Eastern Conference Finals heads to Chocolatetown!

Deep Dive: North Division Champions defend their title in the North Division Finals

May 15, 2024


As the dust settles following Cleveland’s thrilling 3-1 defeat of the Belleville Senators in Friday’s game four of the North Division Semi-Finals in front of over 12,000 fans at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, it’s important to reflect on just how difficult the Senators made things during the series. Excluding the buzzer-beating empty-netter that delivered a two-goal win for Cleveland on Friday, each game of the series was a one-goal affair with three total overtime periods needed spanning games two and three – suffice it to say, nothing came easy for the victorious Monsters.


Congratulations to the Sens on their first-round series win over Toronto, the first playoff series victory in club history, and special congratulations to rookie goaltender Leevi Merilainen who stepped in for starter Mads Sogaard in game five having not played yet in the postseason. He was marvelous, turning aside 27 of 29 pucks and giving his team a chance to prevail in a truly hostile environment.



The North Division Final will be a classic heavyweight bout between bitter division foes that battled to a mostly-even four-game regular-season series. In 2023-24, Cleveland went 2-1-0-1 vs. Syracuse and 1-0-0-1 on the road with a -3 goal differential (10/13). Monsters forward Trey Fix-Wolansky led the way with two goals and four points in four games against the Crunch and harbors fond memories of his time at Upstate Medical University Arena, I’m sure. Back in late December, Fix-Wolansky bookended the scoring for Cleveland in a 4-3 overtime road win over the Crunch, setting a new career franchise goal scoring record with his first tally, and tying the Monsters’ all-time scoring mark with the overtime winner, assisted by none other than Cleveland’s All-Star net-minder Jet Greaves.


In the playoffs, Syracuse (like Cleveland) is without their captain due to injury, but when considering the Crunch’s offensive prospects, one’s mind inevitably turns to star forward Alex Barre-Boulet. A former QMJHL MVP and CHL Player of the Year, Barre-Boulet is a two-time AHL All-Star and claimed AHL Rookie of the Year honors in 2018-19 when he led the league with 34 goals. Thus far in the postseason, Barre-Boulet (5 GP, 2-3-5) is second on the team to forward Gage Goncalves (5 GP, 1-5-6) in scoring.


While Greaves has continued to absolutely dazzle in net for the Monsters – he currently ranks among the AHL’s playoff leaders in goals-against average (1.80, 3rd) and save percentage (.942, 2nd) – Syracuse has relied on Traverse City, Michigan native Brandon Halverson between the pipes. Halverson, who split time between the Crunch and the ECHL’s Orlando Solar Bears this season, played every minute of Syracuse’s five-game series against Rochester, going 3-2 with a 2.23 GAA and .914 S%.



For the die-hard Monsters fans, there’s one truly unique and thrilling added element to this year’s playoff run – the chance to go not just behind the scenes, but literally inside the Cleveland dressing room between periods, in-game, and in the aftermath of each and every playoff contest – each chapter of the Monsters’ playoff story. How could that be possible? Through the outstanding work of Columbus Blue Jackets Video Producer/Editor Jonathan DeMuth (@JonathanDeMuth on “X”), who’s been embedded with the Monsters and capturing incredible content since the beginning of the run.


His game-by-game recaps are quite simply and without exaggeration, the best pieces of AHL content I’ve ever seen in nine years in the league and they are not to be missed by any fan who shares in the excitement and possibilities of playoff hockey. Catch each installment below and keep your eyes peeled on the Blue Jackets’ YouTube channel for additional pieces as the playoffs progress.


Game 4            -           Game 3            -           Game 2



Finally this week as we think back to playoff runs gone by, we again pause to highlight a true hero of the 2016 Calder Cup Championship team, the one and only “Sedsy-Cat” himself, Lukas Sedlak. A valuable depth centerman, Sedlak posted 14-4-18 in 54 regular-season games that year, but exploded in the playoffs to the tune of nine goals and 16 points in 17 postseason appearances, not to mention a team-leading +16 rating. Sedlak was only surpassed in goals and equaled in points on the Monsters’ roster by the eventual Playoff MVP Oliver Bjorkstrand, but Sedlak’s magic moment came one round early, in the Western Conference Finals.


After building a 3-0 series lead, the Monsters had a chance to close out the Ontario Reign at home in game four on Thursday, May 26, 2016. In the only other Monsters playoff contest to go to double overtime prior to this season’s game three thriller in the North Division Semi-Finals vs. Belleville, Sedlak rose to the occasion at 6:25 of the second extra frame and pounded a Josh Anderson rebound past longtime NHL’er Peter Budaj in net for the LA Kings’ affiliate, the AHL’s top goalie that year, to lift Cleveland into the Calder Cup Finals for the first time in club history. There’s no question – that goal remains one of the biggest ever scored in Monsters history.

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