The Miracle on West Fulton
The New York Yankees erased a nine-run deficit and won on a walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth.
The Phoenix Suns nailed a three at the end of the first OT period and rallied past the L.A. Clippers.
But the most dramatic comeback of the night on Tuesday may have taken place at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Mich., where the Griffins scored four times in the final 20 minutes (plus half a second) to pull out a Game 7 win against the Manitoba Moose and advance to the AHL's Western Conference Finals.
It was a remarkable turnaround for a Grand Rapids club that finished first overall in the regular season, and a tremendous sigh of relief from one of minor pro hockey's elite franchises over the last decade, one that is still in search of its first league championship.
The Griffins were playing without league MVP Donald MacLean, out with that highly-contagious "upper-body injury" that makes the rounds every spring. Jimmy Howard, Grand Rapids' AHL All-Rookie goaltender, was lifted after allowing four goals on 23 shots. And the Moose had a 4-1 lead as the second period wound down.
But veteran defenseman Bryan Helmer scored with 0.5 seconds left in the middle frame. Valtteri Filppula scored twice early in the third. And Darryl Bootland shoveled home a loose puck with 2:06 left in the game. 5-4. Lights out. Drive home safely.
Jiri Hudler, who should certainly stick with the Detroit Red Wings next season - if not somewhere else in the NHL - assisted on all five Griffins goals in the clincher. Grand Rapids' reward: a well-rested Milwaukee Admirals team looking for its second Calder Cup championship in three years. The Ads are coming off an impressive four-game sweep of a very good Houston Aeros club.
And over in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Portland Pirates take on the Hershey Bears starting Wednesday night. The Pirates and the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim are each eight wins away from pulling off a rare Calder Cup/Stanley Cup daily double, something that hasn't been done since the New Jersey Devils and Albany River Rats claimed their respective league titles in 1995.
I dig notes like that. I've been writing game stories and media releases for the last dozen years, and I'm always amazed at some of the trivial nuggets that a little research can unearth. But these two really got me.
There have been four Game 7's in the 2006 Calder Cup Playoffs. Each one has been won by a goaltender who started the series on the bench.
Grand Rapids' Drew MacIntyre took over after Manitoba's fourth goal on Tuesday night. Milwaukee's Jake Moreland subbed for an injured Brian Finley. Hartford's Chris Holt wasn't even on the bench -- he was doing color analysis on Bob Crawford's radio broadcasts before taking over for an injured Al Montoya. (Ask Jack Carnefix what else MacIntyre, Moreland and Holt have in common.) And although you could hardly call Marc-Andre Fleury a back-up, he didn't get the call in Game 1 of Wilkes-Barre's first-round series with Bridgeport. He was there for Game 7, though.
Considering teams don't platoon goalies during the playoffs much these days, and considering Game 7's are still somewhat uncommon, it's really a fascinating stat.
In the Grand Rapids-Manitoba series, the winning goalies in the final two games made a grand total of two saves.
Digest that for a minute.
In Game 6, Manitoba raced out to an early 2-0 lead. Wade Flaherty then injured himself stopping the first shot he faced on the night. He was replaced by Maxime Ouellet, who preserved a 3-1 win for the Moose. Goalie of record: Flaherty, with one shot faced and one save in 6:42 of work. In Game 7, MacIntyre replaced Howard late in the second period, with the Griffins down by three. Grand Rapids allowed just one shot the rest of the way, while scoring four goals to pull out the win. MacIntyre's line: 22 minutes, one shot, one save, and one big "W".
The numbers don't lie. They might look funny, but they don't lie.
Old friends in new places
The last time we in the American Hockey League saw Ryan Miller and Ray Emery, they were seemingly on a collision course for a meeting in the 2005 Calder Cup Finals.
Miller won the Baz Bastien Award as the AHL's top goaltender last season, going 41-17-4 and becoming the first AHL goalie in four decades to win at least 40 games. He led the league in saves and finished second in shutouts, backstopping the Rochester Americans to the best record in the league.
Emery went 28-18-5 for the Binghamton Senators in 2004-05, leading them to the East Division title.
Both the Amerks and the B-Sens were upset in the Calder Cup Playoffs, but a year later, Miller and Emery's head-to-head matchup is a finally a reality as Buffalo and Ottawa collide in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The two broke into the pro ranks together in 2002-03, and were two of the best goaltenders in the AHL over the next three seasons. Both played in two AHL All-Star Classics: Miller won the top goaltender prize at the Skills Competition in 2004 and 2005, and Emery was the winning goaltender in the All-Star Game in 2003 and 2004.
This year, Miller is looked at as one of the big reasons for Buffalo's re-emergence as an NHL power, going 30-14-3 and shaking off an Olympic snub. Emery proved himself more than just a capable backup to Dominik Hasek. He's flourished in Hasek's absence, going 23-11-4 and starting 22 straight games in one stretch as Ottawa claimed the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
The two went up against each other 13 times in the AHL in their three years here, with Emery holding the edge at 6-4 with three ties. Miller, of course, got the first laugh this spring in the Sabres' wild 7-6 overtime win last Friday night.
Their current supporting casts should look pretty familiar, too. Derek Roy's five-point night in Game 1 might have been a first for his NHL career, but the Sabres forward tallied five points in an AHL game three times back in October of this season before earning a permanent promotion from Rochester. Jason Pominville scored 19 goals in 18 games with the Amerks this year, then added 18 goals the rest of the way with Buffalo. Thomas Vanek led all AHL rookies with 42 goals a season ago.
Ottawa's Game 1 lineup featured six players besides Emery who spent the lockout in Binghamton, including last year's AHL MVP Jason Spezza and 2005 AHL All-Star defenseman Anton Volchenkov.
Half of the goalies who have led their teams to the Stanley Cup conference semifinals played in the AHL last year, with Emery and Miller being joined by sudden sensations Ilya Bryzgalov of Anaheim and Cam Ward of Carolina.
Some other quick hits from the AHL's Calder Cup Playoffs:
Break out the clichés.
It's winner take all. Loser go home. Do or die. It's Game 7, the most exciting 60 minutes (or more) of the most exciting time of the year.
And in the American Hockey League, we were lucky enough to see three Game 7's over the weekend.
In what many observers are calling the best Calder Cup Playoff series they've ever seen, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins ousted the Bridgeport Sound Tigers with a 5-4 win in Game 7 on Saturday night. The home team won just once in the series (Game 7), and for the first time in the AHL's 70-year history, all seven games were decided by a single goal.
That the Penguins won the East Division title in the regular season was almost irrelevant. The fourth-place Sound Tigers battled through the final weeks without many of their top players; as many as 11 Bridgeport skaters were on NHL recall to the New York Islanders at the same time down the stretch. With that complement of players back for the postseason, Bridgeport was thought to have as good a chance as any to move on.
The biggest question for Wilkes-Barre head coach Joe Mullen was who to play between the pipes: Marc-Andre Fleury, the franchise's future who was sent down from Pittsburgh to gain postseason experience? Or Dany Sabourin, who only led the AHL in goals-against average and save percentage and won the Bastien Award as the league's goalie of the year?
Sabourin got the call in four of the first five games, but with the Pens facing elimination, Wilkes-Barre turned to the 21-year-old Fleury, 0-4 in his playoff career. Fleury made 33 saves in a 3-2 overtime win in Game 6, and 27 more in Game 7 as the Penguins completed a remarkable trifecta: For the third year in a row, they came back from an 0-2 series deficit to win a best-of-seven series.
Also on Saturday, the Hartford Wolf Pack pulled out a 2-1 victory in their Game 7 against the Manchester Monarchs, sending the Pack to the Atlantic Division final. The hero was Chris Holt, the N.Y. Rangers' sixth-round pick in 2003 who was thrust from the color analyst's seat in the Hartford radio booth to the crease after Al Montoya was injured in Game 5.
Holt, a first-year pro out of Nebraska-Omaha who made his NHL debut earlier this season with the Rangers, won both Game 6 and Game 7, stopping 55 of 57 shots in the process.
Then on Sunday afternoon, the Milwaukee Admirals, looking to avoid a first-round collapse for the second year in a row, got a major energy boost with the return of Jordin Tootoo from Nashville and posted a 4-1 win over the Iowa Stars in Game 7 at the Bradley Center. The Admirals, who took a 3-1 series lead last spring only to see it slip away, had already lost Game 5 and Game 6, as well as starting goalie Brian Finley to injury.
Jake Moreland, making just his second career AHL start, made 32 saves in Sunday's win to send Milwaukee to the West Division final.
An amazing start to the 2006 Calder Cup Playoffs. And there are still three rounds to go.