Crawford's Pack Report: Home Split, Off to Portland
/ New York Rangers
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 got their first win of the 2004 post-season Wednesday night, solving the plucky Portland Pirates for a 1-0 triumph and squaring the Division Semifinal series at a game apiece. With all of the good players that the Pack got back down from the Rangers, it was looking like Hartford might be a bit of a more explosive team in the postseason, but Wednesday's game closely resembled many of the Pack's regular season wins...a hard-working power-play goal on a rebound, sharp defensive play and several timely saves by Jason LaBarbera.
It looks to me like the lineup is still in the process of jelling, with the likes of Jozef Balej, Fedor Tyutin and Jed Ortmeyer having returned to the Wolf Pack lineup relatively recently, and my guess is that the offense is going to start to flow more smoothly as the post-season progresses, but it was good to see that the team still has the personality of a club that can gut out a low-scoring, in-the-trenches-type victory.
It was big too for the Pack to slow down, at least temporarily, a Portland offense that had been cranking on all cylinders in its first three playoff contests. The Pirates were a team that struggled mightily to score goals all regular season, finishing last in the AHL in goals-for, but they had suddenly found their groove in the "second season", with 16 total goals in three playoff games prior to Wednesday. Portland got a very skilled player in Alexander Semin down from their parent club, the Washington Capitals, after the Caps' season ended, and it's amazing how much of a difference in the AHL one high-end player can make.
Shutouts were a calling card for the Wolf Pack during the regular season, though (they set a league record with 17 ... 13 of them by LaBarbera, another AHL mark), and although the Pirates did force LaBarbera to make some quality saves Wednesday (most notably on a clean second-period breakaway by Ivan Ciernik), the Pack closed ranks and held Portland off the scoreboard.
Now the series shifts for Games Three and Four to Portland, one of the cooler cities in the AHL to visit. Portland has a neat downtown "Old Port" area, complete with cobblestone sidewalks, a real seaport feel, and numerous excellent restaurants and shops. Also, like Hartford, Portland is home to some of the more enthusiastic and knowledgeable fans in the league. The team will bus the three-hours-and-change from Hartford to Portland on Thursday, and no doubt it will be a lighthearted atmosphere on the "ol' iron lung", after a big win in Game Two. Our magnanimous General Manager Jim Schoenfeld is springing for a team meal at one of Portland's many outstanding seafood eateries Thursday night, so the guys will be well fortified with lobster and assorted other coastal delicacies when they hit the ice for Game Three on Friday.
The lower-seeded Pirates have to be happy with the split they gained in the Wolf Pack's back yard, but it will be interesting to see what the Pack will be able to do with the momentum gained off of Wednesday's win, which was Portland's first defeat in four post-season games.
I'll have more random thoughts to share after Friday's tilt.
WOLF PACK POST-GAME QUOTES: Courtesy of The Hartford Courant
Wolf Pack Head Coach Ryan McGill: "We had a little bit more purpose and sense of urgency. We knew we had to put our best foot forward and keep it going; we had our battle levels up right off the bat. I thought we came out pretty good [Tuesday] night in the first five minutes but just didn't sustain it."
"Tonight we played with an edge and got pucks into areas behind their defense. We made smarter routes on the forecheck. You have to give Portland credit in the second period for some odd-man rushes from some bad mistakes on our part, but our goaltender was there for us."
Hartford goaltender Jason LaBarbera: "Most everyone knew what had to be done. "Maybe we got a bit of the rust off [Tuesday night], and we didn't want to play like we did again. It was a much better team effort and a lot of fun because we regrouped, which was huge. ... I think we can still play better, but it was a good start and hopefully we can build off this."