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San Jose Barracuda 2019 Playoff Recap

2019-07-06

The San Jose Barracuda have successfully defended their title as Calder Cup Champions, and are now the second team in EHE history to have claimed the AHL crown in back-to-back seasons. The following is a recap of the Barracuda's journey through the 2018-19 AHL playoffs.


Round 1, Pacific Division Semifinal: 3-0 series win vs Stockton Heat

Just like in 2018, the Barracuda's opponent in the first round would be the Stockton Heat, one of their California rivals in the Pacific Division. And although San Jose took that 2018 showdown in a three-game sweep, the 2019 edition of the Heat looked much more formidable on paper heading into the rematch.

As if to underline the point, Game 1 stayed deadlocked at 2-2 all the way into triple overtime, with Stockton netminder Joonas Korpisalo standing on his head to stop 55 shots over 6 periods. With the Barracuda taking six penalties in overtime alone, the underdog Heat had their chances to steal the series opener; however, late-season trade addition Ryan Sproul ended the marathon for the defending champs, hammering home a powerplay goal 12 minutes into the third extra frame.

Game 2 found San Jose living up to their status as favourites, outshooting Stockton by a margin of 37-24 en route to a 4-3 victory and a 2-0 series lead. And back in Stockton for Game 3 the ice was again tilted in the Barracuda's favour, with forward Nail Yakupov scoring an incredible natural hat trick in a span of four minutes during the second period. Nevertheless, the Heat fought hard to keep their season alive on home ice, and at the end of regulation the game was knotted at 4-4.

This time, however, there would be no triple overtime needed, as defender Carl Dahlstrom floated home a seeing-eye point shot to win the game midway through the first overtime, sealing a second consecutive sweep for the Barracuda over the Heat.

"All the credit in the world to those guys over there, but I never wanna see them again," said a visibly exhausted Roland McKeown, who had averaged 27:04 of ice time over the three games. "I don't care what the scoreboard says, that was one hell of a series."


Round 2, Pacific Division Final: 4-2 series win vs Rapid City Rush

There was a sense of symmetry to the Barracuda's second round matchup against the Rapid City Rush, with Sharks GM Kyle Phillips taking on his predecessor, Doug Waite, who had left San Jose to take over the expansion Vegas Golden Knights in 2017. The rumour mill even hinted that some of Waite's infamous beer stash was still somewhere in the SJSEE offices, and Phillips was just waiting for the opportunity to crack into a symbolic keg should the series go his team's way.

Right from puck drop, however, the Rush made it clear that they would be no pushover; the Barracuda managed to outscore their problems in a 5-4 victory in Game 1, but had been roundly outplayed by the gritty and determined Rush. Game 2 continued the trend, with Rapid City outshooting San Jose by a 32-18 margin and gutting out a 2-1 win.

The Barracuda would then grind out a 2-1 result of their own after the series shifted to South Dakota, while a 4-3 win in Game 4—and 41 shots on goal—suggested that the Pacific Division champs had found their form as they took a commanding three games to one lead.

Down but never out, Waite's boys stole a 2-1 overtime thriller in Game 5 to keep the door open for an epic comeback. But Phillips's squad struck back on home ice in Game 6, clinching another series with a 4-3 OT victory.

After the dust had settled, Phillips borrowed from an old rugby tradition by inviting Waite and his entire team into the home dressing room, where the two sides shared a few laughs over some finely-aged Pabst Blue Ribbon.

"It only seemed fitting," said Phillips. "I'm the first one to throw shade at the guys who came before me in San Jose, but Doug actually left me in a pretty good spot."

"The kegs were the last of Doug's stuff we had around here, and I figured we might as well enjoy them together."


Round 3, Western Conference Final: 4-0 series win vs Chicago Wolves

The Barracuda had been clear favourites in their first two series, at least as far as the standings were concerned, but that would all change against the Chicago Wolves in the conference final. The Wolves had been a powerhouse throughout the regular season, finishing 5th overall in the AHL and barely a tenth of a winning percentage point behind the Barracuda. Led by the AHL's all-time leading goal-scorer in Rocco Grimaldi, as well as all-time assists leader Connor Carrick, the Wolves organization wasn't shy about their championship aspirations.

Considering all that, the Barracuda's 6-1 victory in Game 1 came as a shock for all involved. Although the scoreline could largely be chalked up to a horrendous showing by Wolves starter Alex Nedeljkovic, it turned out that the lopsided result would set the tone for the entire series.

Game 2 saw Nedeljkovic rebound in a big way, but unfortunately for him the rest of his team failed to show up, as the Barracuda dominated the shot clock 32-15 and came away with a 2-1 triumph. A quick turnaround to Game 3 the very next night in Chicago led to a tight affair that appeared to be heading for overtime before a back-breaking goal by Austin Czarnik with under a minute to play gave the Barracuda a 4-3 win.

In a matter of just four days San Jose had built a stunning 3-0 series lead, and the blitzkrieg proved too much for Chicago to overcome. Despite another hard-fought affair in Game 4, the Barracuda again victimized the Wolves with a heartbreaking goal, this time off the stick of playoff assassin Frank Vatrano with only 7 seconds left on the clock.

"Surprised we got it done in four, to be honest with you," said Barracuda Head Coach Mike Vellucci when asked how he felt after the final whistle. "You never plan to lose, but believe me, I was strategizing for six or seven games. But we had some things go our way this week, and we'll definitely take it."


Round 4, Calder Cup Final: 4-2 series win vs Greenville Road Warriors

With three rounds in the books the Barracuda were on a roll, never trailing in any series and never having faced an elimination game. Meanwhile, their opponents in the Calder Cup Final, the Greenville Road Warriors, had followed a similar path. Yes, Andrew Payeur's squad had needed a deciding fifth game to overcome the MacGregor Kilpatrick-winning Charlotte Checkers in the first round, but they had generally looked in control of their destiny throughout the postseason, knocking off two division champions and also never trailing in a series. With that kind of track record, plus a Calder Cup-winning GM at the helm, the Warriors had officially shaken any potential underdog status despite entering the playoffs as a wildcard team.

Obviously this all meant something had to give in Game 1, and that something turned out to be San Jose's third-period defense; with a 1-0 lead and 13 minutes remaining in the contest, the Barracuda surrendered three goals on six shots, losing by a final of 3-1.

The late collapse was undoubtedly a punch in the nose for a team that prided itself on gaining steam over the course of 60 minutes. Indeed, in Game 2 the Barracuda played like they had something to prove, raining down 45 shots on Greenville starter Andrew Hammond and steamrolling their way to a 5-3 win.

With the Final already off to a crackling start, Game 3 turned out to be the sort of instant classic the playoffs are made for—a double-overtime thriller that saw a combined 95 shots over four and a half periods as the AHL's respective conference champs traded haymakers. Ultimately another timely Vatrano goal would secure a huge 4-3 win for San Jose, but all the extra minutes proved costly for starting netminder Antoine Bibeau, who succumbed to severe dehydration after the game. As a result, former number one Alex Lyon was tapped ahead of Game 4 as San Jose sought to take a 3-1 stranglehold. Unfortunately, Lyon would only remind everyone why he had lost the starter's job in the regular season, posting a disastrous .792 save percentage to hand the Road Warriors a 5-4 win and a 2-2 series tie.

Bibeau would return to the nets for Game 5, but ironically enough he didn't need to be all that good, as his team erupted for a 6-2 win. Fuelled by offensive depth, and notable for the team's 18th and 19th powerplay markers in just 19 playoff contests, it was the kind of statement game the Barracuda had been looking for since the series began.

Back in San Jose for Game 6, with a chance to claim a second AHL title on home ice, it was the Barracuda's old guard who stepped up to claim the moment: With their team holding a narrow 1-0 lead midway through the second period, the duo of Czarnik and Vatrano teamed up for a powerplay score to give their side a two-goal advantage with 30 minutes to play. Refusing to die, the Road Warriors would respond just 10 seconds later to cut the lead to one, but a Czarnik goal barely three minutes after that put the 'Cuda back in control for good. Wih a 3-1 lead, the defending champs held fast for the rest of the game, and when the final horn sounded the celebration was on for a second straight year. 

It was a vintage performance from two iconic Barracuda, both of whom will almost certainly graduate to full-time NHL duty next season. The icing on the cake came when Scott Laughton, himself a key contributer during the previous year's title run, accepted the Calder Cup at center ice. Posing for the requisite photos, Laughton immediately handed off the gleaming trophy to player-coach Duncan Siemens.

"We actually talked as a team at the end of the season, and Dunker wanted to give me the 'C' for the playoffs," said Laughton in an ice-level interview. "But we didn't want to mess with the good karma we had going. And when we kept rolling it sorta became our own version of the playoff beard.

"Whatever works, right?"

And so, it's mission accomplished for the San Jose Barracuda once again. Pegged by many as a Calder Cup favourite back in October, the team never seemed to fire on all cylinders during the regular season but still finished with the second-best record in the AHL. Constant struggles on special teams plus an overall lack of chemistry looked as though they could derail the Barracuda's championship ambitions in 2018-19, but the tireless efforts of Vellucci and his staff brought the best out of the squad when it mattered most.

Soon enough of course, the usual offseason turnover will start to chip away at the roster of the back-to-back champs. But for this summer at least, they can enjoy their status as the AHL's preeminent franchise, before the 2019-20 season begins and a target lands squarely on their back for another year.




Kevin Lacy

Wrong logo, meat! Good work on the Petan shot though! I always appreciate stuff like this.

San Jose Barracuda 2019 Playoff Recap
Calder Cup Stays in the Bay

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