TUCSON, ARIZ – The Tucson Roadrunners and San Jose Barracuda meet in round one of the Calder Cup Playoffs in a matchup of two cities which are part of the AHL’s recent western expansion. The Roadrunners are in their second season in Tucson, while 2017-18 is the third in San Jose for the Barracuda. San Jose lost in the first round in 2016, before making a run to the West Final last season, and will look to build upon the experience.
The squads have taken two very different roads to reach this point, with San Jose almost counted out of qualifying as recently as two weeks ago. The Barracuda were 10 points back with 10 days left in the season, but finished the year with six-straight victories to capitalize on San Diego’s collapse and make the playoffs. Tucson, on the other hand, has known it would be here for awhile. The talented Roadrunners have led the Pacific Division most of the season, and locked up first place around the time San Jose started gaining ground on the Gulls.
The two sides have yet to meet in the postseason, with this being Tucson’s first appearance, but have met 16 times in the past two regular seasons. San Jose has had the better of the play so for, claiming victory in ten of the 16 previous match ups.
Final Regular Season Records:
Tucson Roadrunners: 42-20-5-1, 90 points, .662 Points Percentage (1st in Pacific Division, 1st in Western Conference)
San Jose Barracuda: 34-26-4-4, 76 points, .559 Points Percentage (4th in Pacific Division, 8th in Western Conference)
Game 1 – Thursday, April 19 – Tucson at SAN JOSE 7:00 pm PT
Game 2 – Saturday, April 21 – Tucson at SAN JOSE 7:00 pm PT
Game 3 – Wednesday, April 25 – San Jose at TUCSON 7:05 pm PT
*Game 4 – Friday, April 27 – San Jose at TUCSON 7:05 pm PT
*Game 5 – Saturday, April 28 – San Jose at TUCSON 7:05 pm PT
*=> If Necessary
Season Series Recap:
San Jose and Tucson met eight times in 2017-18, with five of the eight coming since February 5. Tucson had the better record overall, but for the second-straight season San Jose had the edge head-to-head. The Barracuda acquired 11 points against the Roadrunners (5-2-0-1), while Tucson could only manage seven of its own (3-4-1-0). The road team won five-of-eight, with San Jose going 3-1-0-0 in Tucson, and Tucson went 2-2-0-0 in San Jose. It was a tight series in terms of total goals scored, with San Jose barely edging Tucson 22-21.
Tucson did play six of the eight without stud rookies Dylan Strome and Nick Merkley, who each were held scoreless in just two appearances against San Jose. Strome (53 points in 50 games) and Merkley (39 points in 38 games) are both point-per-game guys when in the lineup, and their scoring will be a big boost for the Roadrunners in this series. San Jose has added a pair of scoring threats of its own that Tucson has not seen, however. Sasha Chmelevski and Ivan Chekhovich each played their first pro games on April 4, with Chmelevski picking up four points (3G, 1A) and Chekhovich nine points (3G, 6A) over the final six games. They have yet to taste defeat at the AHL level, as San Jose closed the season on a six-game winning streak.
How Tucson Wins:
Tucson is the better team on paper, and if the play the way they are capable they will win this series. Tucson has been towards the top of the league statistics all season, ranking in the top seven in both goals against (2.54 per game, 4th in the league) and goals for (3.15 per game, 7th in the league). They have had their struggles against San Jose, but they have also yet to have been at their best against the Barracuda. Strome and Merkley will add a wealth of offense, and if Adin Hill is having trouble in net Hunter Miska is a great option to start between the pipes. This is a very deep team, and as long they can keep calm in their first postseason, the young Roadrunners will move on to round two.
How San Jose Wins:
The Barracuda are certainly the underdog, but they can look to the regular season for inspiration. They won five-of-eight against Tucson in the regular campaign, and in three of the wins, they were able to get to Roadrunners goalie Hill early. In those three games, Hill stopped just 26-of-36 shots against and would be pulled in two of the three. San Jose was quite good at playing with an early lead this season, as the Barracuda gained at least one point in 100% of games in which they led after 20 minutes (14-0-1-1). If the Barracuda are able to score first consistently, they will have every chance to advance to the second round.