|The return of Corey Locke, the American Hockey League's leading scorer and most valuable player, is a welcome boost to a depleted Binghamton Senators roster (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).
The Binghamton Senators are about to add a rather large gun to their playoff arsenal.
Officially, it's still a game-time decision. But it's expected Corey Locke will be in the lineup tonight when the B-Sens face off against the Portland Pirates in the opener of their Atlantic Division final at the Cumberland County Civic Center in Maine.
Locke, the American Hockey League's scoring champion and most valuable player, has yet to see any action in the post-season. But his ailing shoulder has finally recovered well enough to allow him to suit up against the Pirates in Game 1 of the series (7 p.m., Team 1200, ahllive.com).
"It's good to be back," Locke told reporters in advance of tonight's game. "I just want to play, contribute and hopefully generate some offence. If I can chip in points, that's great, but hopefully I can get the power play going a bit. Nothing really changes. Hopefully, I can have a little jump in my step after some time off and it doesn't take too long to get right back into it."
Added captain Ryan Keller: "(Locke) makes a big difference offensively, especially on the power play. Having him out there makes our power play a lot more fluid and snappy. He can quarterback that great. It's a nice addition, having him back."
B-Sens head coach Kurt Kleinendorst believes Locke's return couldn't be better timed.
"It’s probably a little bit easier to insert him into a Game 1 as opposed to a Game 7 or Game 6," he said following Binghamton's pre-game skate earlier today. "As much as there will be intensity, it seems as if the intensity gets ratcheted up every single night. So by the time you get to Game 7 … if you haven’t played in awhile, that’s asking an awful lot. It’s the right time. Corey’s healthy and he’s ready to be back."
While Locke's return is definitely good news, the B-Sens are far from clear of any injury concerns. Forwards Cody Bass and Derek Grant
, who scored the overtime winner in Game 2 of the first-round series against the Manchester Monarchs, are both banged up and won't play tonight. Neither will five of Binghamton's regular defencemen: Derek Smith, Craig Schira, David Hale, Eric Gryba
and Patrick Coulombe, all of whom are on the injured list.
All but Schira weren't available for the last five games of the Manchester series. Somehow, the B-Sens got through it and they'll have to make do tonight. Kanata native Mark Borowiecki joined the lineup at the end of the previous round on an amateur tryout agreement, and blueliner Bobby Raymond was added via a pro tryout offer.
"We're still going to be a little bit limited on the blue line," said Kleinendorst. "But just like we did in the last series after Game 2, we just have to find a way to work it around the guys that are in the lineup and not worry about the guys that are out of the lineup."
The Pirates roster, meanwhile, got a boost with the elimination of the Buffalo Sabres from the Stanley Cup playoffs Tuesday night at the hands of the Philadelphia Flyers. The Sabres have re-assigned goaltender Jhonas Enroth, along with forwards Matt Ellis and Mark Mancari, to their AHL affiliate. Defenceman Marc-Andre Gragnani, an offensive leader for Buffalo against the Flyers, is expected to join that airlift.
Kleinendorst expects another high-energy series with the Pirates, who topped the Atlantic Division standings during the regular season.
"This is an awfully good hockey club, there’s no question," he said. "But at the end of the day, this is going to be more about us than it is about Portland and if we come out and play the way we need to play, we’ll have success. Having said that, they’re a hard-working, gritty, skilled group of guys. They’re coached by Kevin Dineen. He likes his guys to be tenacious, he likes them to be in your face and I can guarantee you that by the end of this series, there’s not going to be a lot of love lost between these two teams."Around the boards
Goaltender Robin Lehner
makes his fourth start of the playoffs for the B-Sens tonight. The 19-year-old Swede was between the pipes for the three overtime wins that allowed Binghamton to overcome a 3-1 series deficit against the Monarchs ... With Barry Brust ailing, Mike Brodeur will likely dress as the backup tonight ... Binghamton and Portland both became home to AHL franchises in 1977 but have never met in the playoffs ... The teams split two regular-season meetings, with each recording a road victory.