Second Round Playoffs Coverage
2nd ROUND: Buffalo Phantoms (1) vs. London Mustangs (5)
Theodore gave up three goals on 10 shots on Sunday, in a pivotal Game 7 against the Mustangs.
Jose Theodore gave up three goals on the first 10 shots he faced in the deciding game of the second round, which lead to a 5-4 London Mustangs victory over the Buffalo Phantoms.
The Mustangs now will face the Vancouver Heroes in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals, starting Monday night.
"It was an unbelievable series," Mustangs forward Zach Parise said. "It could have gone either way. I'm just thankful we got kind of lucky at end and held on."
"We came out timid and that was the difference of the game. I was very surprised how we came out," Phantoms captain Sidney Crosby said. "We were tentative, we sat back and waited, but they came out hard against us."
The Phantoms offense was ice cold this week, losing all offensive categories to the Mustangs. Crosby scored two goals on Sunday, but it just wasn't enough to win.
"We were back on our heels. It's tough to spot them three," said Crosby. "It's very disappointing and frustrating. We had just as good a team, if not better than the Mustangs."
Michael Del Zotto started it by beating Theodore on a one-timer from the center point just inside the blue line. As the 37th straight sellout at the Mustangs' home ice arena roared, Theodore sat up on his knees and stared ahead in disbelief, then dropped his back to the ice in agony.
Buffalo's second penalty -- roughing by Dustin Penner, who was scoreless in the series -- was even more devastating, partly because it was silly but mainly because it gave London a great scoring chance with just 16 seconds left in the first game.
Parise scored with six seconds left, raised his arms and head to the roof and was met in the corner by all four teammates. The four Phantoms skaters stiffly drifted up the ice several feet apart, while Theodore stood motionless in the goal. The hometown horn operator pushed the button so long it seemed to be jammed.
"The first half of the matchup, I thought our passion was unbelievable," Mustangs' coach/GM Blake Wilson. "Then we got a little sloppy on Wednesday and gave them a couple of easy goals. That gave them some momentum and they built on that going into the weekend."
Buffalo had practically nothing in the weekend games. They had only 15 shots on goal during the weekend. They failed to score on their final 7 powerplays of the series.
Going into Sunday's finale, the matchup was tied 4-4. Phantoms goalie Jose Theodore gave up three goals on the first 10 shots he faced, giving the Mustangs a 5-4 lead.
The Phantoms only got three more shots at Jonas Hiller before pulling their goalie for a sixth attacker with 1:20 left in the game. They failed to punch it in on a good flurry in front of the net with 21.2 seconds to go, then Nicklas Lidstrom fired a shot that hit Hiller and clanged off the right post with eight seconds left.
"I tried to get my body over there," Hiller said. "It hit me on the hip and it was like slow motion as it went toward the post."
Said Lidstrom: "I didn't see it, but I heard it hit the post."
The Mustangs knocked the puck to the other end of the ice as referee Don Koharski signaled that the series was over, and the Mustangs poured off the bench triggering a postgame celebration that was filled with as much relief as joy.
"There's so much pressure to perform," Mustangs forward Rick Nash said. "As you get older, you turn that into a positive and try to have fun with it."
It was a quick ending for the Phantoms, who finished the regular season with the best record in the league. They dominated the Chiefs in the first round, but could not solve the Mustangs' tough, close checking in the second round.
"They have a great hockey team, but I still think we could have beaten them if Theodore didn't get blown up on Sunday," said Phantoms coach/GM Daryn Beckman. "It was a heartbreaking game. I thought we deserved better."
After giving up three goals on Sunday, a lot of people felt it was Theodore's fault for the loss.
"At the end of the day, Theodore choked and the Phantoms lost," said Mustangs coach/GM Blake Wilson. "It's up to them to figure out who's fault it was. He [coach Beckman] decided to play Theodore on Sunday. He didn't have to do that. But he wanted to take a risk to win the shutouts category. It backfired on him and costed him the SV% category, and that ultimately costed them the game."
Beckman talked about the tie-breaker rule and said he wasn't aware of the specifics. He was under the impression that a tie-breaker is based on goals scored rather than winning percentage/playoff seed. Had he known the later, he would have went a different route with Theodore.
"Everybody makes mistakes," Wilson said. "But when a shot at the Cup is on the line, as a coach, you have to be careful and make good decisions. Look, I think he's a great coach. But if I were him, I wouldn't have played Theodore. And I'm not a cocky guy, I never have been, I'm just confident in my coaching ability."
"I don't think that's anything we're going to look back at and say it cost us the series," Phantoms forward Paul Stastny said. "You have to score goals to win games, and we didn't score enough. One reason for that is injuries. We had seven of our starters on the shelf heading into the weekend games."
From the start of this series, Milan Michalek and Denis Grebeshkov have been out due to injury and they lost Tim Connolly, Ryan Callahan, and Chuck Kobasew in Games 3 and 4 against the Mustangs.
"Everybody's disappointed; no question about it," Buffalo forward Marian Hossa said. "But there's not a lot you can do about it. We gave it our all. We talked about that, to go out there and no matter what happens, to keep trying, and everyone did."
Barring any surprise offseason moves, the Phantoms will have virtually the same cast of skaters when they open 2010-11 season in the fall.
But with Sidney Crosby, one of the best players in the game today, the Phantoms are expected to receive a lot of trade offers involving him.
"I don't even want to think about being traded," Crosby said. "I've made it clear that Buffalo is the place I would definitely like to play at the start of next season. It's fun to play with guys who want to win and who care about winning and an organization that cares about winning."
The London Mustangs will be trying to become the first AFHL Stanley Cup champions against the Vancouver Heroes in the final matchup of this year's playoffs.
"It was a nice step to win against the first place Buffalo Phantoms, but it's far from over," Jonas Hiller said. "I just feel we made the next step to the goal. We still have to win one more series."
"It's about 20 guys doing the work needed to win," said Wilson. "This isn't about money, it's about winning and being the best."
2nd ROUND: Vancouver Heroes (2) vs. Hollywood Stars (3)
The Sedin brothers combined for 11 points in helping the Heroes move on to the Stanley Cup finals.
In their second round matchup against the Hollywood Stars, the Heroes' offense put up a whopping 40 points, 13 of which came on the powerplay. Ryan Miller and Ilya Bryzgalov backstopped the Heroes with two wins, 2.37 GAA, 137 saves, and a .919 SV%, in this classic series between the two of the top-three-seeded teams in the playoffs.
"We always have found a way to find the heroes at the right time and in the right games, especially now in the playoffs. It's a great feeling because, this is a team with a capital T." said Heroes' goaltender Ryan Miller.
"I feel proud of this team, but we still have a long way to go," said Heroes' GM/coach Ben Rauscher. "We haven't won anything yet. We weren't playing for that [Prince of Wales] trophy. We only care about one trophy. Our goal is to win the AFHL Stanley Cup."
The Heroes' trip to play for one of the most coveted prizes in fantasy sports did not come without a fight from the gritty Hollywood Stars, who kept the series close from beginning to end.
The Stars won only the powerplay points category, but the rest of the points on offense and goaltending.
"We battled. We did a lot of good things out there. But when you get this close, it's very disappointing," said Stars' Ryan Smyth, who scored five points in the matchup. "We had quite a few chances throughout the matchup and the bounces went their way. We had a lot of missed opportunities."
The Heroes were able get control of the matchup early by constantly swarming the puck on defense and refusing to allow the Stars' speed advantage to become a factor.
By dominating the tempo, Vancouver was able to dominate most of the stat categories right from the beginning.
"We knew if we played our game that we'd have a chance to win," Heroes' Eric Staal said. "We couldn't get into a tie-breaker with them on Sunday. The Vancouver Heroes take pride in defensive hockey too."
Jarome Iginla said Hollywood felt stifled by Vancouver's defense.
"There was not a lot of room to move," said Iginla, who failed to score a goal in the series.
"There are a lot of talented teams in the Amazing Fantasy Hockey League, and there are probably teams with a higher skill level than our team... but I have never seen a group that pulls the way this group does," Heroes' coach Ben Rauscher said. "They take an awful lot of pride in not cracking."
The 18,001 fans began sensing the victory halfway through Sunday as they began chanting, "We want the Cup!" In the game's closing minutes they screamed "Ry-an! Ry-an!" in honor of goaltender Ryan Miller.
Miller, who has gone a long way to erase his reputation for melting under pressure at the beginning of the last round, made 52 saves along with Bryzgalov's 85 for a 137 saves total.
"Everyone knows the things that have been said about him in the opening game against the Killers, but he's played so well for us this year," Heroes' defenseman Dan Boyle said. "We never had any doubt he could play this way."
Martin Brodeur, whose reputation is one of the greatest goalies in hockey history, made 72 saves. Hollywood did not have a second starting goalie to match Vancouver's 137 saves output.
Brodeur played good for most of the series. He was out of position on the first Vancouver goal, getting faked badly by Daniel Sedin and being behind the net on Jason Pominville's second goal.
Halfway through the series, with Brodeur looking to his right at Simon Gagne, Daniel Sedin smacked the puck to the goalie's left for his second goal of the matchup.
The Stars bounced back as Martin St. Louis stripped the puck from Daniel Sedin in the neutral zone and scored on a two on one with Mike Ribeiro. Daniel was angry about the goal, and was seen arguing with one of the refs about a missed penalty call on the play.
A few shifts later, the fiery redhead scored his third goal of the series, by flat out beating Brodeur, shifting the momentum back in favor of Vancouver.
Sedin charged untouched up the left side and went right at the goal, faking left and getting Brodeur to commit as he pulled the puck back. Falling, Daniel slid the puck through the center of the crease and into the net, turning Vancouver's home arena into a madhouse.
It was quite a moment for Daniel, whom joined the Heroes halfway through the regular season. He was acquired in a trade with the Washington Power in exchange for Tomas Fleischmann and two prospects.
"My leaving Washington was just a business decision," he said. "That happens in hockey 100 times a year. I think [Vancouver's] management made an excellent decision in trading for me so I can play alongside my brother. It's obviously paying off ten-fold."
The Vancouver Heroes will face the Buffalo Phantoms in the AFHL Stanley Cup Finals starting Monday night.
"The Heroes deserve to be in the Finals," said Hollywood GM/coach Mike Bassett. "And I think they can beat the Phantoms. They played a tremendous series against us. They scored right from the start of the series. It was one thing we didn't want to see because we knew they would generate lots of momentum, and this weekend we simply ran out of gas."