AT THE MORNING SKATE
While most of the Oilers have begrudgingly settled into the off-season, a handful of the club's youngest players will begin their playoff voyage tonight with the Oklahoma City Barons.
After an impressive inaugural campaign, the Barons secured a playoff berth in their second-last game of the season and will battle the Hamilton Bulldogs in the AHL's North Division semi-finals. The series starts tonight in Hamilton.
"I think that's great for the guys that are going to taste for the first time a playoff experience," AHL vet Alex Giroux said after morning skate. "It's been a couple years that the farm team of the Oilers didn't make it, so it was a long ride with lots of up and down, but we had a couple of good games at the end of the year that put us in line for the playoffs. So we're all excited."
The Bulldogs earned three of a possible four points vs the Barons en route to finishing first in the North Division. Oklahoma knows a series-opening win will be tough to come by in enemy territory.
"We know that they're a hard-working team, they play their systems very well, they have one line that's very explosive, and they've been getting good goaltending, so they're a pretty well-balanced team," head coach Todd Nelson said. "It's going to be a tough series. These guys work extremely hard, they pride themselves on out-working their opponents, so our work ethic has to be there.
"Also, special teams is really key, just like in any series, but especially against these guys. These guys, they shut us down in all power-play opportunities we had during the season so we have to find a way to score some goals," he added.
Oilers fans will recognize many names on the Barons roster. Teemu Hartikainen
, Chris VandeVelde
, Ryan O'Marra, Linus Omark
, and Jeff Petry
all finished the NHL regular season in Edmonton.
Winger Zack Stortini and goalie Jeff Deslauriers are also on the roster, although Stortini is questionable for tonight. Deslauriers is expected to get the start.
"It's pretty exciting as a group," the netminder said. "It's sort of a new season and we have to play hard and we have to play like we finished the season earlier. But we have a great group of guys working hard here, so we have to bring the same effort tonight."
Nelson shares his players' excitement and hopes it produces in a focused effort tonight:
"The guys are excited, and it's just a matter of channeling that nervous energy the right way. I told the guys today, this is the fun part of the year, we have to go out there, work hard, and have fun. That's what it's all about." -- Jen Sharpe, edmontonoilers.com
OKC BARONS GAME NOTES
The Oklahoma City Barons begin their first quest for the Calder Cup in tonight’s best- of-seven first-round playoff opener against the Hamilton Bulldogs (Montreal Canadiens).
The teams split a two-game season series, with OKC winning in OT 3-2 Oct. 24 at Copps Coliseum and Bulldogs goalie Curtis Sanford leading a 3-0 blanking of the Barons Dec. 17 in OKC. The Barons won four of their last five games to finish fifth in the West and cross over to face North champion Hamilton. HOW THEY GOT HERE:
The Barons entered April off a nine-game road trip that saw them go winless in their final five games of the swing at 0-3-0-2. OKC was tied for fifth with Peoria in the West, two points back of fourth-place Chicago entering an Apr. 1 game vs. Rockford before reeling off four straight wins, all backstopped by Jeff Deslauriers.
In that span were three shutouts and Deslauriers’ Reebok/AHL Player of the Week Award. The Barons clinched a playoff spot with Saturday’s 2-0 win at Texas before seeing the winning streak end in Houston by a 6-3 final on Sunday with Martin Gerber in net. DESLAURIERS RETURNS TO COPPS:
Jeff Deslauriers, a Hamilton Bulldog for 13 games during the 2005-06 season, was the Barons’ starter in nine of the last 12 regular-season games while Martin Gerber was sidelined with an injury sustained Mar. 16 at Grand Rapids.
Deslauriers won four straight starts from Apr. 1-9, including all three of his shutouts, as the Barons out-scored the opposition 18-2 in those games and clinched a playoff berth. Deslauriers stopped 96 of 98 shots in his last four, a .980 save percentage, while allowing two goals in 240 minutes for a 0.50 goals against average. He has not faced the Bulldogs this season. He was with Edmonton for the first game and backed up Gerber Dec. 17. MCDONALD TAKES GOAL TITLE:
Colin McDonald scored his league leading 42nd goal of the season at 17:28 of the third period in Sunday’s finale at Houston, eclipsing Hamilton’s Nigel Dawes for the Willie Marshall Award.
With six goals in the final three games, McDonald won the Reebok/ AHL Player of the Week Award. McDonald recorded his first professional 4-goal game in Friday’s 7-2 win at San Antonio. He had 17 goals in the last 16 games of the regular campaign. McDonald led the league with 19 power play goals and did not have an empty-netter. Prior to this season, McDonald had totaled 35 goals in 3 seasons as a professional.
GIROUX SECOND IN AHL POINTS:
Alexandre Giroux finished as the AHL’s second-leading scorer with 78 points, trailing only league MVP Corey Locke of Binghamton (86). Giroux was rested in the Barons’ final regular-season game on Sunday, the first time he was eligible for an AHL game this season that he did not play. Giroux saw a 10-game point streak end on Saturday at Texas.
He had three goals and 12 assists during the streak, which had extended to Feb. 27, prior to his two March callups to Edmonton. Giroux is the first-team left winger on the AHL post-season All-Star Team, his third straight season as a first-teamer. That feat has been accomplished by only two other forwards in AHL history (Pete Leswick, 1948-50 and Art Stratton, 1963-65). Giroux has had seven consecutive 30 (or more) goal seasons, tying a record held by AHL Hall of Famer Dick Gamble. Giroux is 10th in AHL history in goals with 340.
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