And Then There Were Two: Bingo V. Houston For All The Marbles

 

(In memory of Eric Leighton and the tragic death he suffered yesterday at Mother Teresa, my former high school, today’s blog will be posted in violet font, Eric’s favourite colour.)
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The road to the 2011 Calder Cup ends in Houston for the Binghamton Senators.  To get to this point, the club has had to fight their way through Manchester, in a gruelling, 7-game, overtime-laden series with the Monarchs. They had to push the Pirates off the plank in a 6-game affair in Portland. And they had to get their brooms out in Charlotte to sweep away the Checkers. Bingo now faces their South-Western-most opponent in Houston Aeros for the grand prize and the most beautiful girl at the ball.  If the routes both squads took to get here are any indication, the 75th edition of the American Hockey League championships are shaping up to be a thrilling spectacle. Let’s take a closer look our opponents.

A whopping nine days have elapsed since the Baby Ottawa Senators dispatched the Checkers and booked their seat at the final table. Rust will likely be a factor, particularly early in tonight’s game #1. To combat the length of delay between games, head coach Kurt Kleiendorst  held a few high-intensity practices and what turned out to be a rousing inter-squad game.

The B-Sens come in at the height of their game, firing on all cylinders and every other cliche that describes a hockey team playing extremely sound hockey.  As a team that has not had home-ice advantage at all throughout these playoffs, the club has been deadly in other team’s barns. With an 8-1 record on the road, they should be dubbed the “silencers” because home crowds of opposition teams haven’t had much to cheer about when Bingo is in town. Overall, the team is riding a 5-game winning streak.

Keys to the success of B-Sens have been: A) Relentless offence headlined by the Ryans- Keller and Potulny. Potulny leads the league in every offensive, statistical category. B) Defense on the mend – The situation was looking like a lean kid during a food shortage in the earlier rounds on the back-end, but with time passing, bodies have gradually been returning to fatten things up. The signing of Jared Cowen from the OHL after his playoffs ended has been another big plus. C) Robin Lehner - he came into the crease when they were down 3-1 in the first round, and after backstopping them to three straight overtime victories to clinch round 1, the rookie has compiled a sparkling 10-2 record, .932 % and 2.41 GAA. D) Coaching – Kleinendorst deserves all the credit that comes his way. He has prepared this team valiantly for scenario and after scenario – overtimes, closing out series’, maintaining killer instinct, overcoming injury and losing players to the parent club, etc.. For his pivotal role is taking this team to the finals when they looked like a long shot (at best) coming in, Kleinendorst has earned himself legitimate consideration for the vacant head coaching job in Ottawa.

They might not say it publicly, but Houston is lucky to be in the finals after their semi-final series with the Hamilton Bulldogs. Up 3-0 and looking well on their way, the Aeros went on to lose the next three games before eventually eking out their finals berth in overtime in game 7. Not exactly the ideal way to move forward, but regardless, the eventually pulled it out, punched there ticket and everything else is in the past.

The AHL affiliate of the Minnesota Wild has been lead offensively in these playoffs by prospect Colton Gillies (with seven goals) and Patrick O’Sullivan (with 15 points), although the team as a whole is not exactly an offensive dynamo. Bingo averages a full one-goal-per-game more than the Aeros.

On defensive-end, the disparity between the two teams is less divisive, although Bingo has allowed two fewer goals this post-season. The Houston blueline is anchored by Maxim Noreau (with 11 points) and Jared Spurgeon.

One of the bigger story-lines will be in goal as Lehner will battle Matt Hackett (.898%, 2.56GAA) only a year after the two faced each other in the first round of the OHL playoffs last season. Hackett’s Plymoth Whalers took out Lehner’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in five games. Perhaps a little extra motivation for Lehner in this series.

Schedule

Game 1 – Fri., May 27 – Binghamton at Houston, 8:35
Game 2 – Sat., May 28 – Binghamton at Houston, 8:35
Game 3 – Wed., June 1 – Houston at Binghamton, 7:05
Game 4 – Fri., June 3 – Houston at Binghamton, 7:05
*Game 5 – Sat., June 4 – Houston at Binghamton, 7:05
*Game 6 – Tue., June 7 – Binghamton at Houston, 8:05
*Game 7 – Thu., June 9 – Binghamton at Houston, 8:05

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