystique Ice Center, Dubuque, 8:35 p.m.
Saturday, May 3: at Mystique Ice Center, Dubuque, 8:05 p.m. (if necessary)
Tuesday, May 6: at Pan Am Pavilion, Indianapolis, 7:05 p.m. (if necessary)

Series preview follows after the jump.

One thing that jumps out is how evenly-matched the teams are. The Ice appear to have an advantage on the back end -- Dubuque's active goaltenders have stopped fewer than 80% of shots Ice players aimed at them, but much of that came in a 9-1 game where both goaltenders struggled, and the Ice D have played tremendously in the playoffs, posting three shutouts.

Three of the four regular-season matchups between the teams have been close, and have seen a tie at some point in the third period of each game. Dubuque outshot the Ice by a wide margin in both games in Dubuque -- where the teams split -- while the Ice dominated the last game with five goals in a 10-minute stretch.  The Ice lead the USHL in both shots attempted and shots allowed, but the Fighting Saints have outshot the Ice head-to-head.

After struggling against the Ice the final week of the season, Dubuque goaltender Kevin Reich has been pretty solid in the playoffs, however. He allowed one goal in a 2-1 Game 1 win, shut out Cedar Rapids in a 1-0 victory in Game 3, then saw the offense come alive in Game 4 to finish off the Rough Riders 7-3 last Saturday night. In that game, Josh Elmes and Robby Darrar had two goals each to lead the Fighting Saints.

Much like in the Green Bay series, special teams could be critical. Dubuque enters with the USHL's fifth-best PP and second-best PK. The Ice were eighth-best on the PP and third-best on the PK during the season. The Fighting Saints had three 20-goal scorers during the season -- Seamus Malone, who scored three goals against the Ice -- Karson Kuhlman and Max McHugh. In addition, defenseman Alexx Privitera is an offensive dynamo at the blueline and can generate a lot of heat from the point. Head-to-head, the Ice are 33.3% on the PP, but are 80% on the PK. Dubuque is one of the least penalized teams in the league, so staying out of the box will be crucial.

For the Ice, Denis Smirnov has the hot stick, scoring both goals in the 1-0 wins in Green Bay. Sam Kurker had a four-point period in Game 2. Defenseman Matt Roy has two goals and two assists -- nearly half of what he tallied during the regular season. And Patrick Newell had a hot stick early, scoring the team's first three goals of the playoffs. 

As is often the case in the postseason, home ice could be critical. Dubuque is 17-1 all time at the Mystique Ice Center in the playoffs -- the one loss came to the Ice in 2012, a year the Ice swept the Fighting Saints in the first round. Indiana is 3-1 all-time in postseason games at Pan Am Pavilion, winning two games against Cedar Rapids there in 2011, and splitting the two games against Green Bay. This Ice team, however, was the USHL's best road team, and it earned 45 points in 30 road games this season. Dubuque is very good at home (20-9-1 in the regular season, 2-0 in the playoffs), but was sub-.500 on the road this season.

Dubuque is the reigning Clark Cup champion, and has won titles in 2011 and 2013 -- two of the four years the franchise has been in existence. Their only playoff series loss came to the Ice in the conference semis in 2012. The Ice won the Clark Cup in 2009, and have advanced to the conference finals/league semifinals in 2007, 2010 and 2012.

Previous meetings (Ice lead season series 3-1-0)
Wednesday, April 2: Ice 9, Fighting Saints 1 (at Pan Am Pavilion): This one got out of hand quickly, as Scott Conway became the first player in Indiana Ice history to score four goals in a game. He added an assist for a five-point night as the Ice exploded for nine goals. Dubuque actually led 1-0 after Seamus Malone's PPG at 5:34 of the first, but Jacob Pritchard and Dwyer Tschantz scored later in the first for the Ice. Conway had a hat trick in the second, while Aidan Muir and Brian Pinho each scored. All of the goals happened in a 10-minute stretch of the second period, and all but one of the Ice's nine goals were at even strength. Jason Salvaggio and Conway added third-period goals. Tschantz had a goal and four assists, Patrick Newell three assists, Pritchard a goal and three assists, and Pinho a goal and two assists. Newell, Tschantz, Conway, Tim Shoup and Ryan Mantha were all plus-4 for the Ice. Jason Pawloski stopped 25 shots in the Ice net. The Ice tagged starter Kevin Reich for four goals on 18 shots, and backup Benjamin Johannson for five goals on 18 shots. The Ice were 1-2 on the PP, Dubuque 1-4. 
Saturday, March 29: Fighting Saints 3, Ice 2 (at Dubuque): The Ice had a comfortable 2-0 lead in the third on a second-period goal by Brian Pinho and an unassisted tally by Sam Kurker 1:53 into the third. But Shane Eiserman's PPG at 7:07 of the third got the Fighting Saints going. Seamus Malone scored 47 seconds later to tie it, and then at 11:55 of the third to win it. Jacob Benson assisted on both of Malone's goals. Jason Pawloski stopped 24 shots in the loss, Benjamin Johannson made 13 saves in the win. Dubuque was 1-4 on the PP, Indiana 0-3.
Friday, March 28: Ice 5, Fighting Saints 4 (at Dubuque): Another offensive game that was tied at 1-1, 2-2 and 3-3 before Matt Roy scored at 2:21 and Sam Kurker at 6:00 of the third to give the Ice a 5-3 lead. Kurker had two goals for the Ice. Aidan Muir and Mike Preston had two assists each. Matt Roy, Dwyer Tschantz and Joe Sullivan also scored for the Ice. Hayden Stewart stopped 27 shots against his former team. Kevin Reich made 17 saves in the Fighting Saints net. Blake Hillman, Jacob Benson and Alexx Privitera scored for the Fighting Saints. Indiana was 2-4 on the PP, Dubuque 1-4.
Saturday, Oct. 26: Ice 5, Fighting Saints 3 (at Pan Am Pavilion): Dubuque took a 3-1 lead midway through the second period on goals by Brett Boeing, Shane Kavanaugh and Shane Eiserman, but the Ice rallied. Scott Conway had the first goal midway through the second. Alex Talcott scored to send the Ice into the locker room for second intermission down 3-2, and Aidan Muir, Denis Smirnov and Dwyer Tschantz scored third-period goals to send the Ice to the win. Both teams launched 41 shots in an offensive game. The Ice were a perfect 3-3 on the PK, while Dubuque didn't commit a penalty. Tschantz and Smirnov each had a goal and an assist, Patrick Newell had two assists. Jason Pawloski stopped 38 shots for the win. Hayden Stewart -- who is now his teammate -- had 36 saves in the loss for the Fighting Saints. 

Head to head
Power play
Ice 3-9 (33.3%), Dubuque 3-15 (20.0%)

Goals by period
IND 4-9-8 -- 21
DUB 2-4-5 -- 11

Shots by period
IND 40-41-33 -- 114
DUB 39-46-40 -- 125

Ice leaders: Dwyer Tschantz (3-5-8), Scott Conway (5-2-7), Aidan Muir (2-4-6), Jacob Pritchard (1-4-5), Patrick Newell (0-5-5), Sam Kurker (3-1-4), Brian Pinho (2-2-4). Goaltenders: Jason Pawloski (2-1-0, 2.35 GAA, .926sv%); Hayden Stewart (1-0-0, 4.00 GAA, .871sv%)
Fighting Saints leaders: Seamus Malone (3-1-4), Shane Eiserman (2-2-4), Jacob Benson (1-2-3), Karson Kuhlman (0-3-3). Goaltenders: Ben Johannson (1-0-0, 4.45 GAA, .788sv%), Kevin Reich (0-2-0, 6.43 GAA, .745sv%)

Indiana Ice (42-11-7, 1st USHL East)
Home: 21-5-4; Road: 21-6-3
Regular season goals per game: 3.88 for (3rd USHL)/2.35 against (t1st USHL)
Regular season power play: 18.6% (53-285) (8th USHL)/Penalty kill: 85.7% (233-272) (3rd USHL)
Top regular-season scorers: Scott Conway (33-35-68, +40); Brian Pinho (28-28-56, +29); Dwyer Tschantz (24-20-44, +31), Patrick Newell (13-30-43, +24)
Regular season goaltending:
Hayden Stewart (14GP, 13-1-0, 1.29, .945, 4SHO); Jason Pawloski (42GP, 27-8-6, 2.46, .904, 4SHO)

Playoff goals per game: 2.25 for (9 total)/1.25 against (5 total)
Playoff power play: 23.1% (3-13)/Penalty kill: 72.7% (8-11)
Top playoff scorers: Matt Roy (2-2-4, +4), Sam Kurker (1-3-4, +3), Patrick Newell (3-0-3, +2), Scott Conway (0-3-3, +2), Denis Smirnov (2-0-2, +1).
Playoff goaltending: Jason Pawloski (3GP, 2-1, 0.44 GAA, .974sv%, 2SHO); Hayden Stewart (1-0, 2.40 GAA, .892sv%, 1SHO)

Dubuque Fighting Saints (33-23-4, 3rd USHL East)
Home: 20-9-1; Road: 13-14-3
Regular season goals per game: 3.35 for (6th USHL)/3.10 against (8th USHL)
Regular season power play: 19.2% (47-245) (5th USHL)/Penalty kill: 86.5% (186-215) (2nd USHL)
Top regular-season scorers: Seamus Malone (23-23-46, +10), Karson Kuhlman (25-19-44, +16), Alexx Privitera (11-33-44, -1), Dylan Gambrell (14-29-43, +3), Shane Eiserman (16-24-40, +18), Max McHugh (21-13-34, +5)
Regular season goaltending: Kevin Reich (21GP, 10-7-3, 3.02 GAA, .897sv%); Benjamin Johannson (17GP, 7-6-1, 3.31 GAA, .891sv%)

Playoff goals per game: 3.75 for (15 total)/2.5 against (10 total)
Playoff power play: 18.2% (2-11)/Penalty kill: 73.3% (11-15)
Top playoff scorers: Seamus Malone (2-4-6, +4), Robby Darrar (4-1-5, +4), Jarrid Privitera (2-2-4, +5), Josh Elmes (2-1-3, +4)
Playoff goaltending: Kevin Reich (4GP, 3-0, 2.40 GAA, .914sv%, 1 SHO); Benjamin Johannson (1GP, 0-1, 3.06 GAA, .889sv%)

Also in the USHL 
Western Conference Final
(1) Waterloo Black Hawks vs. (3) Sioux City Musketeers
April 25-26: at Waterloo; May 2, 4: at Sioux City; May 6: at Waterloo
Waterloo def. Sioux Falls 3 games to 0
Sioux City def. Omaha 3 games to 1

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