ABBOTSFORD HEAT @ HAMILTON BULDOGS
COPPS COLISEUM _ HAMILTON ONT
4:30 PM (PDT) - Country 107.1 FM
After making history on Tuesday night in Rochester, the resurgent Abbotsford HEAT now open up their best of seven North Division Final versus the Hamilton Bulldogs tonight in the Steel City.
For an outsiders perspective, here is an article from Sean Myers, courtesy of the Calgary Herald...
Patchwork lineup helps propel hobbled Heat into second round of AHL playoffs
Hobbled by injuries, the Abbotsford Heat have put together a makeshift lineup that's pushing deep into the American Hockey League playoffs.
|GET CALDER PLAYOFF TICKETS |
|Tickets for Games 3 (Tuesday May 4) and 4 (Thursday May 6) of the North Division Finals between the Heat and the Bulldogs are on sale right now! Call 1-877-452-HEAT or visit www.abbotsfordheat.com |
Game 5, if necessary is Saturday May 8, also in Abbotsford.
The North Division best-of-seven final series begins tonight against the Hamilton Bulldogs at Copps Coliseum.
In knocking off the Rochester Americans on Tuesday, the Heat became the first AHL team to win Games 6 and 7 on the road.
The Heat actually won three straight against the Americans after dropping a trio (the AHL playoff format is two games at home for the top seed, three on the road, then the final two at home).
The Heat, top farm club of the National Hockey League's Calgary Flames, defeated the Americans 2-0 on Tuesday to clinch the North semifinal series 4-3 despite having a third of their lineup out.
"We've got eight players that are hurt that are regular players on our team. We've filled in for them with East Coast league players, Western Hockey League call-up kids and junior kids," said Heat head coach Jim Playfair.
"It's good for our core group that they have stayed the course and kept the direction of the team intact and everyone pushing the same way. It's a credit to our leadership group."
Heat regular-season leading scorer Jason Jaffray has recently returned from a groin injury and Mikael Backlund and Brett Sutter rejoined the team after the Flames failed to make the NHL playoffs, but Playfair gives a big nod to the young kids who've been called upon to fill in the gaps.
"Without those kids we might not be here today," said Playfair. "We found a way to make it work."
Hamilton finished first in the North with a 52-17-3-8 regular-season record while Abbotsford (39-29-5-7) was third. The Heat went 3-5 against the Bulldogs this season.
"We match up good five-on-five against Hamilton," said Playfair. "They have a dangerous power play, but we played them hard all season. They would be rated as the favourites, but I think it's more about us making sure we're playing our style of hockey and getting our identity in place.
"Hey, in the playoffs, the further you go, the better the teams get. We're the last among eight teams left, so I think we're right there with them."
Dan Kinvig of the Abbotsford News gives us this breakdown of the series...
Tale of the tape: Heat vs. Bulldogs
Regular season record: 52-17-3-8, 115 points, first in North Division and Western Conference
Power play: 17.6 per cent (13th)
Penalty kill: 85.4 per cent (6th)
THE PARENT CLUB
The Heat caught a break on Wednesday, when the Montreal Canadiens beat the Washington Capitals 2-1 in the seventh game of their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series. The Canadiens are the Bulldogs' parent club, and had they lost, the Bulldogs would have received key reinforcements in the form of P.K. Subban, Tom Pyatt and Ben Maxwell. The Heat will be particularly happy not to have to deal with Subban - the rookie blueliner was dominant during the regular season, racking up 53 points in 77 games while amassing a plus-46 rating, second-best in the AHL. Subban also notched nine points in Hamilton's six-game series victory over the Manitoba Moose, prior to being recalled by the Canadiens on Monday.
Even without Subban and company, the Bulldogs have plenty of capable scorers for the Heat to worry about. Chief among them are linemates David Desharnais and Brock Trotter, who finished fifth and sixth, respectively, in AHL scoring during the regular season. Desharnais, a five-foot-seven centre, is particularly dangerous on the power play - he notched 33 of his 78 points with the man advantage.
The Bulldogs were the AHL's stingiest defensive team in during the regular season, surrendering just 2.28 goals per game. The last line of defence is goalie Cedrick Desjardins, who posted a league-best 2.00 goals against average during the regular season, along with a 29-9-4 record. His playoff stats aren't as gaudy (2.69 GAA, .893 save percentage), and he struggled at times during the first-round series against Manitoba. But he was steady in the Bulldogs' 3-2 series-clinching victory in Game 6.
Curtis Sanford, the former Vancouver Canucks backup, serves the same role for the Bulldogs. He's missed the past month with a high ankle sprain suffered on Mar. 27 against the Heat, but he returned to practice this week.
Regular season record: 39-29-5-7, 90 points, third in North Division
Power play: 15.3 per cent (22nd)
Penalty kill: 80.1 per cent (25th)
The Heat caught a break on the scheduling front, as none of the Vancouver Canucks' second-round playoff games against the Chicago Blackhawks conflict with any of the Heat's home dates against the Bulldogs. The Heat host Hamilton on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday next week (7 p.m. start times at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre). The Canucks-Hawks series, meanwhile, runs Monday-Wednesday-Friday-Sunday.
During the first round, the Canucks' schedule mirrored the Heat's, and that put a cramp on attendance at the AESC. The Heat drew an average crowd of 2,622 last week - 1,275 off their regular season average.
The Heat struggled mightily to slow the Rochester Americans' attack in Games 3 and 4 of the first round, surrendering 14 goals in two blowout losses. Something seemed to click at that point, though - the Heat allowed just two goals over the final three games of the series, capped by a 2-0 shutout victory in Tuesday's Game 7.
"The whole team was committed (to defence)," Heat head coach Jim Playfair said. "Players brought a great work ethic and a great attitude, and they wanted to learn. We told them to do what they were told - and if they're wrong, it's not their fault, it's our (the coaching staff's) fault. They just stuck with it, and (goalie) David Shantz was awesome."
THE LEADING SCORER
Brett Sutter is known more for his defence than his offence, but the Heat's penalty killing whiz had a breakout performance against Rochester in the first round. He's the Heat's top point-getter in the playoffs with eight points (two goals, six assists).
Sutter has found strong chemistry on a line with Tyler Spurgeon and Jon Rheault, and he's playing at a higher pace after spending the last 10 games of the regular season with the Calgary Flames.
"We've been working our lines around to where we found some chemistry with those boys (Sutter, Spurgeon and Rheault)," Playfair said. "Brett's been a big part of that. He's been responsible defensively, and he's pushed up his pace of play since being in the NHL. Overall, he's been a lot more competitive the last five games, and he's been rewarded for it."
The last time the Heat and Bulldogs clashed, back on Mar. 27 at the AESC, Playfair famously splintered a pair of sticks and shed his suit jacket in protest of a controversial call by referee Jamie Koharski. Footage of the memorable tirade has been viewed over 1.5 million times, and counting, on YouTube.
The Bulldogs won five of eight meetings with the Heat during the regular season, and their defence was dominant. On only one occasion (a 4-1 home victory on Nov. 17) were the Heat able to muster more than two goals against Hamilton.
But the playoffs are a new season, Abbotsford blueliner Matt Pelech pointed out.
"We've been playing really good hockey the last three games, and we've got to come out strong and keep doing what we did to beat Rochester," he said. "Hamilton plays a very similar game to Rochester, and we need to continue to do what made us successful."
- The Abbotsford Heat will enter the North Division Final after becoming the first team in the 74 year history of the AHL to rally from a 3-1 deficit to win Games Six and Seven on the road to take the series. They face the Hamilton Bulldogs. The Montreal Canadiens affiliate won the division by lapping the rest of the teams, and winning the North by 24 points and besting the Heat by 25 points during the regular season.
- The Dogs set 36 team records this season and tied seven others en route to their record setting season. Their 52 wins were second only to the Hershey Bears and their staggering 60 win total.
- Brett Sutter leads all Heat scorers with eight points (2-6-8). Jon Rheault has scored a team high five goals in the opening series, while Keith Seabrook and Staffan Krnowall anchor the blueline and currently show a +5 and +4 respectively.
Players to watch for Hamilton:
- - PK SUBBAN - The rookie will not be of this league for much longer...the NHL is calling and in fact at press time, Subban has been called up to the Habs for their seventh and deciding game versus the Washington Capitals. Subban had nine points from the d-line in the opening series, including a huge double overtime game winning goal in Game Four of the dogs opening series over the Moose. Subban is speedy, smart and runs a potent Hamilton power play.
- - DAVID DESHARNAIS - Hamilton's leading scorer this season, Desharnais set a Bulldogs record with 78 points this season and has eight points in the playoffs so far. Another fast player, Desharnais uses his speed to create opportunities and will unselfishly spread around the glory, as he led his team with 51 assists on the season.
- - BROCK TROTTER - Hamilton's leading goal scorer in the regular season with 36 goals. Trotter has three goals in the post season as the Bulldogs have been scoring by committee. In fact, Hamilton has four players, Subban, Desharnais, Trotter and mike Glumac, who have scored at least three goals in the opening series.
- - CEDRIC DESJARDINS - don't let his post season numbers fool you, Desjardins is the real deal. Much like David Shantz, Desjardins took a couple of games, and a couple of beat downs to round into form. Desjardins was among the league leaders all season in goals against average and save percentage. With the injury to Curtis Sanford, which took place in Abbotsford in late March, it should be all Desjardins, all the time in this series.
- - The Heat is 3-5 versus the Bulldogs this year, including 2-2 at the Copps Coliseum.
- - March 27th versus Hamilton was also the night of the infamous Jim Playfair sticks and jacket night. Playfair became incensed at a call made by referee Jamie Koharski in the Heat 4-0 loss to the Bulldogs. Playfair was fined for the incident and the Heat has also seen Koharski as a referee since then. Koharski worked Game One of the Heat-Americans series.
- - Brett Sutter led all Heat scorers in the first round of the playoffs. Sutter scored twice and added six helpers for eight points in seven games. Jon Rheault led all Heat players with five goals in the series.
Schedule: (All times Pacific)
Game One - Thursday, April 29th - Heat @ Bulldogs - Copps Coliseum - Hamilton ON - 4:30 PM
Game Two - Sunday, May 2nd - Heat @ Bulldogs - Copps Coliseum - Hamilton ON - 11 AM
Game Three - Tuesday, May 4th - Bulldogs @ Heat - Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre - Abbotsford BC - 7 PM
Game Four - Thursday, May 6th - Bulldogs @ Heat - Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre - Abbotsford BC - 7 PM
*Game Five - Saturday, May 8th - Bulldogs @ Heat - Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre - Abbotsford BC - 7 PM
*Game Six - Monday, May 10th - Heat @ Bulldogs - Copps Coliseum - Hamilton ON - 4:30 PM
*Game Seven - Tuesday May 11th - Heat @ Bulldogs - Copps Coliseum - Hamilton ON - 4:30 PM