Red and Black Hockey
While most of the hockey world is focusing its attention on the Stanley Cup playoffs, the preliminary rounds of the 2011 IIHF World Championships are underway in Slovakia. Two-thirds of the way through round robin pool play, Germany is the surprise of the tournament. They have taken control of group A with surprising wins over Russia and Slovakia. The rest of the tournament has gone pretty much as anyone would expect. Canada and Switzerland are first and second in group B, USA and Sweden are first and second in group C, Czech and Finland are first and second from group D.
While some of the world’s best players are competing for Lord Stanley’s Cup, some are injured and some simply opted not to play in this tournament, there’s still plenty of highly skilled players representing their countries. Another surprise, two games in, is that Carolina’s Jeff Skinner is leading the entire tournament in scoring.
On Thursday night, the Charlotte Checkers won the first game of the East Division final 3-2 against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Baby Penguins. Jon Matsumoto scored two power play goals and Zac Dalpe netted his fourth of the playoffs. Zach Boychuk assisted on Dalpe’s goal to extend his points streak to seven games. He has at least one point in every game of the postseason. Brett Sutter, who has also had a hot hand, got the second assist on Dalpe’s goal.
Mike Murphy made his fifth straight start and got his fourth straight win, making 28 saves in the process.
I noticed a lot of buzz on my Twitter feed today about the Albany Devils and some of the tweets were pretty awful. I had to find out what was the rumpus. It basically has to do with their attendance woes and the cavalier attitude that the front office has in reference to this. This season, the Albany Devils (top affiliate of the New Jersey Devils) were the worst team in the American Hockey League and their attendance numbers were by far the worst in the league. The truth of the matter is that Albany hasn’t had much success at the gate for several years. In the mid-1990s they were a great team on the ice and at the box office, but it’s gone downhill over the last several seasons.
At the conclusion of the regular season, Albany GM Chris Lamoriello ruffled some feathers when he casually said:
We don’t worry about the people that aren’t here. We worry about the people that are here. That is our focus”
When you’re averaging 3,100 people a game, the focus needs to be on getting more people in the stands. That’s dead last in the league, more than 2,200 under the league average. Hockey fans in Albany are upset with this attitude, and they should be.
On Sunday evening, the Charlotte Checkers defeated the defending Calder Cup champion Hershey Bears 2-1 in overtime of game six of their first round matchup. Charlotte has won the series 4-2 and will face the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Baby Penguins in the second round. Games one and two will be in Scranton on Thursday and Saturday nights, respectively.
Just 36 seconds into the game, Brett Sutter scored his second goal in as many games to give the Checkers the early lead. Zac Dalpe and Zach Boychuk assisted on the goal, which stood as the game’s only goal for more than 53 minutes. Boychuk has tallied at least one point in every playoff game this season. He’s the only player in the East and one of only two players in the entire AHL to have a six-game points streak.
On Friday night, the Charlotte Checkers overcame a 3-0 lead late in the second period to score five straight goals in a 5-3 win over the visiting Hershey Bears. Charlotte now has a 3-2 lead in the series as it shifts back to Hershey for games six Sunday and (if necessary) seven on Monday.
Drayson Bowman had an empty net goal and two assists. Oskar Osala had a goal and two assists. Nick Dodge had the game winner for the second game in a row. Brett Sutter had a goal and an assist. Zach Boychuk also had a goal and one assist.
It would have been easy for the team to give up. Down 3-0 late in the second, they could have folded up the tents and mailed it in for the rest of the game. But they didn’t. They stayed hungry, got a good break on a late goal in the second. Then they got a power play goal in the first minute of the third, and it was a new game. Instead of being down and out, they responded with a flurry of goals and put themselves into a good position. Two chances to finish off this series on the road.
On Tuesday night, the Hershey Bears defeated the Charlotte Checkers 3-2. On Wednesday night, the Checkers returned the favor, winning game four by the same score. The series is tied 2-2 with one more game to be played in Charlotte on Friday night. Games six and (if necessary) seven will be in Hershey.
Charlotte got goals from Nick Dodge and Zach Boychuk on Tuesday while Zac Dalpe was held off the scoresheet completely. On Wednesday, Charlotte got goals from Dodge, Nicolas Blanchard and Oskar Osala. Jon Matsumoto had two helpers while Boychuk, Dalpe, Jacob Micflikier and Drayson Bowman each had one assist. Mike Murphy made 35 saves to pick up the win, which was his first career Calder Cup playoff victory.
It’s now a best-of-three series and Hershey has a decided home ice advantage. Charlotte can make things hard for them with another win on Friday.
Defenseman Justin Faulk, who just helped UMD win the NCAA championship, was signed last week and immediately reported to Charlotte. He made his professional debut tonight with no points or penalties and a +/- of zero. The guys on the Checkers radio broadcast said that he looked “like he belonged”.
It’s been a while since I’ve checked in here, and you probably can’t blame me for failing to find anything to post about. I lost my job. The Hurricanes missed the playoffs on the final day of their season. Things haven’t exactly been sunshine and light over at RBH headquarters. While the Hurricanes are looking at their free agent contracts, the Charlotte Checkers are busy in the first round of the Calder Cup playoffs.
On Thursday, the series between the Checkers and the defending champion Hershey Bears (Washington Capitals) got underway in Hershey. Charlotte took that first game 5-4 on goals by Zac Dalpe, Chris Terry, defenseman Brett Bellemore, Zach Boychuk and Drayson Bowman. Dalpe also added two assists.
On Sunday, the Bears turned the tables on the Checkers. They evened the series at on apiece with a 4-2 win. Dalpe had both goals for the Checkers and now shares the league lead with three goals.
This particular series uses the 2-3-2 format, so Charlotte will get three straight home games: this Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. It will be the first ever Calder Cup playoff game in Charlotte. By splitting the games in Hershey, Charlotte now has home-ice advantage in the five remaining games.
In the final game of the New York Rangers, they knew that they had to win and get some help to get into the playoffs. They did the only thing they had control of: they won their game against the Devils. Carolina had to win, and hoped that the Lightning would “rest” its star players. Things didn’t go well for the Hurricanes, and it was early and often that it didn’t go well. Tampa scored thrice in the first thirteen minutes of the game and kept Carolina off the sheet. In the second, they took a 4-0 lead halfway through, and the game was already over.
Cory Stillman scored at 13:31 of the second, but it was already too late. It was the front end of a five-on-three power play situation, but Carolina had already failed on three previous power plays.
In the third, Chad LaRose scored at 8:33 to give the fans a little bit of hope, but the Lightning closed it out with two empty net goals to account for the final score of 6-2.
This is the second time in the last four seasons that Carolina has missed the playoffs by losing in game 82.
The Rangers have decided to make things a little more difficult for the Hurricanes. They’ve just beaten the Devils and now have 93 standings points. Carolina must now win its game against the Lightning at 7:00. As I said before, the Bolts can’t gain or lose anything tonight, so they might not be very hungry. On the other hand, Carolina will be very hungry. One thing that might come into play: it doesn’t matter whether Carolina wins in regulation, overtime or shootout. As long as they win. The head-to-head tiebreaker would break a potential points tie and even an ROW tie.
Both teams have been in this situation before. Last season, the Rangers were kept out of the playoffs on the last day of the season when they lost a shootout game to the Flyers. In 2008, the Hurricanes needed a win at home against the Panthers in their final game OR a Capitals loss to the same Panthers the next day. It didn’t pan out for the Canes.
And now everyone in Ranger nation will be watching Carolina tonight. Henry and Linda Staal will be watching. Jordan is already in the playoffs, and this game decides which of their other two NHL sons gets to go.
Friday was a mixed bag of emotions for me. Due to a budget crunch, I lost my job of six years. That sort of takes all of the wind out of any sails. On Friday night, on the strength of the Two Finns and a Skinner line, the Hurricanes routed the Thrashers 6-1 to put themselves in eighth place and in control of their own destiny.
The Rangers take on the Devils at 12:30 today, and every Canes fan will be watching that game closely. If the Rangers lose, the Canes are in no matter what. Whatever the Rangers do, the Canes have to match or better. At this point, Carolina has control of the tiebreaker scenarios, and by 3:00, they’ll know what they need to do.
If it comes down to needing a win at 7:00 tonight, Carolina has the benefit of playing against a team who has nothing to play for. The Bolts have already locked up the fifth seed and nothing that happens today or tomorrow can change that. Will they give Dwayne Roloson the night off? Will they play their top lines less? If they don’t go 100%, there may end up being a conspiracy theory about the Bolts tanking the game to put another SE team in. None of that will matter if the Rangers lose.
About Red and Black Hockey
David Lee is a restaurant manager with an unused degree in political science. He can be found at Carolina Hurricanes games, Scrabble tournaments and indie-rock shows. Sometimes, all in the same day.