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B-Sens hot on trail of first Calder Cup championship

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Now that they're opponent has finally been decided, Kurt Kleinendorst and the Binghamton Senators can focus on facing the Houston Aeros in the Calder Cup final (Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photography/OSHC).

Everything, it's been said, is bigger in Texas.

But while their trail now heads to the Lone Star State, the Binghamton Senators will tell you this is one tale that would rate as huge wherever it was told. Namely, the American Hockey League team's quest to lay claim to the Calder Cup for the first time in franchise history.

For the B-Sens, the next chapter in what has already been a remarkable post-season run begins Friday night at the Toyota Center in Houston, where the Aeros play host to the Calder Cup Finals opener (8:35 p.m., Team 1200.com, ahllive.com). Game 2 is also set for steamy Texas, where the mercury has soared into the mid-30s, on Saturday evening.

The matchup was finally set on Tuesday night, when the Aeros edged the Hamilton Bulldogs 4-3 on home ice to take the Western Conference final in seven games. Houston led the series 3-0 and was on the verge of the same sweep the B-Sens laid on the Charlotte Checkers, but the Bulldogs stormed back to prolong matters.

Meanwhile, Binghamton sat and waited for nearly a week after finishing off the Checkers. By the time the puck drops Friday in Houston, they'll have gone eight days without hockey. Needless to say, the B-Sens are more than ready to get it started.

"It feels like it's been a month," Binghamton head coach Kurt Kleinendorst told the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin. "It's time to get on with it. Everybody's excited. Nobody cared who we played ... we just wanted to get started and get going.

"I don't know if the layover's going to hurt us or help us. We won't know until Friday when the puck drops."

The B-Sens began the long trek to Texas earlier today, busing their way to Philadelphia before hitting the airways for the rest of the trip. At the other end of that haul awaits a team that Binghamton has yet to face this season — and vice versa. But they'll get to know each other soon enough.

What's most startling in comparing the teams, at least in the playoffs, is the disparity in the offensive numbers recorded by the B-Sens and Aeros. Binghamton rates as the highest-scoring team in the AHL's post-season, with six of its players ranking among the top 12 in playoff scoring — including overall leader Ryan Potulny (14-11-25).

Only Patrick O'Sullivan (4-11-15), who sits ninth, ranks among the league's top 20 in playoff scoring. But the Aeros are an impressive 7-1 in one-goal games during the post-season, showing they can score when it counts.

The Aeros, who are the primary affiliate of the Minnesota Wild, finished second (46-28-1-5) in the West Division behind the Milwaukee Admirals. In the playoffs, Houston swept the Peoria Rivermen in the opening round before going the full seven games to sideline the Admirals and Bulldogs.

Binghamton, meanwhile, rallied froma 3-1 deficit to oust the Manchester Monarchs in its first-round series, then eliminated the Portland Pirates in six games before sweeping the Checkers.

Around the boards

Interesting tidbit courtesy of Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. It seems that when the Aeros were deciding on a coach before this season, the two finalists were former Pittsburgh Penguins assistant Mike Yeo — who eventually got the job — and Kleinendorst, a good friend of Houston GM Jim Mill ... The hiring was a homecoming of sorts for Yeo, who captained the Aeros' Turner Cup championship team in the old International Hockey League in 1998-99 ... The B-Sens are one win shy of setting an AHL record for most consecutive road wins in the playoffs. They've won eight straight away from home since dropping their post-season opener April 14 against the Monarchs ... Only one Binghamton-based team — the 1981-82 Whalers — has reached the Calder Cup final, falling in five games to the New Brunswick Hawks ... Houston has won the AHL crown once previously, in 2003, with Todd McLellan — the current head coach of the San Jose Sharks — behind the bench.

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