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Crawford's Pack Report: Looking to Close Out the Series

by Staff Writer / 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.'

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The Pack took on an unfamiliar role in Game Three of their current series vs. Worcester on Sunday - that of comeback kids.

Game Two, a 3-0 Wolf Pack win Saturday at the Centrum Centre, was much more the typical Hartford effort ... get the lead, get the puck deep in the offensive zone, take away chances and ride the great goaltending of Jason LaBarbera.

On Sunday though, the Pack trailed 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2 before rising up and capturing a 4-3 win on Jozef Balej's goal just 12 seconds into OT. As great as they've played with the lead throughout the course of the season, the Wolf Pack haven't shown a real ability to turn up the offense when they've been behind, so it was great to see that when it counted most, they were able to get up off the deck.

Hopefully not too many folks in the crowd made late decisions to go to the concession stands or the restroom after regulation, because the winning goal came in the blink of an eye in Game Three. Balej again displayed his unbelievable skill and determination, backhanding the puck into the top shelf after having been knocked to his knees. He's had the winner in both Pack overtime wins in these playoffs - one after an exhausting nearly period-and-a-half of OT in Game Three of the first round at Portland, and then last night's, that barely qualified as overtime.

Those are the games you live for as a play-by-play caller too, when you can really let loose and bellow. My wife Martha was listening to the game at home and had gone upstairs for a minute while waiting for overtime to start. She told me she thought there was an intruder in the house when the goal went in, I was yelling so loudly. It's like primal scream therapy, cleansing.

Both teams faced a big challenge with the way this Division Finals schedule was set up, with the first three games being played in a span of three days, but the Wolf Pack have done a great job of turning it to their advantage, winning all three to push the IceCats' backs to the wall.

The Pack also jumped on an opportunity in the sense that three real key Worcester players - Jame Pollock, Christian Laflamme and Marc Brown - got injured in Game One and were unable to come back quickly enough to get into either of the next two. With two days off before Game Four Wednesday, though, those guys might have an opportunity to heal, so the IceCats could be a markedly different team coming back into Hartford. The play of Pollock, in particular, seems to be a big part of Worcester's success. He has tremendous speed coming from the backline, and is one of those guys who's not only blessed with a super-hard shot, he also has a terrific knack for getting it on net on the power play.

So the Pack now have potentially three straight at home to try and end this matchup and advance to the Conference Finals. Former Wolf Pack head coach E.J. McGuire used to say about these types of situations, "You never want to take your foot off a snake."

That was never more true in this series, as with the way the IceCats played against the Pack in the regular season, they certainly qualify as a snake that could strike up and bite if the Wolf Pack give them any opportunity.

- Bob Crawford

WOLF PACK POST-GAME QUOTES:
Courtesy of The Hartford Courant

Wolf Pack Head Coach Ryan McGill on working Balej through the forward lines on Sunday:
"Whenever somebody's in a funk or they need something to get going, they [the Dallas Stars] put Lehtinen on that line. Jozef Balej was one of those guys tonight and has been since he got here [at the end of the Rangers' season]. He makes everybody better, and that's a tremendous thing to have in your back pocket. He's tenacious on the forecheck, finishes checks, and if he tries things that don't work, he comes back and doesn't ever quit on anything. He has a lot of leadership ability."

RELATED LINKS:
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) >>
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