Back at ya with another blog (making up for lost time, I guess)…
Let’s start with the Aeros, given that this weekend’s three-in-three is somewhat important (awfully sarcastic of me, I know). Think about this for a moment – has there ever been a bigger final weekend of the regular season in the Aeros AHL history? There was never this final weekend pressure and magnitude in my first 3 seasons here, and there couldn’t have been in ’07 when they missed the playoffs or ’03 or ’06 when the Aeros were flat out dominant. That only leaves a handful of years for you to weigh against this current campaign…something to chew on while you’re waiting for Friday night…
This is a great time to be a hockey fan, and more specifically an AHL / Aeros fan. Right now in the Western Conference, 5th place and 11th place are separated by just 2 points. That’s 1 good or bad game – one overtime winner or huge save – away from leapfrogging several teams. It’s unreal how close this thing is. And let me add this, if the Aeros (or Rampage or Checkers or Monsters, etc.) miss the playoffs and finish say 12th, is it a bad season for them? Heck no – this is just one of those year’s where the parity is off the charts – everyone is beating up on everyone and the difference between the “haves” and the “have nots” just isn’t that big.
Here are a few things to watch for heading into the final weekend in the Western Conference:
- The Battle For 1st: All of a sudden the Toronto Marlies and Oklahoma City Barons are tied for the conference lead with 95 points. When and how that happened, I’m not really sure. Thus, the Aeros will have a motivated team awaiting them on Friday night in OKC…should make for a great game.
- Prosser’s Return: Nate Prosser played in his first Aeros game since mid January on Sunday, and although it was far from the best game I’ve ever seen him play, his presence in the lineup was certainly felt. His shot blocking prowess and ability to log a ton of ice time is huge for this team down the stretch. He’s a calming presence and a great puck mover – if the team finds success this reason, #15 will be a big reason why.
- The “3rd” Line: Secondary scoring is huge this time of year, thus the David McIntyre, Justin Fontaine and Joel Broda line is crucial this weekend. This line loves to cycle down low and can score off the rush as well. I’m confident the veterans will come up big in the final 3 games, but can the McIntyre line add that extra scoring punch? Their track record this season says yes…
NOW, SOME KEYS TO VICTORY FOR EACH GAME…
- Friday @ OKC: Traffic in front of Barons’ goaltender Yann Danis / Slow OKC through the neutral zone
- Saturday vs. SAN: Score first / Pound their D on the forecheck / Cycle
- Sunday vs. TEX: Stay out of the box / Find skating legs
On to some opening round, Stanley Cup predictions:
#1 Rangers vs. #8 Senators – Rangers in 6 (Craig Anderson steals 1 road game for Ottawa and the Sens offense gets to Henrik Lundqvist once at home, but the Rangers are too deep for the Sens)
#2 Bruins vs. #7 Capitals – Bruins in 5 (Boston will be ready to defend their title…Ovechkin lights it up once to help the Caps avoid a sweep)
#3 Panthers vs. #6 Devils – Devils in 7 (Don’t really know why I think this will be a long series, but I think Martin Brodeur has one more solid playoff series in him…Lot of talk about Zach Parise playing for a contract; I’ll buy that…Panthers had a nice season but it ends in round 1)
#4 Penguins vs. #5 Flyers – Flyers in 7 (Yes, this is my homer pick…so shoot me. Illya Bryzgalov will earn his $$$ in this series…Flyers need a gigantic effort from their D to keep Pens in check…for the Flyers to have a chance, I think they have to win Game 1 tonight, unless Marc-Andre Fleury is average)
#1 Canucks vs. Kings – Canucks in 5 (LA’s netminder Jonathan Quick is a stud, but Vancouver is just too much to handle)
#2 Blues vs. #7 Sharks – Blues in 6 (Ken Hitchcock’s team will be ready for the big and physical Joe Thornton-led Sharks…I think the goaltending in this series is even…Blues are too stingy defensively to lose in round 1)
#3 Coyotes vs. #6 Blackhawks – ‘Hawks in 7 (The “X Factor” here is the health of Jonathan Toews – I’m banking on him being healthy and dominant…only question I have on the ‘Hawks is between the pipes)
#4 Predatros vs. #5 Red Wings – Wings in 7 (Nashville has the goaltending edge, but I’m not ready to write off the veteran-laden Wings quite yet…Nicklas Lidstrom is back and will log a ton of minutes – his presence alone is enough for me…Wings would have loved to have home ice, but their experience will help them in a pivotal Game 7…Pressure is on the Preds in this series, I think)
Don’t forget about Friday’s watch party at The Maple Leaf Pub (514 Elgin St.)
– Aero Joe