CONDORS: Bakersfield, San Diego set for Game 1 of Pacific Division Final
The Condors host the San Diego Gulls in Game 1 of the AHL Pacific Division Finals at Rabobank Arena on Friday night
BAKERSFIELD, CA - The After Party rolls on to Round 2.
After bouncing the Colorado Eagles three games to one in their AHL Calder Cup Playoff debut, the Bakersfield Condors embrace for their first foray into the Pacific Division Final against the all too familiar San Diego Gulls on Friday night in Game 1 at Rabobank Arena.
You can watch tonight's game on AHL Live or listen on Fox Sports 970 AM.
"We're all excited," Condors winger Patrick Russell, who notched four points (2G, 2A) including a shorthanded goal in the opening series, said pre-game on Friday. "We've prepared for almost a week now and after Round 1, it only gets tougher from here. But I think we're ready and we're super excited."
The AHL playoff picture's been halved from 16 teams to the final eight, with the guarantee of meeting stern opposition at every obstacle for each side at this point in the season. The Condors wrapped up their series with the Eagles on Saturday, and have taken the following six days to take stock ahead of their ensuing seven-game series.
"I think the schedule for our week set us up to make sure that number one, we were rested, and number two that we're prepared," Condors Head Coach Jay Woodcroft said. "Similar to what a regular AHL week is, but make no mistake about it, we understand the intensity that's going to be displayed on the ice.
"This is round number two and game number one, and we expect it to be a very competitive affair. I think our guys are ready."
Over the course of their 68-game regular seasons, the pair of clubs locked talons 10 times, with the Gulls being the only club in the league to say they hold a winning record against the Condors after coming out on top in six of those meetings (6-3-0-1).
You can learn a lot about your opponent and how they operate in 10 separate contests. Despite plenty of roster movement in those earlier meetings, it's best-on-best at this crucial stage of the season.
"They're a good team, so we've been working for this all year," defenceman Logan Day said. "We've played them 10 times and we know what's coming our way, so we just have to stick to our game plan, work hard, and keep going. Especially with these guys, we've had some heated games with them."
All seven defencemen who appeared for the Condors in Round 1 recorded at least a point in the series against Colorado, and will now be tasked with keeping the offence flowing from the blue line and stifling a potent San Diego attack that was second only to Bakersfield for goals-per-game in the regular season.
"We've got to understand where their offence comes from," Woodcroft said. "I think they're a really good transition team, they have d-men who move the puck up quick, so managing that little black thing is going to be important for our team.
"We're going to have to put that puck into spots where we're comfortable getting it back, and we're going to have to make their d-men who like to play on the move and free-wheel and enjoy a lot of space, we're going to have to make sure that we put a lot of mileage on that d-core by making them go back for pucks and pay a price for breaking it out."
The Condors had six days between the conclusion for their opening series with Colorado and tonight's Pacific Division Final opener, and it's a break Russell and his teammates are both familiar with and accepting of at this stage of the season.
"We played Saturday, and that's how it goes in the regular season - play Saturday and then Friday and Saturday next week," Russell said. "It's almost back to regular season, but it's obviously way harder now."
There's no avoiding the elevated level of competition, meaning every practice and every drill becomes that much more vital to your playoff health.
"I think it basically comes down to preparation," he continued. "Every team is really good now, and whoever is prepared more is probably going to win the series. I think we're really prepared and we're looking forward to it."
A young Condors outfit found its wings after their first flight against the Eagles following a strong 42-win regular season, and the takeaway from Round 1 coincides with the group's single most important goal.
"I think as a young group, it's that we can win," Day said. "Regular season we showed it, playoffs so far so good, so stick to what we've been doing and we should be good."
The importance of preparation is bolstered this series with two important opening games at Rabobank, giving the Condors the opportunity to set the tone early on home ice.
"We want to make sure we assert our game quickly," Woodcroft said. "We don't want to wade into this game or the series, we want to assert our game right off the bat. It's a symbiotic relationship between our crowd and our team. When we're playing fast, hard, and heavy, it gets our crowd into the game.
"I can tell you when our crowd gets into the game, the team feeds off the energy and the enthusiasm of the Rabobank Arena. It's incumbent on us to get to our game quickly and not wade into the game or the series."