It has been said that many times throughout hockey, the postseason is a brand new season. The 16 teams who qualify for the chance to hoist the Calder Cup all have reset records; and the 80 in the regular season are a thing in the past.
Many can make a strong argument saying the highest seed team during the regular season rarely is the last team standing. The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins finished number one among all 30 teams in the AHL with the best record at the end of the regular season.
After knocking out the Norfolk Admirals, six games into the opening round, the Pens faced elimination in their own building Friday. Entering play, down three games to two against the Charlotte Checkers, the Penguins dropped a three goal lead in the third period and fell 4-3 in what went on as their final game until October 2011. The Checkers’ offense came to life late and tallied four times in the final 12:34 in route to eliminating the Pens.
With their backs against the wall, the Penguins would have to fight off a long plane ride the night before coming back from Charlotte. Shots would remain tight throughout the full opening 20 minutes between both clubs. The majority of the Penguins “Grade A” opportunities would come early on. Mike Murphy would be tested on a point-blank chance from the Pens’ Nick Petersen only 1:20 in. It would, however, be the best scoring chance of the stanza between the two teams.
The Checkers’ chances would mainly come from the point after being set up around the perimeter in the last half on the period. Charlotte would be driving the net, looking for rebounds shortly after the shot; but Brad Thiessen was in control early, not allowing any second opportunities in close. In the opening 20 minutes, the shots were 15-13 in favor of Charlotte.
To start the middle period, both teams spent less time in the neautral zone and more time on an offense rush. Playing 4-on-4 hockey with open ice, the Penguins’ Ben Street would fire a shot on Murphy. After a kick save, Ryan Craig would fire in the rebound and the games first goal.
Three minutes later, Charlotte would then get into penalty trouble. 1:29 apart, both Oskar Osala and Nicolas Blancahrd were sent to the box for minors. Eight seconds into Wilkes-Barre’s two-man advantage, Corey Potter would tea up a bomb from the point, past Mike Murphy for his second tally of the postseason.
Potter’s goal would be the final tally for either side after 40 minutes. Following the middle period, the Checkers have failed to score on Brad Thiessen for five consecutive periods. The Penguins would also gain the upper hand in the shot column, leading 28-25.
The W-B had all momentum on their side coming out of the locker room to start the final period. Up 2-0, Joe Vitale would speed down the right-wing and rip a wrist shot top shelf, past Murphy, to add to the goal total. 1:13 in, the Penguins led by a field goal for the first time in the series.
6:11 later, Chris Terry would break down the left-wing for Charlotte and snap a shot past Thiessen to break his five period shutout streak. Suddenly, following the goal, the tables started to turn in Charlotte’s favor.
Brett Sutter would carry the puck from the corner, walk out in front of Thiessen, and roof a shot over a sprawled out body. The goal would cut the lead to a slim one goal. Just 30 seconds later, it would set the stage for Chris Terry to tally a second time. Terry fired a shot from the point that deflected past Thiessen to tie the game suddenly at 3-3.
Following the goal, Penguins’ Bench Boss John Hynes was forced to burn his time out to settle down his troops. With Wilkes-Barre’s backs against the wall more than ever, it would lead to rookie Zac Dalpe, with only 3:18 left scoring the biggest goal of his young career for Charlotte. A goal that would officially relieve the Penguins’ faithful of hopes and dreams of a game seven, and the Calder Cup.
The Checkers would spend the remainder of the time left killing the clock, similar to how they would kill the penalty. Due to the Checkers constant puck possession, following the goal by Charlotte, the Penguins were unable to pull Thiessen for the extra attacker until there were 30 seconds left. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton would fall short one goal, taking the wind out of the sails of the fans and players until October.
It goes to show that any hot team during the course of the regular season can easily be subject to elimination once the postseason comes. It takes sixteen wins to hoist Calder, but it only takes four defeats, at the most, in seven games to be knocked out. When asked at the beginning of every season, “What will it take it win the Calder Cup?”, coaches often leave out the importance of just being hot at the right time.