On Wednesday night, the Hamilton Bulldogs are in Rochester to begin their 1st round playoff series versus the Americans. Hamilton has the 3rd best record in the league since mid-February (19-8-1-1), while Rochester finished with the best record in the AHL, at 51-19-4-6. The Bulldogs fought hard the final 2 months of the regular season to get into the playoffs, while the Amerks clinched their berth over 6 weeks ago. Today, we preview the series.
April 20: Hamilton vs Rochester
April 22: Hamilton vs Rochester
April 24: Rochester at Hamilton
April 26: Rochester at Hamilton
*April 29: Hamilton at Rochester
*May 1: Rochester at Hamilton
*May 2: Hamilton at Rochester
Regular Season at a Glance:
November 10: Rochester 1, Hamilton 0
November 20: Rochester 3, Hamilton 1
November 24: Hamilton 3, Rochester 1
December 11: Hamilton 3, Rochester 2 (SO)
January 26: Rochester 4, Hamilton 2
January 29: Rochester 3, Hamilton 2
February 2: Rochester 3, Hamilton 2
February 12: Hamilton 5, Rochester 2
February 25: Rochester 4, Hamilton 2
April 15: Rochester 5, Hamilton 3
Biggest margin of victory: Hamilton (3), February 12, 2005
Team Records – head-to-head:
Notes: Only two teams (Syracuse – 5 and Binghamton – 4) had more wins versus Rochester than Hamilton.
Goals For/Goals Against – head-to-head:
Hamilton: 22 GF, 26 GA
Rochester: 26 GF, 22 GA
* Hamilton only counts for 2 goals in their shootout victory; the third doesn’t count towards season totals.
Special Teams – season:
Hamilton: PP: 65/425 (15.3%), PK: 319/377 (84.6%)
Rochester: PP: 80/423 (18.9%), PK: 334/389 (85.9%)
1999: Rochester wins series 4 games to 2
2002: Rochester wins series 4 games to 2
2004: Rochester wins series 4 games to 0
Season Scoring Leaders:
|Rochester Americans||Hamilton Bulldogs|
Like Yann Danis was to the Bulldogs down the stretch, Ryan Miller meant that and more to the Rochester Americans this season. Although their team is well-balanced, it lives and dies by Miller’s play. Danis has been on fire for Hamilton lately, winning 8 of his last 10 starts, and will need to continue to do so for Hamilton to have a chance. Experience may also be an issue, as neither Danis nor backup Dan Ellis have played an AHL playoff game, whereas Miller and Rochester veteran backup Tom Askey have some playoff games under their belt. Of note in this though, is that Miller has only 1 year of playoff competition at the professional level. Advantage: Rochester, but not by a lot.
If the Americans have one weakness, it would be defence. Unlike the Bulldogs, who are loaded with elite defence prospects, Rochester has less flash and fanfare, but still can get the job done. Jeff Jillson and Nathan Paetsch are their top offensive players, while Doug Janik and former Montreal Canadien Rory Fitzpatrick do the dirty work in the defensive zone. Trevor Daley and Ron Hainsey are Hamilton’s top-2 offensive threats, while Mike Komisarek and Dan Jancevski are the more defensive minded type. Advantage: Hamilton, but will defence play that big a role anyways?
Here’s where Doug Jarvis and Co. get really worried. Even if Miller has an uncharacteristic off night, Rochester’s offence is plenty potent enough to make up for it. Their elite 3 of Taylor, Vanek, and Pominville all have more points than Hamilton’s top leader (Plekanec), and their depth is something to be reckoned with. Emerging forwards such as Derek Roy and Dan Paille are found on their bottom lines, not to mention AHL veterans Norm Milley and Milan Bartovic, plus former high NHL draft pick Jiri Novotny. Hamilton, meanwhile, does have some firepower in Plekanec, Higgins, Ward, and Antti Miettinen, who averaged almost a point-per-game after missing half of the season due to injury. Players like Duncan Milroy, Corey Locke, and Andrei Kostitsyn (whose injury may prevent him from starting the series) are too inconsistent to try to counter the Americans’ balanced attack. Advantage: Rochester, their depth is simply astounding by AHL standards.
Bulldogs Playoff History:
The Hamilton Bulldogs have played in a total of 100 playoff games in their AHL history, winning 53 and losing 47, including a 12-7 overtime record. They have never lost in the first round, winning all 7 of their opening-round series. Only 3 Hamilton Bulldogs have won a Calder Cup before, Benjamin Carpentier (Hartford), Steve Begin (Saint Johns), and Raitis Ivanans (Milwaukee-last season). Begin also won the Playoff MVP award with the now defunct Flames franchise back in 2001. Jason Ward has the most AHL playoff experience, split between the former Quebec Citadelles and the Bulldogs. (40 games)
Important Rule Note:
All rules that were introduced this season to the AHL will remain intact, with the exception of the shootout. All games tied after regulation will go to the traditional 20 minute overtime periods until a winner is decided. This may be advantageous to the Bulldogs, who went 2-7 in the shootout this season, however, one of those wins was against Rochester.
The Americans are the heavy favourite to win this series, having earned the best record in the league. It will be very difficult, but not impossible to win, if they can achieve these 3 keys to the series:
1) Solve Miller early and often: The Bulldogs need to get on the board early in the game, and force Rochester to change their game plan. Miller is relatively inexperienced in the playoffs, and if Hamilton can get on him quickly, his confidence may waver.
2) Youngsters stepping it up: The Hamilton Bulldogs are, by AHL standards, a fairly young team. Vets who have been there before like Tomas Plekanec and Jason Ward know what it takes to win, but they can’t do it alone. Rookies Andrei Kostitsyn (if healthy) and Corey Locke, plus sophomores Duncan Milroy, Jonathan Ferland, and Marc-Andre Thinel will need to step up their games to give the Bulldogs a more balanced attack.
3) Contain the “Big 3”: Rochester’s top line of Pominville, Taylor, and Vanek is a force to be reckoned with. If they get going early, it’s all over for the Bulldogs. Although Rochester’s depth is strong, they are not as gifted offensively, and, if they are forced to shoulder the load, the games should be close.