I’d like to reflect back to the West Division Finals for a moment…
Honestly, I could write about the Aeros / Admirals series forever – it was as about as exciting as playoff hockey gets. Three straight overtime games for the first time in franchise history followed up by a nail-biting Game 7 where the game-winner came with less than 90 seconds to play.
It was a great series – one I was certainly proud / lucky to be a part of. However, it’s time to move on and that MUST be the Aeros’ mindset for tonight’s Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.
There can be no emotional hangover for the home side this evening and I think it’s up to the Aeros’ leadership group to make sure that’s the case. I’m looking for guys like Warren Peters and Drew Bagnall to lead that charge since both of them reached the third round a year ago. It’s important for the Aeros to find their game quickly tonight and stick with it, thus dictating the style and pace of tonight’s game.
Here’s what I gathered this morning at each team’s respective skate (there’s more of course up on aeros.com today via Game Day Audio):
Bulldogs’ head coach Randy Cunneyworth said his team is still looking for more consistency in their game, touching on “thought process” as one of their areas to improve. He said he’s not concerned about an emotional hangover and feels his team is ready for tonight. Veteran defenseman Alex Henry told me his team needs to continue to get offensive contributions from multiple lines and that the key to tonight’s game is a good start and sticking with the game plan.
The Bulldogs are led by their top line of Dustin Boyd centering Nigel Dawes and Aaron Palushaj – those three have accumulated 40% of the team’s tallies thus far in the postseason. Shut them down, and one would think the Aeros have a great shot to win this series.
Talking with Aeros’ head coach Mike Yeo this morning, he said the Bulldogs are a quick team that will use soft chips to effectively create a forecheck. He also said they shoot from everywhere, so Matt Hackett’s rebound control and clearing the front of the net defensively will be big for the Aeros in this series.
I don’t expect any lineup changes for the Aeros tonight.
Here are some numbers to chew on:
- The Aeros are 10-7 in their Calder Cup history in Game 1’s
- This is just the fourth time in Calder cup playoff history that two teams square off after previously winning a decisive seventh game
- The Aeros and Bulldogs split their two regular season meetings, both of which were played in December
- The Aeros are 6-2 when they allow the first goal this postseason
As usual, I sent some questions via email to my counterpart, Derek Wills, voice of the Hamilton Bulldogs.
Here is the Q&A:
1. What’s the biggest strength of the Bulldogs heading into this round? In my opinion, the Bulldogs biggest strength would be their balance on forward and defence, strong goaltending and their commitment to doing what ever it takes to win. Also, the experience gained in going to Game 7 of the conference finals last season has helped the team learn what it takes to win.
2. How much has the Bulldogs roster changed and how has the team improved since December when the Aeros and Bulldogs last played? The Bulldogs roster has changed considerably since December. David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty, who led the league in points and goals and were the team’s top two skaters, were recalled by the Montreal Canadiens in December and haven’t returned. Curtis Sanford was probably the top goaltender in the league before injuring his shoulder and being lost for the season in March.
3. What has made goaltender Drew MacIntyre so successful this postseason? MacIntrye has started every game (34 straight) since being acquired at the NHL’s trade deadline. His experience and leadership has been very important on what is a relatively young team. His dedication to getting mentally and physically prepared is incredible. The team is confident in him and he’s confident in the team.
4. Any intangibles or possible difference makers for the Bulldogs that stand out to you entering this series? Secondary scoring will be important. If the Aeros are able to limit the Bulldogs’ top line, the other three lines and the defencemen will have to pick up the slack. On the flip side, the Bulldogs will have to limit the damage that superstars like Patrick O’Sullivan and Maxim Noreau do. They’ll also have to find a way to get shots and bodies to the net to make life a little more difficult for Matt Hackett, who is obviously playing very well.
Enjoy tonight’s Game 1!
– Aero Joe