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- January hasn't been a kind month for Lars Eller. He has just 12 points in 44 games, his lowest PPG average of any month.
The Hamilton Bulldogs have become the North Division Regular Season Champions for the second year in a row and they have clinched a spot in the Calder Cup Playoffs for the 12th time in 15 years. They completed the season with a record of 44-27-2-7 and 97 points, good enough to finish 1st in the division and capture the division title. And with the tight playoff points race which led up to the end of season, it took the Bulldogs until their final two games this last weekend vs the Manitoba Moose (affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks) to accomplish these achievements, defeating the Moose by the final scores of 6-3 and 3-1 and to earn the points they needed to advance into the postseason.
The Dogs begin the 2011 Calder Cup Playoffs this Thursday when they face off in the first round against the Oklahoma City Barons, who are the AHL affiliate of the Edmonton Oilers.
Joining me now to answer the mailbag questions about the Bulldogs vs Barons series is Brian La Rose, HabsWorld writer and Chief Editor.
Question 1: What is the key to the Bulldogs’ success?
Brian La Rose: As much as Hamilton has more or less lived off one line and a goalie for the last few weeks, I don't think they can survive this series doing the same. Thus, they need to find a combination to form at least a passable secondary scoring line to take the pressure off of Dawes, Boyd, and Palushaj.
Ian Russell: It starts with goaltending and it finishes with goaltending. This Hamilton Bulldogs team has proven over the course of the season that they struggle without some solid play between the pipes. Curtis Sanford provided that need before his injury earlier in the season, and Drew MacIntyre is providing it now. Since being acquired, MacIntyre has played 21 consecutive games for Hamilton and just appears to be getting better and stronger in his goaltending abilities with each game played. This series is going to be a goaltenders duel.
Question 2: Who is your darkhorse candidate to have a breakout in scoring?
Brian La Rose: Last year, it was Ryan Russell who broke out but I suspect his line (with Engqvist/Wyman) will be the primary shutdown trio. This year, we saw flashes that Olivier Fortier could skate with the top guys and hold his own offensively; though streaky, I think he may be able to get hot at the right time. I wouldn't discount recently signed Paul Zanette either who is getting better with each game and is coming off a strong offensive season in college.
Ian Russell: Obviously, the combination of Nigel Dawes, Aaron Palushaj, and Dustin Boyd are going to be the main offensive threat, and just as obviously, Oklahoma is going to attempt to shut down this trio. As Brian said above, Olivier Fortier could possibly break out and have a good series and I am going to put my vote on Paul Zanette as well.
Question 3: Who on the Barons should the Bulldogs be most worried about?
Brian La Rose: Beyond the lethal 1-2 scoring punch of Colin McDonald and Alex Giroux, the return of Linus Omark to the Barons concerns me the most. Prior to his recall, he had 31 points in 28 games, a pace that would have given him the most points in the league had he stayed down all year. It doesn't matter that he, along with Teemu Hartikainen, would rather be playing in the upcoming World Championships as the fact he will be playing gives their second line a whole lot more firepower.
Ian Russell: Scoring firepower for the Barons, yes, Alexandre Giroux is going to be the player that Hamilton needs to silence. He finished the season 2nd overall in scoring with 32 goals and 46 assists. But as I answered in the first question, this series is going to come down to goaltending. Former Bulldogs goaltender, Jeff Deslauriers, has 3 shutouts in his last 4 games and the Oklahoma Barons also have Martin Gerber on their roster.
Brian La Rose: Barons in 6 - Of all the scenarios, this was the least desirable for the Bulldogs. I think the Barons have the better goaltending, defence, and offence. Hamilton has done great in battling adversity this season when they played (and won) with all the injuries and callups, they will need to summon that never-say-die attitude once again in order to have a chance to move on.
Ian Russell: As a Bulldogs Season Ticket Holder, I see the world through Bulldogs-colored glasses, so I must put my vote in favour of Hamilton. The Dogs wrapped up the Division in 1st , clinching the Division Championship, and have proven that they can still win games despite playing through injuries and the callups to Montreal. If the Dogs' scoring and goaltending can show up and present themselves, as we have discussed here, the Bulldogs should win this first round series in 7 games.
And to wrap up this week’s Bulldogs Recap/Mailbag/Playoff Preview, let’s take a quick, closer look at the matchup between the two teams.
The Hamilton Bulldogs and the Oklahoma City Barons played each other only twice during the regular season with each team taking one victory. The Barons won the first game by a final score of 3-2 in Overtime, while the Bulldogs took the second game by way of a 3-0 shutout victory. In the final standings, Oklahoma finished the season with a 40-29-2-9 record and 91 points, fifth place in the West Division while your Hamilton Bulldogs finished with a record of 44-27-2-7 and 97 points.
This is going to be an intense first round series. Let the games begin! The action gets under way on Thursday April 14th at the Dog Pound at Copps Coliseum in Hamilton.
- Series Preview: A Rivalry Renewed posted by B. La Rose