American Hockey League Minor leagues
The Gulls open up an unusual AHL playoff run Friday against Bakersfield. Photo credit; @SDGullsAHL, via Twitter

The San Diego Gulls, seeded third in the American Hockey League’s Pacific Division, open their semifinal playoff series on the road Friday against the Bakersfield Condors.

“This is, I think, as good as a team you can find at the AHL level,” said forward Trevor Zegras, who along with Sam Carrick and Jamie Drysdale, rejoined the Gulls for the postseason. “We’ve got tons of guys ready to go right now, and for the most part, we’re healthy, which is important at this time of the year.”

The Gulls’ series opens at 6 p.m. Friday, with Game 2 to follow at 5 p.m. Sunday (and airing on the CW San Diego.) If necessary, Game 3 begins at 6 p.m. Monday.

Two seasons ago, San Diego and Bakersfield squared off in a memorable second-round Western Conference matchup. The Gulls won the fifth-longest game in AHL history with a 3-2, four-overtime victory in Game 1.

They went on to win the series in six games, advancing to the conference finals for the first time in team history.

“They’ve always been a pretty good team as long as I’ve been here,” Carrick, a forward, said of Bakersfield, which finished with a 24-14 record. “They’re very well coached, they seem to always have good structure and when they’re playing their best, they can be a tough team to generate offense against. They’re always on top of you; they’re not giving you any time and space.”

The Gulls (26-17-1-0) have potent tools of their own. Forward Andrew Poturalski won the John B. Sollenberger Trophy as the player with most points during the regular season. He’s the first player in team history to win an AHL season award and the first Anaheim Ducks prospect to win the scoring title.

The 2021 AHL playoffs will be unique and limited with the pandemic still a concern.

AHL President and Chief Executive Officer Scott Howson announced last month that due to COVID-19 protocols, there will be no Calder Cup Playoffs again this season.

Instead, the league offered its five divisions the opportunity to determine their own postseason format. The members of the Pacific Division opted for a playoff tournament. The other four divisions will not have postseason play.

Three clubs – the Tucson Roadrunners, Ontario Reign and Colorado Eagles – saw their postseason hopes end after the first play-in round this week, with the John D. Chick Trophy, awarded annually to the team that finishes first, on the line.

In the other semi-final, the San Jose Barracuda, seeded fourth, face the division-leading Henderson Silver Knights.

Although the 2021 postseason is odd, Zegras said simply, “it’s still playoff hockey.”

“I’m excited to play. I love hockey, I love the game,” he said. “I’ll be ready to play, and I know these guys will too, because we definitely want to win this thing.”