Hockey playoffs rarely disappoint no matter what level you are watching. It has its own mystique, pageantry, and intensity. There's a romanticism about the playoffs that is held sacred by those who dabble in the sport. More so than any other sport. I had the distinct honor to see the entire series between the Atlanta Capitals and the Louisiana Drillers. This series had some unique circumstances. First, the games were played in Atlanta, even though Louisiana was the higher seeded team. From what I understand, Louisiana was unable to secure ice time so both teams agreed to play all three games in Atlanta. It was also the return of Atlanta's leading scorer #16 Jason Ladzinski. Ladzinski had been battling injuries the entire year and was seeing his first on-ice action in months.
Friday night was intense. The Drillers had a very large group of people travel from out of town to watch the game. They even had a small tailgating section on Saturday night. Atlanta drew its largest crowd of the year as well. Now, before I say what I'm about to say, let me make one thing clear. The Louisiana fans who traveled were nothing but class. Everyone I met from the Drillers fan base was nothing but respectful, polite, and a pleasure to talk to. The same can be said about the Capitals fans. However, sports can be polarizing and Friday night was no exception. There was a young person in the stands who came to the game dressed in an eagle costume. Neither team is called the eagles, nor is either teams mascot an eagle. Nobody knew where this kid came from as the Capitals fans said they had never seen him before. He was having a grand ole time jumping up and down, screaming like an eagle and climbing on the glass. Well, the game got chippy and there were some hard hits. Some of them were high, and some of them involved elbows. You could make the argument that they were overlooked by the officiating staff. Tempers got hot and voices got louder. Before you knew it, there was quite the scrap in the grandstands! There were a lot of people pressed up against the glass, a lot of shoving, a lot of swearing, and a lot of taking the Lord's name in vain. From where I was seated I could tell I had no business going and getting involved. Having had a former career as a prison guard I have since retired from pugilism and didn't really feel like getting my face beat in. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and after removing several fans from the crowd the game was able to continue and nobody had to go to the stony lonesome that evening. The name of the game that night was special teams. Of the 9 goals scored in that game, 6 were on special teams. To include a shorty by Jason Ladzinkski. Atlanta held serve with a 5-2 lead until Louisiana was able to make it a 5-4 game on two shots that, as a goalie, you just can't help sometimes. Two weird bounces and boom. Drillers are back in it. Capitals would hold on to win though and take a 1-0 series lead into a Saturday night showdown.
Saturday night was as advertised. This time with police providing some added security. Atlanta took a 2-1 lead and never looked back. They scored a 3rd goal with 5 minutes left in the game and put in an empty netter out of spite with 9 seconds left. The energy in the building was intense. It was all the makings of a playoff atmosphere. I know I picked Louisiana in 3 games but I was WRONG. The tables were reversed. In the regular season, the games would always be close but Atlanta would never be able to put it away. It was always Louisiana who brought it home. Not this time. The Capitals clearly out skated the Drillers and just flat out wanted it more. It showed.
Any Atlanta Capitals Defenseman that was on the ice in the 2nd half of the 3rd period of the Saturday game. The Drillers were firing Fulton Reed-like slapshots from the blue line. Those guys would just skate right in front of it and take it. They also cleared out in front of the net like nobody's business during the same time frame. Had they not played with that edge and intensity, that game may have gone to overtime.
#19 Andrei Rusakov- F- ATL (1G,4A) - This one is tough. I don't think it does this young man justice to give him an honorable mention. He's a playmaker. When he's on the ice, he just makes stuff happen. He's almost always in the right place at the right time, he's fast, and he's a great stick handler.
#70 Kevin Lake - G - LOU- Don't be deceived by the final scores. This young man made some incredible saves. His team would have gotten smoked had he not done what he did in goal. This is one where you shouldn't let the stats fool you. He made some grown man saves. Both goaltenders were incredible in this series. But, in sports, one has to win and one has to lose.
#13 Ayrton Cornic - F - ATL (2G, 1A)- A model of consistency all weekend. Goal and an apple on Friday night and started off the scoring for the Capitals on Saturday night.
#24 Cole Thomas Johnson - F- ATL (3G,1A)- You score a hat trick in an elimination game and your team only scores 4? 75% of your teams offense. (Yes, I am fully aware one was an empty netter. Don't care.) The guy is a lights out player. I don't think I've ever seen him take a shift off.
#33 Quinn Yeager - G- ATL He was unbelievable for both games. Friday night is going to get overshadowed by the 4 goals allowed. 2 goals he got beat. The other two? Sometimes its just the way the puck bounces and there's nothing you can do about it. Saturday night. The first shot he faced he got beat. #13 Viacheslav Nilov for the Drillers flat out beat him high glove. It was a beauty of a shot. He never gave up another one. The last 10 minutes of the 3rd period was some of the finest goaltending you'll see all year. He was on his back, on his stomach, sliding from one one side of the crease to another to make the blocker save. He was everywhere.
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#16 Jason Ladzinski - F - ATL (2G, 1A)- I put Ladzinski here instead of Cornic because, while all his points were in one game, they were huge. He started with a short-handed goal. Then the drillers scored about 2 minutes later. So Jason decided to bury another one in the back of the net on the power play. While the fans in the stands went toe-to-toe in the 2nd period of Friday nights game #16 went toe-to-toe with the Drillers. Not bad for your first game back.
In other news, Alexandria Blizzard!? What is up? Great job to pull off the 4 seed upset!
NA3HL Division Finals
Coulee Region Chill vs St Louis Jr Blues
Pick: Jr. Blues
L/A Nordiques vs Northeast Generals
Helena Bighorns vs Great Falls Americans
Pick: Americans (because we don't root against Americans)
Binghamton Jr Senators vs Oswego Stampede
Pick: Jr Sens
Texas Jr Brahmas vs Atlanta Capitals
Pick: Capitals (Its a favorable match-up for Atlanta. Go see who the only teams to beat Texas in regulation this year are. And Atlanta is a better road team.)
North Iowa Bulls vs Alexandria Blizzard
Pick: Da Bulls
We didn't do too bad in our first round picks. Let's see how the second round goes.
Till next time,
Travel in style with, Connections by Avra; Rochester, MN Travel Agency.