There’s an old adage that a playoff series doesn’t truly start until someone wins on the road. Well then…
This best-of-five series between the Aeros and Griffins is tied at a game apiece, with an absolutely pivotal Game Three set for a 6 pm (CST) puck drop tonight in Grand Rapids. Spoiler alert: after tonight’s contest, one of these two teams will be facing elimination.
Let’s go back to Game Two for a minute, a 3-2 Griffins win on Toyota Center ice. The Aeros didn’t play particularly well, and they’ve been honest about that fact since the final horn sounded. The players and coaches said they turned over too many pucks, and that led to increased puck possession for the Griffins. Without goaltender Darcy Kuemper playing like an absolute beast, the Aeros may have been down by four or five goals late in the third without even a prayer of coming back. With that said, they showed some urgency and passion in the final few minutes, and hopefully some of that confidence and solid play carries over to the start of Game Three tonight.
I’ll get back to the recent roster moves, and their potential series-changing impact in a moment, but first…some keys to an Aeros win tonight:
- The Start – Typically, you’d expect the home team to come out strong, forcing the visitors to weather the proverbial storm. However, that can’t be the case tonight. The Aeros must take a page from the Griffins “Game Two book”, and be the team that has an element of desperation in their game. The Aeros don’t have a first period goal through the first two games, and keep in mind, the team that’s scored first has won both games. Thus, finding a way to start quickly is going to be big for the Aeros tonight.
Win The Neutral Zone – The most crucial piece of real estate tonight is the 50-foot neutral zone, an area the Griffins dominated in Game Two (in my opinion). Aeros head coach John Torchetti thought the Aeros tried to force plays by stick handling in Sunday’s loss, rather than making passes and eventually getting pucks deep. For some audio on this from Aeros blue-liner Kyle Medvec, click here. Medvec mentions the Griffins “F3”, which is the 3rd forward on the forecheck . It seemed like the Griffins really bottled up the neutral zone in Game Two, which slowed the Aeros down, and caused a bunch of their turnovers. Let’s see if they can make some adjustments tonight, and attack with more speed.
Stay Out Of The Box – I meant to ask coach Torchetti about this during our interview for the pre-game show, but it escaped me…so I’ll just throw it out there now and maybe I’ll get around to asking “Torch” about it later. The bottom line is this: the Aeros need to be more disciplined – and a big part of that is veteran defenseman Paul Mara. Don’t get me wrong, the physical element (read: intimidation) that Mara brings to the table is a valuable tool this time of year – he’s one of those guys that you hate when he’s not on your team, and he’s a pain-in-the-you-know-what player that’s “hard to play against” as coaches always say. However, the Aeros NEED HIM ON THE ICE. He’s got 18 PIM through two games of this series, and he’s found himself in the penalty box in eight of the last nine games overall, dating back to the tail end of the regular season. With Marco Scandella recalled to the Wild following Game Two, there is extra pressure on Mara to stay on the ice as this series moves along.
Now to the roster moves since Sunday’s Game Two…
The losses of Scandella and Kuemper (both to NHL recall) can’t be understated. Scandella was playing like a man possessed, and Kuemper was the Aeros best player through the first six periods of this series in my opinion. But, on the flip side, there are two potential positives from this:
- Dealing with adversity is something the Aeros are used to at this point in the season. Hopefully another “bump in the road” just brings the group closer together and the team finds a way to rally around goaltender Mike Condon and play their best game of the series.
- When one guy leaves the lineup to injury, call-up, etc, another is asked to step up and fill that void. It’s all about getting an opportunity if you’re Tyler Cuma, Kris Fredheim or even Matt Dumba, who might see more ice time now. That doesn’t mean you want said player to come in and deviate from “their game”, you just want them to lay it all on the line and play a team game. Most likely it will be a collective effort to “replace” Scandella’s ice time, but know this much, however it’s divided up, there’s going to be some motivated players out there, hoping to prove they belong in the lineup on a regular basis.
Enjoy Game Three!