sam anas heard the whispers that grew louder as the Eastern Conference Finals against Laval progressed.
The hottest player in the American Hockey League had gone uncharacteristically cold. In Springfield’s first two playoff rounds, Anas had 13 points (four goals, nine assists) in six games, including four consecutive multi-point efforts.
Then production stopped ― abruptly. Anas went seven games without points and Springfield felt the pressure of a production shutdown, perhaps the biggest key to the team‘s offense. Anas, whose 64 points (20 goals, 44 assists) in 75 regular season games led the team, had gone no more than five games during the regular season without a point, and that drought came in the during a grueling series of five games in seven nights in April.
At the worst possible time, Anas couldn’t get the rebounds and luck that any good scorer needs, especially against a goalie as hot as Laval’s. Cayden Primeau.
Anas finally broke through in Game 7 on Wednesday, picking up an assist on a power-play goal in the second period by Nathan Todd. It’s a testament to early round production for Anas that he’s still averaging better than a point per game this postseason.
A sixth-year pro who won the John B. Sollenberger Trophy in 2019-20 as the AHL’s leading scorer with 70 points (20 goals, 50 assists) in 63 games, Anas had enough confidence built up to weather that slump.
“I think it’s one of those things that for me, at least, when I’m not producing points I get more frustrated if I don’t get any chances,” Anas said after practice yesterday. “And I felt like throughout this series I still had opportunities where I was just hitting posts or Primeau was making those saves.
“For me it’s more frustrating when I feel like I’m not involved and I don’t have a chance. So yeah, it was frustrating not to produce or score or something like that. But the simple fact that I was in the mix every game is really what helped me out.
That others, in particular the Mackenzie MacEachern–Dakota Joshua–will be bitten line, more than picked up Springfield’s scoring burden also helped. So did the Calder Cup final and a chance to start fresh in this series.
“When you win every other game, and when you win the series, all of a sudden you don’t care at all [about a slump]“, continued Anas.
“We are moving forward and we are happy.
One unknown Wolves could face against Springfield is the special teams battle.
Against the offensively dangerous Stockton in all six games of the Western Conference Finals, Wolves burned 27 of Stockton’s 28 power play opportunities. In 13 playoff games, Chicago’s penalty is 51 for 59 (86.4%).
‘It’s just the guys buying’, Wolves defender Cavan Fitzgerald told reporters. “Block shots, get the puck 200 feet.”
Now, Chicago will face a Springfield power play that has been both a boost and a challenge for the Thunderbirds this postseason. Springfield sizzled on the man advantage in the first two rounds against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Charlotte, converting at a 37.9% rate (11 for 29). Against Laval, however, the Thunderbirds fell 0-for-29 on the power play in the first six games before clicking twice on three chances in a 4-0 victory in Game 7.
Springfield’s penalty runs 85.7 percent (36 for 42) in the playoffs. The Thunderbirds will be tasked with stopping, or at least slowing down, a Chicago power play with multiple looks and weapons. Wolves click 25.9% (14 for 54).
“Special teams run the playoffs,” Fitzgerald said.
― patrick williams