Having reached the Calder Cup Playoffs for the 12th consecutive season, the Penguins’ postseason run begins with a familiar opponent. For the second year in a row, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Binghamton will throw down in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal.
The best-of-five series begins tonight at 7:05 p.m. at Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena.
During the regular season, the battle for the East Division Crown came down to the final weekend in an April 18th match-up between the Penguins and Senators. A 5-4 victory for Binghamton secured their third-ever division title and a perfect 4-0 record on home ice versus Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Needless to say, home ice proved a significant advantage in the season series between these two rivals. At Broome County Veteran Memorial Arena, Binghamton took all four of its matches, outscoring Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, 21-11. Conversely, the Penguins went three 3-0-1-0 at home against the Senators, holding Binghamton’s high-flying offense to just six goals.
This series will pit the best defense in the American Hockey League against the number-one offense. The Senators led league this season with 276 goals scored and a 3.63 goals per game average. Their offense features seven active players with at least 40 points each, as the Senators have gotten contributions from up and down their roster.
Rookie left wing Matt Puempel provided plenty of offense for the Senators this season, recording 48 points in 74 games. His 30 goals led Binghamton and were third among first-year players. Puempel was also a force on the man-advantage where he tallied 15 power play goals to lead AHL rookies.
Both with four goals in the season series, Puempel joins Jean-Gabriel Pageau as the leading scorers versus the Penguins. After returning from Ottawa at the end of the NHL regular season, Pageau made his presence felt in that April 18th game against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, netting the first regular season hat trick of his pro career.
When Binghamton’s leading scorer Mike Hoffman was recalled to Ottawa, it was center Stephane Da Costa who helped pick up the slack. With 58 points (18g-40a) for Binghamton, Da Costa was amongst the top 20 point-getters in the AHL this season.
In only 37 games with the Senators, Mark Stone had 41 points (15g-26a) and also put seven points (2g-5a) in just three contests versus the Penguins. Then there is defenseman Chris Wideman, who nearly tripled his points-total from last season, tallying 51 points (9g-42a) for the Senators to also finish fourth among league blueliners.
The Penguins will look to contain the many contributors on the Senators offense with a defense that allowed the fewest goals in the AHL this season (185).
Peter Mannino was outstanding in goal down the stretch for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, owning a span of 13 straight starts where he allowed two goals or less, while also posting a 10-3-1 record and four shutous.
He will be countered by Binghamton’s Andrew Hammond, who had a solid rookie campaign in goal, registering a goals against average of 2.81 and a record of 25-19-3. In five games against the Penguins, Hammond went 4-1-0 with just 13 goals against.
Offensively, the Penguins will turn to its veteran scorers. Tom Kostopoulos led the team with 47 points (22g-25a) and is the team’s all-time playoff point leader with 38 (11g-27a).
No player in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton history has had a better start with the team than Chuck Kobasew, a right wing with 601 NHL games under his belt. He has already potted 11 goals, scoring in nine of his first 12 appearances with the Penguins.
Kobasew has developed good chemistry with center Andrew Ebbett, who finished the season on a hot streak. He posted points in 13 of his last 15 games, including a 12-game assist streak.
Center Nick Drazenovic led all Penguins against the Senators this season with eight points (2g-6a) in seven games.
As always seems to be the case during the playoffs, special teams will be sure to play a factor in the series. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Binghamton were the top two teams in shorthanded goals this season. The Senators led the AHL with 16, while the Penguins were just two of the pace with 14.
Binghamton’s power play ranked fifth in the league, clicking a rate of 20.7%, but had particular success versus Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. In the eight-game season series, the Senators went 13-for-42 (31.0%) on the man-advantage against the Penguins.
This is the third-ever meeting in the playoffs for the Penguins and Senators. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton also defeated Binghamton in six games in the 2005 East Division Semifinal.
Game Two of this series will take place on Saturday at 7:05 p.m. in Binghamton before returning to Mohegan Sun Arena for Game Three on Wednesday, April 30.
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