The matchup is set between the Milwaukee Admirals and the regular-season Central Division Champion Texas Stars.
Admirals head coach Karl Taylor said he and his staff are watching plenty of film on the Stars in preparation for Game 1 on Friday at Panther Arena in Milwaukee.
“We’ll spit out probably 10 percent to the team, the most important stuff,” Taylor told Nashville Hockey Now. “Then we’ll focus on ourselves. I think sometimes in these situations, coaches tend to over-coach or pump too much information into the locker room. We want it to be really sharp and precise and not kind of a shotgun blast. So, they know exactly what we’re looking for and why, and then we really want to focus on ourselves.”
Starting goaltender Yaroslav Askarov is faring well in his first taste of North American postseason hockey, and he’s seemingly been in the right spots at the right time, according to Taylor. Through five games, the Russian goalie and Nashville Predators top prospect is 3-2 with a 2.35 goals-against average and .915 save percentage.
“No secrets here — he’s going to play Game 1,” Taylor said. “He’s a good young prospect. His game was growing all season. Again, I would attribute that to (goaltending development coach) Dave Rook and our goalie staff.”
Taylor emphasized in Games 4 and 5 the team needed to give Askarov more goal support and limit the offensive success of the Manitoba Moose.
“As the series went on, we played better and we were more supportive of (Askarov),” Taylor said. “He doesn’t have to go out and win games for us. We just want him to give us a chance to win games, that’s the message to him and hopefully he continues with that and lets the game come to him.”
It’ll take a collaborative effort from the Admirals in the next round of the playoffs as the Stars present a step up in competition over the Moose (Texas scored 38 more goals and had six more points in the regular-season standings). Milwaukee is just fine with taking a one-game-at-a-time approach.
“They’re a tight group — they really care about each other,” Taylor said. “The significant others are caring about each other. It’s a really tight group that is excited to be here and excited to continue this journey. That’s not always the case and it is in this situation.”
The Stars led the American Hockey League in scoring during the regular season (238 goals), and they’ve notched 13 goals in just three postseason games in sweeping the Rockford Ice Hogs in their opening series of the Calder Cup Playoffs.
“They’re a deep offensive team,” Taylor stated. “In the same breath, they compete hard and have awareness on the defensive side of the puck. That’s a good formula for a club. They’re going to give us a lot of difficulties to handle. I think the dial is really tight to start the series. Out of it being 50/50, it’s maybe 51/49 to start the series. But as it goes on, the goal of each team is going to be to turn that dial in their favor.”
During their first-round series, the Admirals had their pick of where the series started. Now, the home-ice advantage is tilted in favor of the Stars. Games 1 and 2 are in Milwaukee, then the following games will be played in Austin, Texas.
“We’re excited to play on Friday and we’re very focused on it,” Taylor added. “We were a great road team in the regular season, we’re not worried about that. The next few games (are here), so we’re going to be ready to go when the puck is ready to be dropped.”
The Admirals were the AHL’s third-best road team during the regular season, compiling a 23-10-3 record. Only the Calgary Wranglers and Providence Bruins had more wins away from home than Milwaukee.
Puck drop for Game 1 of the Central Division Final is Friday at 7 p.m. CT.