Hartford Wolf Pack vs Springfield Thunderbirds playoff preview

Hartford Wolf Pack
Hartford Wolf Pack take on Springfield Thunderbirds (Photo: Hartford Wolf Pack / John Mrakovcich)

The Hartford Wolf Pack’s final game of the regular season was on Saturday, featuring a 1-0 shutout loss against their closest rival the Springfield Thunderbirds, who snapped the Pack’s 8-game winning streak.

Prior to the completion of Sunday’s slate, the Wolf Pack had two scenarios for the opening round of the 2023 Calder Cup Playoffs. They could play the opening best of three series against Springfield or the Charlotte Checkers. Once Providence beat Springfield, it set the stage for Hartford to face the Thunderbirds.

Hartford concluded the regular season with a record of 35-26-4-7 for 81 points. That ranked the group 5th in the Atlantic Division, 6th in the Eastern Conference, and 13th in the league.

Now, they’ll skate in the Calder Cup Playoffs for the first time since the 2014-15 season, looking to make noise in their potential journey to the cup.

They will have a tall task against the St. Louis Blues’ AHL affiliate as they struggled in their 12 games during the season.

Hartford Wolf Pack vs Springfield Thunderbirds

Regular Season Recap

Hartford went 3-7-0-2 versus Springfield and were shutout four times along the way, the most by any AHL opponent. The shutouts also occurred within the last two months of the season (last two games, and back to back in the season series on March 3rd and 8th).

Despite Hartford’s offense being a power house in the second half playoff push, the Thunderbirds were their kryptonite. One note of solace is that Hartford played them tough throughout the season.

At the XL Center, Hartford is 2-3-0-1 against Springfield. On the road at the MassMutual Center, their record of 1-4-0-1 is concerning.

Goaltending Preview

DYLAN GARAND
Jessica Alcheh-USA TODAY Sports

It is expected that Blues prospect Joel Hofer will be in net against Hartford. In the season series, Hofer was 7-1-0-1 with a 1.41 goals against average and a .955 save percentage. He also has 3 shutouts against Hartford.

Vadim Zherenko could be in net for one game as well, as games 2 and 3 are a back to set. The goaltender has a win and a loss against Hartford. Garret Sparks played in one outing, recording a win.

Expectation is that rookie Dylan Garand will become the starting goalie for Hartford. After the recall of Louis Domingue and a few other key cogs to New York, the Wolf Pack will have two young goaltenders in net.

Garand is 13-14-3 with a 3.01 goals against average and a .894 save percentage on the year. The Rangers prospect has three shutouts on his resume. While his stats indicate struggles, the rookie had a solid year. Garand was mentored by Domingue throughout the season and bounced back numerous times when he looked to be down.

Against Springfield, Garand went 1-4.

Scouting on the Opponent

Ranked 13th in the AHL for points, veteran Martrin Frk does lethal damage, especially against Hartford. The forward has 5 goals and 6 assists in the 12 game season series. However, he was held off the scoresheet in four of those games. Frk’s production stands at 64 points, securing 30 goals and 34 assists in 67 games. His point per game average is at 0.96.

Another player to keep tabs on is Adam Gaudette. Acquired in February, the forward is known for providing grit and toughness to the lineup with some scoring. Gaudette registered three points in six games against Hartford.

Matthew Peca recorded two multi-point games against Hartford and is a seasoned veteran. Despite missing numerous games, Peca found his grove in the second half and generated dependable offense for Springfield.

Hugh McGing is another depth forward that provides grit and good production. Experienced forward Will Bitten is another danger with a hat-trick and recorded a multi-point game in 3 matches.

Hartford’s Key Players

Captain Jonny Brodzinski and Jake Leschyshyn were part of the Rangers recalls for the Stanley Cup playoffs. Their losses will be huge, but this offensive group can still be dynamic enough to beat Hofer.

The Wolf Pack will have to rely heavily on Will Lockwood, Anton Blidh, Tim Gettinger, Tanner Fritz, Turner Elson, Ryan Carpenter, and prospects Will Cuylle and Lauri Pajuniemi.

This forward group must be ready to play and find ways to get pucks by Hofer, who is a sharp goaltender. Greasy goals, rebounds, deflections, and peppering him with shots is a must. Perhaps going to a grittier route will give Hartford an edge in this series if they can cause chaos in his crease.

On defense, despite Libor Hajek called up, the core remain untouched. Veteran Adam Clendening will be a vital for a young defensive group that may need guidance in playoffs.

Zac Jones and Ty Emberson are Hartford’s best defensive pairing this season, with solid production and a shutdown ability.

Wyatt Kalynuk is another piece that boosts the defense with grittiness and physicality. He has shown he plays with an edge, especially against the Thunderbirds.

Brandon Scanlin has raised his game late in the season, becoming more physical and blocks the passing lanes. Blake Hillman returned to the lineup and provides further experience and to the lineup.

If the group is able to defend well against Springfield and help Garand see shots, the Pack can win this series.

Special Teams

Hartford’s power play struggled in the regular season, operating at 16.3% and is ranked 28th in the AHL. While the unit was decent in parts of the season, the group has to be better. The group allowed 7 goals while on the advantage which is an absolute no-no in the playoffs. On the other hand, the Thunderbirds are ranked 4th on the man advantage operating at 22.8%.

On the penalty kill, Hartford operates at 80.6% which is ranked 18th in the AHL. However, the penalty kill units have played well as of late, killing their last 26 penalties. On Springfield’s end, their PK operates at 81.4%, ranked 14th in the league.

Wolf Pack Injury Updates

Per Howlings, defenseman Matthew Robertson will not be ready in time for the first round of the playoffs. Robertson has an upper body injury and is considered week to week. He is inching closer to returning.

C.J. Smith and Patrick Khordorenko are out for the season.

Wolf Pack Potential Lines

Hartford is anticipated to have the following lineup:

Cullye-Lockwood-Carpenter
Gettinger-Fritz-Pajuniemi
Henriksson-Trivigno-Blidh
Elson-Rempe/Trivigno-Sýkora or Edström

Jones-Emberson
Hillman-Scanlin
Clendening-Kalynuk

Garand
Boyko

First Round Schedule

Here’s the full series schedule:

  • Game 1: Wed, April 19th at Springfield, 7:05 pm, MassMutual Center
  • Game 2: Fri, April 21st vs Springfield, 7:05 pm, XL Center
  • Game 3: Sat, April 22nd at Springfield, 7:05 pm, MassMutual Center*

*If needed

Game Coverage

Live game coverage will be featured on Twitter via Milliner06. For broadcast and radio, radio announcer Alex Thomas will have you covered on AHLTV and Mixlr. Broadcasts will begin at 6:50pm for each game.

Ricky Milliner is a Hartford Wolf Pack season ticket holder. While growing up, he discovered hockey by attending a... More about Ricky Milliner