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.'
It's rare that you see a team win a championship without receiving at least one major scare and having to fight through some serious adversity. When the Wolf Pack won the Calder Cup in 2000, they had to survive no fewer than five elimination games, two in the first round against Springfield and three more in the Conference Finals vs. Providence.
This year the Pack rolled through their first two series' without anything close to a must-win situation, but now they find themselves in the throes of some major trouble in their current matchup. Down three-games-to-two to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, the Wolf Pack need a win on Friday to keep their season alive, and they're going to have to prevail in Wilkes-Barre to get it. That is no small task, as there are sure to be a full house of Penguin fanatics on hand, hoping to spur their team into the Calder Cup Finals.
The Wolf Pack have answered every challenge thrown their way this season, but have never faced this type of do-or-die scenario. Every member of this Pack team, from the coaching staff on down, has impressed the hockey world with all they have accomplished this year, and if they can respond to this difficulty in a positive way, it will raise their respective profiles even higher.
The team seemed all but dead when Tuesday night's Game Five got to 3-0 in favor of the Penguins. The Wolf Pack suddenly rediscovered their offensive explosiveness, though, and knotted the score at three in a span of less than five-and-a-half minutes. Shane Endicott's game-winning goal on the first shift of overtime certainly put a damper on the proceedings from the Pack's perspective, but Ryan McGill's troops have to be proud of themselves in that they were able to wrest some of the momentum in that game back from a Wilkes-Barre/Scranton group that had everything rolling. If the Wolf Pack could ever win Friday, it sure would set up one heck of a Game Seven.
One thing is for sure, both the Rangers and Pittsburgh have got to be happy with the way all of their young players are performing in these playoffs. Youngsters like Jozef Balej, Chad Wiseman, Fedor Tyutin, Bryce Lampman, et. al., certainly represent a bright future for the Rangers, and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton has four recent Penguins first round picks playing regularly for them, as well as three other second rounders. If building from within is truly the way to go in hockey these days, then both NHL affiliates are well set for better times ahead.
Another interesting story line at crunch time of this series is the goaltending on both sides. Jason LaBarbera's eight total goals against in the last two games of this series is an uncharacteristic stat for him, and the Penguins have gone against the conventional wisdom by alternating Andy Chiodo and Sebastien Caron in their net. Will Michel Therrien stick with Chiodo in Game Six with Chiodo having such an excellent home record, or will he shuffle the deck again and re-insert Caron, who grabbed a huge road win for them in Game Five? Either way, those of us who follow the Wolf Pack will have to hope that the offensive outburst that the Pack showed in Game Five after they got down 3-0 portends more of the same for Friday.
- Bob CrawfordRELATED LINKS:Crawford's Pack Report: A Best-of -Three Series Now (5/24/04) >>Crawford's Pack Report: Extra Rest May Benefit Pack (5/22/04) >>Crawford's Pack Report: Down in Game One, But Not Out (5/20/04) >>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) >>