2ND RD: North Bay Warriors (1) vs. (5) Vancouver Heroes
Sedins lead Heroes in colossal comeback, Vancouver returns to Finals
March 27th, 2011
Hockey sometimes demands a terrible price be paid for glory.
The Vancouver Heroes paid that exorbitant toll in countless ways Sunday night as they punched their ticket for a return trip to the AFHL Stanley Cup Finals with a historic comeback win over the North Bay Warriors.
The 5-4 victory came about because the Heroes were willing to pay any price to assure a date with the second-seeded Washington Power in the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals, a series that begins tomorrow night.
“You put your body on the line, whether it’s finishing hits, blocking shots, and we’ve done a great job of that so far in this playoffs, and I think it’s shown with the victories,” Heroes forward Henrik Sedin said during Sunday’s post game celebration in the Vancouver dressing room.
Henrik Sedin, more than anyone, threw his body into harm’s way all night; but never more so than on the game winning goal that tied the GWG and goals categories, and erased the North Bay lead created by the Warriors’ talented offense — an offense that threatened to put Vancouver back on its heels for a demoralizing second round elimination.
Henrik refused to let that happen, with his team’s power play at work, Sedin was hit hard in the corner of the offensive zone. Somehow he picked himself up, and skated to an open area in front of the net. His brother Daniel fed him the puck for a backhand flick past the Warriors’ goalie before anyone else on the ice could react. It was a game winning goal that knocked out the first place Warriors 5-4 on Sunday night.
“Well, that’s why he’s our leader,” said Heroes’ defenseman Tomas Kaberle, who played more than 25 minutes and blocked three shots on Sunday to pay his part of the dues. “It’s that determination and that grit. I’ve played with great players and he’s got that in him — greatness.”
Vancouver coach Kyle Kebert bumped into North Bay coach Mike Brunetta in the hallway as he was making his way to the postgame press conference. He stopped, shook hands with Brunetta and said, “It wasn’t a week long matchup… it was a week long battle.”
Brunetta had to hold back the tears. He had literally turned a last place team into a first place team in less than 12 months since taking over the franchise last summer. “I wasn’t ready for this to end. I don’t care how many more consecutive games we would have had to play. I wasn’t ready for this to end.”
You could feel the sorrow in Brunetta’s voice. You could see the disappointment in the dressing room.
“It was a pretty down group in the dressing room there,” Brunetta said. “For about 15 minutes, there wasn’t a word said. Everybody just kind of sat there. They really invested a lot. We talked earlier in January that if you want to get a return in life, you’ve got to be prepared to invest a lot, and these guys invested a lot in our team and putting this franchise on the map. We let it slip away… I’m disappointed right now.”
Until Sunday night.
“It’s tough,” a quiet Ryan Getzlaf said. “We were without Alex Ovechkin and Mike Green and I think that’s what really costed us the series. I’m taking nothing away from the Heroes, they played really well. But we probably would have won the goals category if we had OV or Green.”
While the end was ugly, the Warriors got a standing, towel-twirling ovation from fans at game’s end in recognition of their incredible first season under the reigns of coach Brunetta.
“We came a long way this year, but this wasn’t our ultimate goal,” said Warriors’ defenseman Brent Seabrook, who was doubled over on the ice at game’s end. “We did make some progress. We put a lot of work into this and want to do it again. This will make us hungrier.”
So for a second straight year, it’s the Heroes’ goaltending duo of Ryan Miller and Ilyz Bryzgalov that gets Vancouver into the Finals.
“We were close last year and as disappointing as last year was, it was a great learning experience for everyone young and old on this team,” said Heroes’ coach Kyle Kebert, who took over the franchise a couple of months into this season. “It’s a huge thrill for me to help them get back there and hopefully the end result will be different this time around.”
Kebert offered a scary thought for the Washington Power whom they will face in the Finals: there’s room for improvement.
“We know we can still be better,” he said. “We’re going to keep pushing ourselves. This is a great opportunity, a great chance. Nothing’s holding us back. No reason we can’t go out there and win it all this time.”
2ND RD: Washington Power (2) v. (6) London Mustangs
Washington marches into Finals after shutting out defending champs
March 27th, 2011
In the end, the Washington Power had an answer for every question the London Mustangs posed in the second round of the AFHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. As a result, the Power finished off a stunningly savage shutout Sunday night with an efficient 10-0 victory over the Mustangs.
The Power will meet the Heroes in the Finals beginning on Monday night.
London, which showed an unwavering ability to withstand the best punches offered by the St. John’s Red Wings in the first round, was knocked down repeatedly throughout this series by the Power, who outscored London in all stat categories in the matchup.
“There are no flukes in a playoff matchup,” London coach Blake Wilson said. “(Washington) deserved to win.”
The Power deserved to win because they were the team that dictated play throughout this series, even when the Cardiac Mustangs showed some inkling of the magic that carried them through the first round upset over third-seeded St. John’s. Washington never buckled, never wavered in its mission on those rare occasions when London dominated play.
“We forced them to play our way,” Washington defensemen Kris Letang said. “We played the Killers in the first round and the Mustangs in thew second round and to me it was two different styles of teams, but we didn’t do much adjusting I don’t think. We made those teams play the way we wanted to play.”
Washington did that again Sunday night.
London’s Bryan Little and Nathan Horton scored goals in the final game of the matchup to get the London crowd in full throat, a din designed to make opponents buckle. But Washington just stayed the course to seal the win.
“We battled them in every game, went at them in every game, and we never quit,” said Washington coach Ray Irwin.
The Mustangs could never find the answers for the red-hot Power, who have put up spectacular numbers in each of their first two rounds of playoff hockey. Halfway through the series, they did a good job at containing Mike Richards and Dany Heatley, who are two of the most skilled forwards for the Power — but Marleau, Gagne, and Selanne combined for 11 goals by Sunday’s game with Roberto Luongo and Tim Thomas having already won all goaltending stat categories.
When the domination was complete, after the handshakes had been exchanged and after the Power had a party with champagne in their team lockerroom, London’s Rick Nash was still shaking his head at what had happened to his team — and his hopes of winning a second AFHL Stanley Cup trophy.
“Give the Power credit; they’re a great team that is resilient and plays with a lot of fire,” Nash said. “I wouldn’t want to be facing them if I was the Heroes.”
“They’re playing at a high level right now and their star studded roster is definitely something that gives them confidence. They’re playing well.”