First Round Playoffs Coverage
1st ROUND: Hollywood Stars (3) vs. Manhattan Supermen (6)
Supermen forward Tuomo Ruutu fights for a third time on Friday night against the Hollywood Stars.
In the regular season, they scored far more goals and points than the Stars and were ranked third in the league in both categories. Still, the Manhattan Supermen are gone, eliminated in the first round of the AFHL playoffs by the Hollywood Stars.
Clearly, this is not acceptable to an organization that made several big moves at the trade deadline in an attempt to win the AFHL's first Stanley Cup. Changes are almost a certainty before the Supermen gather for training camp in September.
The Supermen can't blame it on injuries, because practically everyone was reportedly healthy except for Mikael Samuelsson. Leading goal scorer Steven Stamkos had injured his back last week, but played in the entire series against Hollywood and said he was fine.
The record, however, will show that Stamkos scored only one goal in the series. During the season, he led the Supermen with 43 goals and 40 assists for 83 points.
Stamkos didn't struggle alone.
Virtually all of Manhattan's top scorers had trouble. Patrik Elias, Bobby Ryan and Daniel Alfredsson combined for only three goals. Manhattan's blueline scored 37 goals in the regular season, but scored none in the playoffs. And Jamie Langenbrunner had 16 but none in the playoffs.
Of all the Supermen's talented and high-priced stars, only Milan Hejduk performed up to his ability with three playoff goals.
GM/coach Anthony Furino went to great lengths to put this team together and keep it that way. But the Manhattan roster has three of the eight oldest players in the league. Bill Guerin is 40, Steve Sullivan is 35, and Scott Niedermayer is 37.
Niedermayer knows changes are coming.
"Management will probably walk the fine line and replace some older guys with some young guys, and at some point the good young guys need to come in and produce for us. Whether they are ready now or we get them from somewhere else, that is a management decision."
The Stars outscored the Supermen 14-7 in the goals scored category, and 32-31 in the total points category.
Mike Ribeiro and Teemu Selanne set up each other for goals and the Stars, eliminated the Supermen 8-3 Sunday night in the first round of the AFHL playoffs.
The Stars grabbed an early lead after Supermen goalie Roberto Luongo was pulled after allowing 4 goals in the opening game. The Supermen came back to tie the matchup 5-5 heading into the weekend, but the Stars regained the lead for good, and it was all over for the Supermen.
"I can honestly say I've never been prouder," Hollywood's Jarome Iginla said. "We've been through a lot of adversity and we didn't make any excuses. Everybody wrote us off when we didn't make any moves at the trade deadline."
Halfway through the series, Stars defenseman Chris Pronger delivered a controversial bodycheck to Mark Streit which led to a fight between Ryan Smyth and Manhattan's Tuomo Ruutu. Shortly after that Pronger hit Bobby Ryan from behind which led to more scraps.
Emotionally chraged from the incidents, the Supermen scored a pair of goals to tie the matchup heading into a fight-filled weekend.
Stars' Martin St. Louis said it was the dirtiest series he's been a part of.
"Intensity brings that out, I guess. It's unfortunate, but it was pretty intense hockey, that's for sure," St. Louis said.
Hollywood's Martin Brodeur made 77 saves in the series, with several spectacular stops in the waning moments.
'He [Broduer] might have gotten overlooked a little bit, but I thought he was our MVP," defenseman Brian Rafalski said.
"I think as a whole we had a great season," Supermen GM/coach Anthony Furino said. "It's a tough way to end the year, but we did a lot of good things I guess that's the positive thing."
As the Supermen left the ice on Sunday, coach Furino was struck by a flying cup, causing a bruise on his left cheek.
"I've been hit harder before," he said. "I think it is disappointing, but they [the fans] are very emotional. One guy doesn't ruin it for the other 19,000 here."
1st ROUND: Vancouver Heroes (2) vs. Fort Drum Killers (7)
Where are the goals?: Killers superstar Ilya Kovalchuk failed to score a single point in the first round vs. Vancouver and finished the series with a minus one.
The Heroes completed their dramatic comeback from a 7-3 first-round playoff deficit by beating the Killers on a tie-breaker in the final game of the matchup. They advanced to the second round of the AFHL playoffs, where they will meet the Hollywood Stars.
Heroes' goalie Ryan Miller was pulled early in the first game after giving up three goals on five shots. The Killers took advantage and maintained a lead heading into the weekend.
"When you're coming back from 7-3, it's tough, and you have to take it shift by shift," said Heroes' Eric Staal who finished the first round with 4 points. "We played very well as a team, and we believed that we could come back, and now we're here."
The game seemed destined to end on a complex play, because both teams played well. The stat categories were split right down the middle with both teams winning five stat categories each.
The matchup was tied 5-5 at the end of Sunday's games, so the teams went to overtime where a tie-breaker rule would determine the winner.
According to league rules, in the event that a playoff game ends in a tie, the deadlock is broken using the following system:
1. Winning percentage against this opponent during the regular season.
2. Playoff seed.
Both teams tied each other in their only regular season meeting so it was determined by playoff seed. The Heroes had the higher seed (2nd) to advance to the second round.
Fort Drum GM/coach Steven Stryska was upset about the tie-breaker rule but said he wasn't going to make a big deal out of it.
"I don't think you had to be at ice level to see that they left it all out there tonight," Stryska said. "One stat category makes a hell of a difference and we failed to win that extra one."
Heroes' right winger Jason Pominville contributed 4 goals to Vancouver's 20 goal output in the series. Eric Staal and Simon Gagne finished the series with 2 goals each.
"They've got a very physical lineup, and we paid the price to win, the important thing is that we move on to the next round," Simon Gagne said. "We're a little bit tired, but no injuries, so we're ready to take on the Hollywood Stars."
Some may blame Fort Drum's first round loss on Killers' superstar forward Ilya Kovalchuk, who did not score a single point in the series. He was expected to carry Fort Drum on offense.
Kovalchuk was not available for comment after the loss.
"We threw everything at them," Killers' Mikko Koivu said. "We battled through injuries, with Brian Campbell and Steve Bernier out. We battled hard, but the end result is we gave up a lead, and we're very disappointed."
Stryska seconded Koivu's assessment about giving up a lead.
"We were so close to pulling off the upset. It's really disappointing but it was such a thrill to be a part of it," Stryska said. "I commend the Vancouver Heroes for a tremendous series. They battled right to the end."
1st ROUND: Buffalo Phantoms (1) vs. Deer Park Chiefs (8)
Phantoms goalie Jose Theodore posted a .944 SV% in the first round blowout versus the Chiefs.
With the Buffalo Phantoms at the top of their game and having the first seed in the postseason, it was only a matter of time.
Riding stars Sidney Crosby and Loui Eriksson, red-hot Buffalo advanced to the second round and sent Deer Park packing with an 11-0 victory.
The Phantoms, who finished with the best record in the regular season, controlled the matchup from beginning to end. Their opponent for the second round will be the London Mustangs.
"It was a gritty series," Deer Park center Anze Kopitar said. "We dug a hole going down early. We tried but were against a great team."
Brendan Morrison scored the first goal for the Phantoms when he took a 2-on-1 feed from Eriksson and snapped a shot past goaltender Henrik Lundqvist from the right hashmark.
"Morrison's goal was a huge goal," Phantoms captain Sidney Crosby said. "That gave us momentum." Behind a home crowd of 18,007, Buffalo took the momentum into the weekend.
"When you look at the series, the difference was our penalty killing against their power play and our power play was very productive," Phantoms GM/coach Daryn Beckman said. "In the second half of the series, they threw everything at us. The Chiefs are a pretty aggressive team. They're not easy to play against and they take a lot out of you."
"The penalty killing was huge and when we made mistakes there, Anderson and Theodore came up big for us," said Eriksson who had 5 points in the matchup. "They made some saves that were outstanding. I was just really impressed by how cool and calm they both were. They saw the puck really well."
Lundqvist finished with 73 saves for the Chiefs, who won a race for the 8th spot in the final games of the regular season, when they finished with more points than Lexington and St. John's. But it was Brian Boucher who costed them the goaltending categories in this series. He was lit up for a 5.00 GAA.
"Power play, penalty kills, specialty teams. They dominated and we didn't," said Chiefs GM/coach Mike Nellany. "When your power play doesn't score, the guys on the ice for those are the ones that have to be accountable. We have to capitalize on those opportunities with the man advantage to get the momentum going the other way."
The Chiefs were done in by ill-advised penalties once again. They gave the Phantoms a lead early in the first game after two high-sticking penalties led to Buffalo power-play goals by Tim Connolly and Marian Hossa. The Phantoms finished the series with 11 powerplay points.
"We know what we did wrong again. They were smarter all series. They didn't retaliate like we did," Chiefs' Scott Hartnell said. "Even if you were hitting or slashing them, you didn't see any retaliation. We took way too many penalties and it hurt us again."
Buffalo scored the most points on offense out of all teams in the first round. They scored 18 goals and 32 assists for 50 points total.
"You're reaching for things at this point to say," Mike Nellany said. "We put it all on the table. There's nothing that we can say that can help us feel better. What can you say? We got beat by a better team."
1st ROUND: Oshawa City Leafs (4) vs. London Mustangs (5)
Zach Parise celebrates after scoring his second goal in the first round against the Leafs.
The Mustangs dashed the Leafs' hopes of an AFHL Stanley Cup with a 8-2 win in the first round of the AFHL playoffs.
There was no injustice in the result. The Mustangs came out with a perfect game plan, followed it to the letter and, over the course of the matchup, were by far the better team.
The goaltending trio of Jonas Hiller, Jaroslav Halak, and Pekka Rinne played absolutely stellar and Zach Parise played a magnificent series in both ends of the ice and should have been named first star.
And the rest of the Mustangs did what they do so well. They mucked, they hacked. They took the hits to make the play and, in the process, they clawed out a victory.
"This team has a lot of character," said Rick Nash, the prototypical Mustang. "Just to play with these guys is a treat.
"We slipped a little bit in the middle of the series but (the Leafs) didn't get where they did without being a good team. We really felt that we could beat this team and win the series. It took everybody, but we did it."
The general idea was to play a zone-to-zone game. Get it over one line, then worry about the next one, and so on.
Perhaps most importantly, the Mustangs -- who go on to face the Buffalo Phantoms in Round 2 -- made the Leafs pay a price every time they touched the puck. There were to be no freebies, and the Mustangs got that message across repeatedly.
In games like this, the visiting team comes in with the idea of weathering the mandatory first game opening storm and trying to go from there.
But at the end of that first night, the Mustangs had more than survived. They had taken an early lead. In fact, they took that lead before the game was three minutes old.
They were buzzing around behind the net when a shot hit the boards and caromed to Patrice Bergeron who shoved it in the general direction of the goal line. Leafs goalie Evgeni Nabokov, who had moved out of position on the original shot, came sliding back, only to have the puck deflect off his glove and into the net.
Nabokov didn't look particularly good on that goal, but he looked a lot worse on the next one -- a devastating goal to the Leafs.
David Perron stepped over the red line, took a stride and blasted a shot that, if left alone, would have sailed over the net. But Nabokov tried to grab it, fumbled it, and deflected it into the net.
A bad goal like that always has a debilitating effect on a team. So does a goal in the dying moments of an opening game.
"I felt really bad for the guy," Hiller said. "You don't know how hard it is to stop those shots when you have time to think about it. You have to get your body in front of it and he didn't, but I don't think that was the difference in the game."
Not everyone agreed. "Perron's goal got us pumped up and got us settled down at the same time," said Kyle Okposo who played a strong series. "It kept us going through the matchup. We got in a little trouble on Thursday night, but we worked out of it. We played really well in our own end all matchup long and I think that was the difference.
"The goaltending trio showed a lot of character. It was a ballsy performance."
At the end of the matchup, Hiller, Rinne, and Halak stopped 145 shots, posted 5 wins, a 1.48 GAA and gave the team the confidence it needed night in and night out.
By the time the playoffs wind down, it may be transpire that the Mustangs ended up playing a major role in deciding the Stanley Cup winner. There are four genuine contenders in the league -- the Mustangs knocked off one, while determining which two of the other three had to go head to head.
But that was far from their thoughts this past week. They had done what they came to do -- pull off a big first-round upset.