The Flames missed the playoffs. It sucks. But the Abbotsford Heat made the playoffs. That’s pretty cool. The downside is that a lot fewer people will see the games as would’ve seen Calgary in the playoffs. Heck, perhaps because of the scrambly nature of the AHL game, fans would’ve been more entertained by the Heat playoff games than they would by the hypothetical Flames games.
We’ll never know.
But Game 1 of the Abbotsford/Grand Rapids series was one of the best back-and-forth games of ice hockey I’ve seen in quite some time. With 33 seconds left in the second overtime period, Ryan Sproul’s point shot eluded Joni Ortio and sent the Griffins back to the hotel with a 2-1 win and a 1-0 series lead.
Game 2 goes Saturday night at 8pm MT on TeamRadio.ca and AHL Live.
GAME 1 RUNDOWN
The first period was back and forth. There were 29 shots total (16 for the Griffins, 13 for the Heat). Abbotsford’s line of Brett Olson, Sven Baertschi and Corban Knight generated many scoring chances, including an exchange of three rapid-fire shots that ended up with Brett Olson scoring. It really should’ve been a wider margin, but Griffins goalie Petr Mrazek was excellent.
You’ll be hearing that a lot as this series goes on.
The next two periods were mostly Abbotsford. The Griffins did a decent job keeping the Heat to the outside, basically using a partial neutral zone trap to break up Heat rushes and, failing that, falling into a penalty-kill box in their own zone. The Griffins got more sustained zone time but didn’t really create high-end chances, while Abbotsford – particularly the Granlund-Reinhart-Poirier and Olson-Baertschi-Knight lines – created quite a few for the Heat.
Midway through the third, when thoughts of “Hey, maybe Ortio can pull this off…” started creeping into the back of everyone’s minds, Mattias Backman took a pass from Andreas Athanasiou, side-stepped Poirier, and beat Ortio to tie the game.
Overtime? More back and forth. Double-overtime? Even more back and forth. But the Heat (a) just couldn’t use their six power-plays (including two extended five-on-threes) in regulation, and (b) they just couldn’t get anything past Mrazek in overtime. And with 33 seconds left, and thoughts of triple-overtime emerging, Sproul’s goal spoiled a perfect great 99:27 of hockey.
KEYS FOR GAME 2
- The Heat really need to get bodies in front of Petr Mrazek. Too many of the 56 shots he faced were ones he saw coming from a mile away. There wasn’t nearly enough traffic.
- The power-play needs to be better. A lot of that will come if they get some traffic, but (like the Flames) the Heat aren’t amazing with zone entries on the power-play.
- The defense was good, even when Derek Smith went down and the team fell back to four guys (primarily using Shane O’Brien, Chris Breen, Chad Billins and Kane LaFranchise). That needs to continue. If Smith can go, great. If not, they need to maintain the balance they found. Heck, O’Brien had a shockingly good game on Friday.
- Offensively, the team needs more balance. The Baertschi line and the Reinhart line got ridden hard in the first, as the veteran line of Corey Locke, Blair Jones and Ben Street couldn’t get much going and the fourth line of Ben Hanowski, Carter Bancks and Trevor Gillies barely saw the ice. That meant that as the game wore on, those guys visibly tired out. The veterans need to come out of the gates strong so that the two kid lines don’t get burnt out too early in the night. With how evenly-matched these two clubs are, the Heat will need every advantage they can get, and their depth may be their most potent weapon. They need to be able to utilize it.