Throughout the 2004 American Hockey League Calder Cup Playoffs, Hartford Wolf Pack Director of Broadcasting and Media Relations Bob Crawford will be checking in with his thoughts and analysis during the AHL's 'second season.'
The Wolf Pack's eight-game playoff win streak is now history, as the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins gutted out a 3-1 victory on Tuesday in Game One of the Eastern Conference Finals. The Pack's only other post-season loss this year, also a 3-1 defeat in their playoff opener vs. Portland, came under similar circumstances, with Hartford coming off of a long layoff. It was nine days coming into the Portland series, and the Wolf Pack had been sitting for 12 days before Tuesday's tilt. After losing Game One to the Pirates the Pack went on to capture four in a row and win the series, so for the Wolf Pack's sake, we'll have to hope that pattern repeats itself.
I actually didn't think the Pack looked that flat in Game One, despite the extraordinary period of time off. They outshot the Penguins 24-22, and it seemed to me out-chanced them at even strength, although I don't have statistics on that to back me up. Their hands didn't appear to be there in terms of finishing scoring chances, though, and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton's goaltender, Andy Chiodo, made several spectacular saves. Chiodo is a pretty good story, having come from battling to stay out of the number-three spot on the Penguins' goaltending depth chart to leading them to a pair of series wins. He surpassed Sebastien Caron, who played 40 games in the Show this year with Pittsburgh, and Marc-Andre Fleury, the first overall pick in last summer's draft, to take over the top slot and shows no signs of relinquishing his grasp on it.
At the other end of the ice, we in 'Wolf Pack Land' got a big scare in the third period Tuesday when Jason LaBarbera collapsed in a heap after Kris Beech's goal, that turned out to be the game-winner, and had to be helped to the locker room. It looked eerily similar to the knee injury suffered by my current broadcast partner, Phil Osaer, who quickly departed the press box and headed toward ice level, potentially to exchange his suit and tie for his goaltender's gear (an aside...if they call catcher's equipment in baseball the Tools of Ignorance, what would be an appropriate moniker for the stuff worn by guys who are willing to stand in front of pieces of frozen vulcanized rubber traveling in the neighborhood of a hundred miles an hour?). As it turns out, though, LaBarbera was dehydrated and experiencing muscle cramps, which, while they must have been god-awfully painful, don't figure to keep him from starting Game Two.
Also, it's probably not fair to Phil and Steve Valiquette to imply that the Pack should simply have conceded the series if LaBarbera had been lost. As great as LaBarbera has been all year (and he has been consistently magnificent), both Valiquette and Osaer are perfectly capable of stepping in and putting the team on their shoulders as well, although from the vantage point of the 6-5 Valiquette's back they might all get dizzy. Far from suffering a crisis of confidence when LaBarbera went out, the Pack did not allow a shot on goal for the 11:10 that Valiquette was in there (the final goal was an empty-netter).
There was a large and enthusiastic crowd in attendance at the Wachovia Arena at Casey Plaza for Game One, which is the norm at the Penguins' nest. I didn't know a lot about this area when the decision was made to put a franchise here, despite the fact that I was with the Rangers' franchise in Binghamton, NY, which is only about an hour away. Clearly somebody did some good research on the market, though, because it has been one big, long success story. And now the area around the arena, which was almost totally barren when the franchise got started, is totally built up with restaurants, stores and the shiny new hotel from which I am typing this rambling stream of consciousness.
- Bob CrawfordRELATED LINKS:Crawford's Pack Report: Next Stop ... Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (5/17/04) >>Crawford's Pack Report: Looking to Stay Sharp, Focused (5/11/04) >>Crawford's Pack Report: Great Finish to a Hockey Marathon (5/6/04) >>Crawford's Pack Report: Looking to Close Out the Series (5/3/04) >>Crawford's Pack Report: A Big Win to Open Round Two (5/1/04) >>Crawford's Pack Report: On to the Second Round! (4/29/04) >>Crawford's Pack Report: 'Road Warriors' Return Home (4/26/04) >>Crawford's Pack Report: Nothing Like Playoff OT (4/24/04) >>Crawford's Pack Report: Home Split, Off to Portland (4/21/04) >>