Last night, I had dinner with my parents and a friend. I was telling her that I had become so involved with the Checkers and their playoff run that I’d been neglecting most other facets of my life, and focusing only on hockey. My mom chimed in that she was glad I was dropping everything for something constructive and great, and not just a man. I promptly responded “No, mom, it’s not just one man. It’s 20 men, and I’m very much involved with every one of them.”
Like the Checkers, the Binghamton Senators have defeated teams that many felt were unbeatable in the first two rounds of their playoff run. Also similar to the Checkers, the Senators started the playoffs with a more veteran, experienced netminder (Barry Brust for the Sens, and Justin Pogge for the Checkers) but midway through the first round switched netminders to bring in a rookie instead. For both the Checkers and Senators, this decision has paid off. Binghamton is a team that barely made the playoffs, and has been playing in the Atlantic division in the transfer spot, having finished in fifth in our own East division, but higher than the fourth place team in the Atlantic.
During the first round, Binghamton defeated the Manchester Monarchs in a seven-game series that included five contests that went into overtime. Their second round of the playoffs was against the number one seed in the Atlantic conference, the Portland Pirates. That series went six games, with no overtime contests, and only two one-goal differential games. (As compared to the Checkers/Penguins round, which also went six games, included one overtime contest and saw five of the six games end with a one-goal differential.)
IN THE CREASE
Netminder Barry Brust started all eight games vs. CLT in the regular season this year, but Robin Lehner has started all Bingo games since game six in the first round of the playoffs.
Robin Lehner, 19, is a Swedish goaltender who was drafted in 2009 by the Ottawa Senators. A rookie this season, he finished the year in the AHL. He played in 22 games for Binghamton and had a record of 10-8-2-3. He had a 2.91 GAA, and a .912 SV%. He played for Sweden at the 2011 World Juniors, and spent some time in Ottawa with the NHL club during January. In the playoffs, Lehner has started in nine games (he was pulled in one contest during the second round). He is 7-2 in the playoffs, has one shutout. He has a 2.59 GAA, and a .926 SV%. I asked Checkers D-man Michal Jordan about him during the playoff rally on Tuesday, and Jordan was quick to respond that he’d played and beaten him in the OHL, so he wasn’t worried.
For Charlotte, Mike Murphy went 1-1 vs. the Senators during the regular season (Pogge made the other six starts). In the playoffs, Murphy has a record of 7-3, with one shutout. He boasts a rather impressive 1.79 GAA, and a .944 SV%.
OFFENSE – the Zac(h)s vs. the Ryans
In 13 playoff games, Senators centerman Ryan Potulny has 19 points, scoring 10 goals and nine assists. He was a mid-season addition to the Ottawa organization, having been traded from Chicago.
Captain Ryan Keller follows close behind Potulny with 16 points. He has six goals, and 10 helpers in his 13 playoff games. Other offensive support comes from Kaspars Daugavins, Zack Smith, Bobby Butler and Andre Benoit. Benoit, a defenseman, is an AHL veteran having won the Calder cup with the Hamilton Bulldogs in 2007, the season he and the rest of his team stole the heart of this Chasing Checkers blogger. But I’ll save more about him for the defense part of this preview!
For Charlotte, rookie Zac Dalpe, having played in all 12 playoff game, with five goals and seven assists. Brett Sutter is close behind with 11 points, scoring four goals and seven assists in his 12 games, leads the Checkers in offenses. Other offensive forces include Zach Boychuck, Drayson Bowman and Jon Matsumoto.
Overall, the Senators have allowed 41 goals during the playoffs, and scored 46. In contrast to this, the Checkers who many consider to be an offensive force, have scored only 29 goals, and allowed 27, mostly due to the goaltending awesomeness of Mike Murphy.
DEFENSE, and PIMs
Andre Benoit skates for the Senators during a regular-season match-up against the Checkers. Photo Credit: Jenni Propst
The Senators defense is led by alternate captain Andre Benoit. I have admired him for years, having followed him to the Calder Cup in 2007, when he scored 13 points in 22 playoff games. He’s one of those small, speedy defenseman that you can’t help but like when they play for your team, but I can assure you Checkers fans, that despite my past history with number 61, my allegiance lies firmly with Charlotte now!
On the penalties front, Zack Smith has appeared in all 13 playoff games and leads the Senators in PIMs with 14. All of these penalties were minors, ranging from interference to boarding.
Zack FitzGerald leads the Checkers with 24 PIMs in seven post-season appearances. He received five roughing minor penalties in game two against Wilkes-Barre. After that game two loss, FitzGerald was benched for the following three games, finally returning in game six, where he only took one minor penalty for high sticking, and ended the night with a plus two. It will be interesting to see what defenseman sits against Binghamton, but my guess it it will be Fitzgerald, more often than not, simply because the Senators playing style doesn’t seem to require that of an enforcer like FitzGerald.
An interesting note in regards to the Senators is that in 13 playoff games, they did not receive any fighting majors, and only one roughing penalty. By the contrary, Charlotte has 23 roughing penalties, and one fighting major in their 12 playoff games. While the Checkers have a phenomenal penalty kill, staying out of the box may prove to be a key element to this third-round series.
The Binghamton Senators, overall, have a more veteran roster, featuring guys like Corey Locke and Andre Benoit who both won the Calder Cup in 2007 with Hamilton. The Checkers, while a bit younger, have a very impressive roster, despite inexperience in the playoffs beyond the second round. (This is the first time in Hurricane’s history that their farm team has gone beyond the second round!).
While it’s not an AHL championship, the Checkers boast guys like Captain Rodney who won the Memorial Cup with the London Knights (and Corey Perry, Danny Syvret, Rob Schremp, and Marc Methot) in 2005, and Justin Faulk, who recently won the 2011 NCAA Championship with UM-Duluth. Syvret was the captain of the 2005 London Knight squad, and is currently a member of the Philadelphia Flyers (and also a former Calder Cup winner in 2007 with Hamilton). He tweeted the following yesterday:
I think I’m going to have to aggree on all fronts with Syvret… both on the Rodney fanclub, AND the desire for a final round vs. Hamilton!
During the last round, I got it wrong when I predicted that the Checkers would beat the Penguins in seven games. (We did it in six… I’d rather the number of games be wrong more than the final outcome!) For this round, I’m going to say Charlotte Checkers in six games over Binghamton. Both on paper and in my heart and soul, Charlotte seems to be the team to beat at this point in the series, but by no means am I discrediting Binghamton’s ability. They’ve clearly overcome a lot, and have that fierce, determined underdog thing going for them that tends to pay off in the playoffs.
Cut and paste from a post I did last weekend: I’m sure all of my readers know all of the Checkers twitters worth following, so focusing on Binghamton links.
Binghamton Twitter accounts and Links of Interest:
And with that, I have to finish packing for my flight to Chicago. Who knew that you could fly direct out of the tiny, two gate Asheville Regional Airport! I’ll take it, even if my plane may have propellers. Just a reminder, the awesome @nafsnep at Chirps from Center Ice will be providing tonight’s post-game report. He’s a Penguins fan, but a really smart guy when it comes to hockey, and a blogging idol of mine. I wish I could be there with you all in Charlotte, but I’ll be there in spirit!
Lets Go Checkers