|Zack Smith and the Binghamton Senators hope to finish off a sweep of the Charlotte Checkers tonight and earn their first-ever trip to the American Hockey League's Calder Cup final (Just Sports Photography).
Once upon a time, it was a city that embraced the legendary Broome Dusters, a team and a hockey name that still holds a special place in their hearts.
Tonight, the fervent followers of the puck game in Binghamton, N.Y., will have a broom of a different kind in mind — one that can cleanly sweep away so many seasons of hockey frustration.
The Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena figures to be hopping tonight, when the American Hockey League's version of the Senators tries to put an exclamation point on what has been a mostly one-sided Eastern Conference final. With a fourth straight victory over the Charlotte Checkers this evening (7:05 p.m., Team 1200, ahllive.com), the B-Sens will advance to the first Calder Cup final in franchise history.
Only two teams in AHL history — the 1960 Rochester Americans and 1989 Adirondack Red Wings — have ever escaped a 3-0 hole in the Calder Cup playoffs. Given the B-Sens' dominant 7-1 rout in Game 3 on Tuesday night, it doesn't appear likely the Checkers will join that rather exclusive list. Binghamton has outscored Charlotte 17-5 so far in the series.
That being said, the B-Sens don't expect the Checkers to go away easily tonight.
"The fourth one's always the hardest to put a team away," Binghamton captain Ryan Keller told reporters after Tuesday's game, which had a raucous crowd of 3,756 at Broome County Arena on its feet in the final two minutes. "They're a proud group over there and you can be sure they don't want to lose four straight. They're going to come out and throw everything but the kitchen sink at us tomorrow."
Binghamton head coach Kurt Kleinendorst remains wary of a team that eliminated the two-time defending champion Hershey Bears and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, the AHL's top regular-season team in 2010-11, to get to this point.
"I know there's a lot of character over there," he said. "They didn't finish where they finished because they're a bad team. They didn't beat Hershey and they didn't beat Wilkes-Barre because they're a bad team. They're capable and if we let our guard down for a second, they'll make it interesting."
The B-Sens don't intend to let that happen, not with the chance to clinch a playoff series on home ice for the first time in franchise history. For the city's long-suffering fans, who are savouring their first playoff run since 2003, it's been a long time in coming. And their team wants to repay that loyalty in a big way tonight.
"We definitely don't want to go back to Charlotte," Keller told the Binghamton Sun and Press-Bulletin
. "You to try to close series out as soon as you can. But I feel like (the fans) deserve it. (Last night) again, the place was just rocking. It makes the hair on your arms stand up, for sure. They deserve it, so hopefully we can give it to them."
Added Zack Smith
, whose hat trick propelled Tuesday's triumph: "I don't think anyone doubts we fed off the fans' energy (last) night. I'm sure it will be just as loud from now on."Around the boards
Binghamton has only been represented in the Calder Cup final once previously, by the Whalers in 1981-82. They fell in five games to the New Brunswick Hawks ... The Broome Dusters, if you're wondering, played in the old North American Hockey League from 1973-77 and helped inspire Slap Shot
, the hockey movie which has become a cult classic over the years. Broome Dusters memorabilia is still readily available at B-Sens home games ... The Houston Aeros also hold a 3-0 edge in the Western Conference final over the Hamilton Bulldogs and can end it with a win at Copps Coliseum in Steeltown. All three games in that series have been decided by one goal ... Robin Lehner
(9-2) makes his 13th straight playoff start tonight. After being pulled in the series opener, the 19-year-old Swede has allowed one goal in his last six periods, including a 3-0 shutout in Game 2 ... The Checkers rode goaltender Mike Murphy (6-2, 1.49 GAA, .955 save percentage) through the first two rounds, but Binghamton's playoff-leading offence has chased him twice in three games. Murphy's numbers in this series: 0-3, 5.58 GAA and .927 save percentage ... Game 5, if needed, is set for Saturday in Binghamton.