They’ve got a solid group of veteran leaders, a number of young prospects and strong goaltending.
While there are certainly differences, the Bakersfield Condors and San Diego Gulls, who meet in Game 1 of the Calder Cup Playoffs Pacific Division Finals on Friday night a Rabobank Arena, have a lot of similarities.
“They have skill, there’s numerous first-round draft picks in their lineup. They can score,” Condors coach Jay Woodcroft said of the Gulls. “They have a good mix of young and old, as well. And (defense) that’s big and experienced. They’re going to be a tough matchup.”
The teams met 10 times during the regular season with the Condors garnering 10 points (4-4-2-0) and the Gulls 13 (6-3-0-1). The Gulls had the Condors’ number early in the season but the Condors got the better of the Gulls late in the season, going 3-0-0-1 down the stretch.
“They’re a good team,” Condors captain Keegan Lowe said. “A lot of these things we’re saying about ourselves and people are saying about us you can flip the card and write the exact same things about them. They’ve got depth top to bottom.”
The Condors advanced by beating fourth-seeded Colorado three games to one and the third-seeded Gulls got by second-seeded San Jose three games to one. Both won their first game, dropped the second, then won two straight.
“As much as we respect what they bring to the table, our focus is going to be on us, our preparation and making sure we’re playing to our full potential,” Woodcroft said.
And Woodcroft believes the Condors can play to that potential with a variety of lineup options.
When defenseman Evan Bouchard joined the team, Woodcroft inserted him into the lineup by going with an unconventional lineup of 11 forwards and seven defensemen. It worked as Bouchard potted two goals and two assists in his two games.
“You have to be able to adjust in certain situations,” Condors veteran Brad Malone said of the unique lineup in the last two games against Colorado. “It doesn’t really matter … everybody’s prepared.”
The Condors got a little deeper on Thursday when center Ryan McLeod, the 40th overall pick by Edmonton Oilers in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, joined the team.
It’s good timing for the Condors as rookie All-Star center Cooper Marody was injured in Game 4 against Colorado and did not skate this week.
Woodcroft did not say if McLeod would jump right into the playoff fray on Friday night.
“We’re such a deep team here in Bakersfield with multiple options,” he said. “We’ve got nine defensemen that can all contribute and over five lines of forwards. Those are first-world problems for a coaching staff to have.
“We’re going to take our time, we’re going to sleep on it. We liked what we saw today with our four lines. We’ll make a game-time decision come tomorrow night.”