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The Hamilton Bulldogs have eliminated the Manitoba Moose in the North Division Finals in seven games and now advance to Round 3 of the AHL 2011 Calder Cup playoffs: the Western Division Conference Finals. In this round, the Dogs will be playing their old nemesis, the Houston Aeros (affiliate of the Minnesota Wild).
The last time these two teams played a hockey game in the playoffs was on Thursday June 12, 2003 at Copps Coliseum in Hamilton. That night was Game #7 in the Calder Cup Finals, a game which the Houston Aeros would end up winning and were crowned the 2003 Calder Cup Champions.
There is an old saying that revenge is a dish best served cold. What can better than a cold sheet of hockey ice and a rematch for the Bulldogs to exact a measure of payback for that game.
Joining me now once again to answer the mailbag questions about the Bulldogs vs Aeros series is Brian La Rose, HabsWorld writer and Chief Editor.
Question 1: What is the key to the Bulldogs’ success?
Brian La Rose: I'm going to go a different direction this round and say special teams. The penalty kill has been spectacular for Hamilton so far this postseason having allowed just 5 goals on 61 penalties. Of course, allowing 61 powerplays in 13 games isn't a good thing so let's add discipline as well. With regards to the powerplay, both the Bulldogs and Aeros are mid-pack teams. If Hamilton can raise their success rate, it will take a lot of pressure off Drew MacIntyre who has started every game since being dealt to the Dogs in late February.
Ian Russell: I agree that the penalty kill has been spectacular, as Brian has stated, but the backbone of that special team has been that guy who plays in goal for Hamilton, Mr. Drew MacIntyre. I am probably beginning to sound like a broken record here, but I have said it before, and I will say it again….goaltending is the key. The puck stops there. And “Big Mac” is doing just that. Those who were in attendance (or listening on the radio to Bulldogs play-by-play broadcaster, Derek Wills) during the Dogs’ Game 7 victory over the Moose were treated to a thrilling 3 overtime period game this last Monday. It was announced by the American Hockey League that this particular game was the longest Game 7 in the league’s 75 year history, and Drew MacIntyre can be thanked for that. His puck-stopping abilities are just simply amazing. He appears to be showing no signs of fatigue since being acquired on February 28th and in my opinion, having played every Bulldogs game since that time, he continues to improve with each game. Simply amazing.
Question 2: Who is your darkhorse candidate to have a breakout in scoring?
Brian La Rose: After last round's success (my pick, Ryan Russell had 3 goals last round), I'm inclined to stick with him. However, in the spirit of changing things up, I will take his linemate, Andreas Engqvist. He's a bit of a streaky player offensively but he is due to get going. Regardless of how much he produces though, he will be one of the most important Bulldogs in this series.
Ian Russell: I am going to go with Ryan White in this round. Since his return to the Bulldogs from the Montreal Canadiens, Ryan has shown a leadership role out there on the ice and is setting an example to the “kids” on the team in the effort that is required to get the job done.
Question 3: Who on the Aeros should the Bulldogs be most worried about?
Brian La Rose: The Aeros are a veteran laden team but I'm going to go against the grain and suggest a couple of rookies. Forward Casey Wellman is in his first AHL season after having played parts of the last two years in the NHL and just keeps getting better out there. Many fans reading this may already be familiar with Marco Scandella who was on Canada's World Junior team last year. He is the type of mobile, puck moving defenceman that will drive Hamilton's not so fleet of foot defence nuts out there.
Ian Russell: Left winger Colton Gillies is leading the Houston Aeros in playoff scoring. In eleven games played, he has already scored six goals. Hamilton will need to watch out for him. Overall in his career so far, Gillies has not been anything to write home about, but his performance in the playoffs so far this year will certainly have raised some warning flags with the Bulldogs coaching staff.
Brian La Rose: Once again, forward depth is not Hamilton's friend as this Houston squad boasts a stronger set of forwards than what the Bulldogs have. Hamilton's top line is banged up which certainly doesn't help either. Also, you have to think sooner or later that MacIntyre (who is making a serious case to replace Alex Auld next year in Montreal by the way) will come back down to earth from this 10 week run he's on. As a result, I am going to say that the Aeros take it on home ice, winning in 6 games.
Ian Russell: As a Hamilton Bulldogs Season Ticket Holder, I was witness to the Calder Cup loss in 2003 vs the Houston Aeros and was I was also there when the Dogs won the longest overtime AHL playoff game ever played at that time in that same 2003 series. If I recall correctly, that game (Game #2) finished about 2 AM ET the next morning, almost 6 hours after the puck was dropped to start the game. Popular opinion of Bulldogs fans tend to agree that this was one of the best highlights in Hamilton Bulldogs history. There is a debt to be paid. The Bulldogs will win this current upcoming series in 7 games.
The Bulldogs had a 1-1-0-0 record vs Houston this season. Despite the notorious playoff history between the teams, they have only faced each other 12 times during the regular season. Hamilton’s all-time record vs Houston is 4-5-0-1-2.
Here is the 3rd Round Western Conference playoff game schedule:
Game #1 – Friday, May 13th – 8:35 PM – Hamilton at Houston (Toyota Center)
Game #2 – Sunday, May 15th – 5:05 PM – Hamilton at Houston (Toyota Center)
Game #3 – Tuesday, May 17th – 7:30 PM – Houston at Hamilton (Copps Coliseum)
Game #4 – Wednesday, May 18th – 7:30 PM – Houston at Hamilton (Copps Coliseum)
*Game #5 – Friday, May 20th – 7:30 PM – Houston at Hamilton (Copps Coliseum)
*Game #6 – Sunday, May 22nd – 5:05 PM – Hamilton at Houston (Toyota Center)
*Game #7 – Tuesday, May 24th – 8:05 PM – Hamilton at Houston (Toyota Center)