Abbotsford Canucks vs. Colorado Eagles first round AHL Playoff Preview

Photo credit:X/@abbycanucks
Tyson Cole
1 month ago
The Abbotsford Canucks are off to the playoffs for the third straight year. This year’s opponents? The Colorado Eagles. 
This matchup was locked in on the eve of the AHL regular season as the Eagles lost to the Ontario Reign, 7-3. Unfortunately for Canucks fans, the Eagles won on the final day of the regular season to secure home-ice advantage in the first round. 
Although they were unable to lock up home-ice advantage in the first round, the boys in Abby certainly made it exciting down the stretch for Canucks fans.

How They Got Here

The season’s final stretch is when Abbotsford flipped the switch and found that extra gear. What’s most impressive part of it all, they found their game despite having the Vancouver Canucks picking Arshdeep Bains and Arturs Silovs off their roster.
However, the Canucks did get some reinforcements from Sweden from Jonathan Lekkerimäki and Elias Pettersson. Lekkerimäki finished his six-game stint with one goal, one assist and 13 shots on goal. Unfortunately, he’s returned to Sweden to play for his country at the World Championships. On the other hand, Pettersson has stayed with Abbotsford during their quest for the Calder Cup. 
“The most important thing was just getting our game to a spot where we felt confident going into the playoffs,” Colliton said. “We can’t lose sight of the thing we need to do to have success. There’s nothing better than winning at this time of year.”
Well, it seems like the coach was right; they’re playing with confidence heading into the playoffs, as the Canucks are the hottest team in the American Hockey League with an 8-1-1 record over their last 10 games, tied with the Rochester Americans. The team was led by good goaltending from Nikita Tolipilo and Zach Sawchenko, as well as the offensive prowess of Linus Karlsson.
Both goaltending stood out. Tolipilo finished his last five regular season games with a 4-0-1 record, a 2.48 goals against average (GAA), and a .903 save percentage (S%). Sawchenko had a similar 4-1 record in his previous five games, a 2.12 GAA, and a .924 S%. 
Linus Karlsson enters the playoffs as the hottest Canuck. He’s on a three-game goal streak with five shots on goal in each game and has had 12 points over his last 10 games. This shouldn’t come as a surprise for Canucks fans, as he’s been doing this all season. He finished the season averaging a point per game, with 24 goals and 36 assists in 60 games, tied for 12th in the entire AHL. 
Despite the hot finish, the Canucks finished one point shy of securing the oh-so-important home-ice advantage. The first round of the AHL playoffs is a best-of-three series, with all three games in the home team’s arena. So if the Canucks want a chance to play in front of the Abbotsford faithful, they’re going to need to get through the Colorado Eagles. But let’s see how they’ve played lately. 

Matchup Against the Colorado Eagles

Now, instead of me rambling on about what I think about this matchup, let’s hear coach Colliton’s thoughts on what he’s expecting about this upcoming matchup against the Colorado Eagles. 
“I’m expecting tremendously competitive games. I think we’re two very similar teams — hard forechecking, pressure on the puck, physical, and tough to play against. It may be a lot of grind out there.”
The coach is right; these two teams are very similar. In fact, they were so similar that they finished with the exact same record of 40-25-5-2. Although, Abbotsford is a higher flying offence, scoring 234 goals this season compared to Colorado’s 215. What Colorado does have is defence, as they allowed 195 goals against compared to Abbotsford’s 210.
The Canucks and Eagles have played each other eight times this season, and you wouldn’t believe it, but they split the season series 4-4. However, the Canucks outscored the Eagles 22-20 in those four games. 
I think I can confidently say that the physicality and grind that coach Colliton is anticipating is partially due to a hit from earlier in the season. Eagles’ defenceman Keaton Middleton hit Vasily Podkolzin hard along the boards. Podkolzin was stretchered off the ice with a head injury. Ever since then, there seems to be an extra level of intensity between these two teams. Now, mix a playoff atmosphere into it? Canucks fans are in for a heckuva series.
With the playoffs in both the NHL and AHL, Abbotsford lost Arturs Silovs to the big club as he served as the emergency backup goalie (EBUG). Now, with the Thatcher Demko injury news, Silovs slides into the backup role on the bench, and Nikita Tolopilo has been recalled to fill the EBUG role. 
It’s a next-man-up mentality, and next up in goal for the Canucks is Zach Sawchenko. Canucks fans should be confident with Sawchenko in the crease as he’s played well in his minimal games this year and now has the chance to shine in the playoffs. 
Here is how the rest of these two lineups shake out.
*Lines are up to date as of their final regular season game.
These two teams are very familiar with each other, having played eight games in the regular season. Here are some players to watch for in this series who had success against their respective opponents in the regular season. 
Abbotsford – Linus Karlsson – 4G and 4A
Abbotsford – Aatu Räty – 3G and 3A
Abbotsford – Max Sasson – 2G and 3A
Colorado – Tanner Kero – 5G and 3A
Colorado – Callahan Burke – 0G and 5A
Colorado – Ivan Ivan – His name is Ivan Ivan. He did have 2G and 1A, though.
As you can see, the top line of Räty-Sasson-Karlsson had success in the regular season against this Eagles squad. They will have to be a pivotal factor offensively if the Canucks are to defeat the Eagles.
Down this final stretch, Colliton has chosen to go with the 11F – 7D line configuration. I asked if that’s what he plans to stick with this strategy come playoff time; here was his response:
“Yeah I just think it fits our group right now. Whether it’s managing minutes for some guys, I think we have a few guys who, when we’re able to keep their minutes down, especially on the back end, their quality of play really stays high, and if we go over a certain amount, then it can drop off.”
“When you play seven [defencemen], it just protects them. And we can give them extra shifts when they’re ready for them and maybe don’t play as much in other situations,” Colliton continued. “I think our forward group, the way we’re laid out right now, it fits 11. I think we’ve got a bunch of guys who can play different positions, somewhat interchangeably.”
He ends his answer by saying, “Since whatever game it’s been [since moving to the 11F – 7D], the flor of our team has been really good. So I expect we’ll stick with it.”
And by all means, he’s right. The team has been able to go on this impressive winning streak, leading them to the Calder Cup playoffs, so why mess around with it? 
Abbotsford Canucks playoff hockey begins tonight! Get excited Canucks fans. Does this series go the distance? Can Abbotsford secure a home playoff game next week? Let me know in the comments. 

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