Monday, May 16, 2011
Do photos of the guys celebrating after a win ever get old?
QUICK: Before reading further, click on the link and check out my game story in the Press. There's some quotes from Colton Gillies on his game-winner, Mike Yeo on the team's play this weekend, and I include a nice quote from Matt Kassian on Derek Boogaard. And remember, I was there in the locker room long before the guys with the TV cameras started hanging around.
Here's the thing, Heather picked the Aeros in six. Andrew and myself picked them to win in seven. I don't remember seeing Heather's winning sequence, but mine had the Aeros winning games one, four, six, and seven while Andrew's, I believe, had the Aeros winning games two, four, six, and seven. So seeing them come out and win these first two games is just not what I was expecting. This wasn't because of the Aeros, it was because of Drew MacIntyre in goal for Hamilton and the fact that the Bulldogs are a very good team. So I just figured they find a way to get a split. But the Aeros, despite not playing their best hockey, figured out a way to get it done. And that's how it's done in the playoffs, right? You find a way to get it done.
1. Now I'm not expecting that the Bulldogs are going to roll over. The Aeros are on their way to Hamilton as this is posted, and I can guarantee that there's not one person associated with this Aeros team that thinks this series is over.
"I think the feeling, and you can ask any of the players, is we haven’t won anything yet," Gillies said yesterday. "Still a lot more games to be played and we’re just going to stick to the game plan that got us here."
2. Speaking of Gillies, who out there isn't enjoying his game in the playoffs? I asked Mike Yeo about Gillies yesterday, and about how it seems he's elevated his game. And as Yeo was quick to point out, this is how Gillies has been playing all season, the only difference is that he's now finding the net.
"He’s elevated his game, obviously, by putting the puck in the net," Yeo said. "But really, what he’s doing is going out and doing what he’s done for us all year long. He brings momentum for us when he’s out on the ice.
"I think the most important part is that line’s going out there against top lines. And they’re shutting them down. Quite often when you do that, then the other lines are going to get frustrated and you’re going to generate some opportunities off of the rush, or in the offensive zone because they’re a little bit more focused on the offense, especially when they’ve had to try to battle through all game. And they’re not getting much.
"Now he’s in a position where he’s doing all the things he’s supposed to do as Colton Gillies, but he’s capitalizing on his chances and he’s elevated his game."
3. But what does Gillies have to say about this? He's just doing what needs to be done. But he's not the hero. The entire team is responsible for where the Aeros are at at this moment.
"For me with playoffs, I’ve been going to the net a lot harder," he said. "I’ve been going to the net and trying to make sure my presence around the net is known. You can ask anyone of the players in the dressing room, including myself. It’s not about the goals, we’re here to win the game. If you score, good job, you get to be the hero for the night. But there’s a lot of guys in that room that do little things that don’t get noticed that deserve to wear the cape."
4. Now we talked to Matt Kassian after the game. I had him brought out because I wanted to ask him about Derek Boogaard. But then Andrew decided to ask some non-Boogaard questions, and the way he answered these questions goes to just what a classy, team-oriented guy Kassian is.
He wants to be playing. And it hurt to know that he was the guy who was going to have sit once the Milwaukee series started. But there were more important things than his feelings because he couldn't let his feelings impact the team.
"It’s not an easy thing," he said. "I don’t think people understand how difficult it can be on you mentally and emotionally, as well. When you’re here the whole season, you want to play and you want to be a part of it, but at the same time, you’re here to be a good teammate. You can’t bring any kind of that negative emotions that you feel about it into the dressing room. You really just have to have a good attitude and work through it.
"That’s difficult. It’s tough. You want to play, you want to be part of it. I’m the type of player who, if you play me four minutes I’m going to want to play five. If you play me five I’m going to want to play six. You play me 19 I’m going to want to play 20.
"You never like to see an injury, especially to a young guy. It’s never good. And he’ll [Bulmer] be back, and it’s not too serious….At the same time, it’s an opportunity for myself to get back in there and be consistent and try to do what I in the first series. Just be consistent in the room and be consistent on the bench and the ice, too. Just play hard and make their [defense] hear footsteps and chip pucks out and that kind of thing."
5. Then comes Matt Hackett's play these first two games. Hackett said after game seven in Milwaukee that one of the problems he'd had was that he wasn't seeing enough shots, but that he thought he had adjusted to that problem. Well that hasn't been a problem in this series so far. We were talking to Kassian when Hackett came out and talked to the TV guys, so I don't know what he said. But if he keeps playing like he's been playing, the Aeros aren't going to have to worry about his play.
6. Jon DiSalvatore said an interesting thing about Hackett after the game, and how he'd been challenged after game six in Milwaukee to elevate his game, and how he's begun to understand the importance of goalie play in the playoffs. It's not clear from DiSalvatore's statements if this challenge came from Hackett's teammates, or if Hackett challenged himself. But this follows on what guys like Jed Ortmeyer said on Friday night about Hackett elevating his game after that sixth game in Milwaukee.
Here's what DiSalvatore said: "I think after game six in Milwaukee – in that Milwaukee series, a lot of guys were challenged, and that game six, Matt Hackett was challenged. And the kid has responded tremendously for us. He has really – I think he won us the first game of this series. And just the way that he’s kind of matured and accepted the true responsibility of how significant goaltending is in playoffs has been tremendous. We’re very proud of him, and we hope that he continues to strive to be better. He’s been excellent so far since that game six. Absolutely."
7. And since I've been following around the team a lot the past month or so -- I'm really sorry I can't make it to Hamilton -- I've seen a lot of Colton Gillies dealing with Hackett. After game four in Peoria, I was asking Hackett about some tough stops, and Gillies popped out from nowhere and went on about how Hackett saw everything.
And when asked about Hackett yesterday, Gillies was just as effusive in his statements: "Hackett, he’s a great goalie. That’s pretty much it. He’s definitely had a good series for us. He’s had a good season. With Milwaukee, he didn’t see a lot of shots for long periods of time, which could have been hard on him. But he’s playing well right now, and he’ll keep up. I know he will."
8. The defense had another good game. And after being really down on Justin Falk during the Milwaukee series, I think, like with Hackett, we're seeing a guy who has elevated his game. And the defense as a whole, has been good -- man, you've got to wonder just how good this team would have been with Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella around all year, and man, are we going to miss them next year.
"[Falk] in particular, but I thought the entire group was again very good," Yeo said. "[Hamilton] is a team, if your defense is not sharp, then they’re going to make them look bad. They’re committed to getting every puck in behind your defense and making them turn and go back. And they put them under heavy pressure.
"The way that we executed, not only were we able to relieve that pressure, we were able to get to our game a little bit more effectively. We were able to generate some speed off the rush and off the attack because of the way those guys went back and executed."
9. The officiating, as it's been throughout the playoffs, was atrocious. I'm still trying to figure out how Max Noreau was the one who got the four minute minor for roughing in the third period. Whether it's a blind Terry Koharski waiving off pucks that are goals, or Jean Hebert and Francis Charron yesterday who just seemed to have their heads stuck up their asses, there's just no way to explain it. I also don't know why the linesmen thought they were required to hold onto the puck for 20 minutes in the face off circle before dropping the puck to start action.
I'm working on a separate post/rant about the officiating, but the AHL should just really be ashamed by how bad things have been. And not just how bad they calls have been or not been against the Aeros. The officials have been equal opportunity offenders -- see Koharski blowing a goal call against Milwaukee in game seven -- and it's just a pity to see great series being dragged down by their awfulness.
10. And I just want to add that the crowds at Toyota Center have been fantastic and only getting better since the playoffs began. The crowds in Milwaukee were almost non-existent in Milwaukee last week -- there were just under 3000 for game six and, I think, about 3500 for game seven. But the Aeros have been getting some big crowds, and those crowds have been loud. And I'm not the only one who thinks so.
"The crowd’s been awesome, especially the last couple of games," Yeo said. "I think it’s been building as this playoff run has gone along. It seems like with the intensity that increases in the games, it’s increasing the atmosphere and the playoff vibe that we’re feeling right now.
"Right from the start of the game you can tell that the crowds are jacked up, they’re excited, and they’re feeling it. And because of that, it brings a little bit more life, and little bit more emotion to our guys."
So job well done. Now it's white-knuckle time as the guys head off for three games at Hamilton.