According to the calendar, today is the Vernal Equinox, otherwise known as the First Day of Spring. Amen to that.
As I’m writing this I’m listening in on Charlotte-WBS, so far it’s sounding like a much better game than the one I saw in Syracuse last night. Let me back track a bit to earlier this week, specifically Wednesday and the anticipated rematch between the Devils and Crunch. After Sunday’s festivities that saw 8 fights and shockingly no suspensions (the next to last fight Leigh Salters left the bench to fight PL3 and Brian McGrattan was seen making an obscene gesture towards someone on the ice that the officials never caught according to one witness), everyone wondered if the rematch would just be a continuation of it. This time around the two teams actually played hockey, and it was the Devils making a statement. What was a close 2-1 Devil lead entering the final frame turned into a 4 goal period and blowout for the visitors, a 6-1 Albany win (a franchise record 5th straight). And as for the extra curriculars? Only one fight, Harry Young vs. Brian Lebler in the first half of the third. It was so bad for the Crunch that the idiot fans there (who’s smarter a Phantom fan or a drunk Crunch fan?) were chanting that their coach sucks. Yeah like it’s his fault your team is in next to last place in the division.
Next stop for the Devils was Norfolk for a two game series. Considering the season series against the Admirals (a single OT win in December), I wondered if the recent surge would carry over. For one night…not so much. Norfolk busted out of the gate from the beginning, taking an immediate 11-0 advantage in shots. As a matter of fact, it was 2-0 before the Devils even got a shot off of Cedrick Desjardins. Adam Henrique got the Devils on the board with a short handed goal early on in the 2nd, but Matt Fornataro gave the Admirals the 2 goal lead right back. Then later in the second the fun got started as the first of 5 fights broke out, including the nightly Leblond bout, this time Pierre-Cedric Labrie was his dance partner. David McIntyre and Alexander Urbom even got involved in some fisticuffs. Norfolk added an empty netter late in the third to seal the 4-1 win. Saturday night came the rematch, and once again like the rematch with the Crunch, it was the exact opposite of the previous matchup. Chris Brown only called 4 penalties all night (a la Jeff Smith), naturally all were on Albany. The Devils raced to a 3-0 lead in the first period, with offense from 3 different goal scorers (Olivier Magnan, Darcy Zajac, and the extremely hot Chad Wiseman), despite being outshot 17-11. Norfolk made a comeback in the 2nd, outshooting the Devils 13-9 and cutting the deficit to 3-2 before Steve Zalewski scored to restore a 2 goal cushion. Third period was very back and forth, Norfolk came back to tie the game at 4, then Matt Anderson gave the Devils a 5-4 lead early on. Vladimir Mihalik retied the game at 5 less than 4 minutes later, leading the teams to overtime. Despite a very late power play chance, Norfolk could not capitalize and it was on to a shootout. Steve Zalewski was the only successful shooter in the bonus round, giving the Devils a 6-5 win and hopefully the start of a new winning streak. Still 13 points behind 5th place Binghamton, who’s holding down the crossover playoff spot into the Atlantic Division.
While the Devils were scoring in bunches in Norfolk, I had the chance (thanks to a free ticket won by my friend Jackie, courtesy of the Devils Bowlathon) to travel to Syracuse to see the Checkers play the Crunch. The Crunch team I saw last night was a complete opposite of what I had seen Sunday in Albany and online on Wednesday night. Either that or Justin Pogge’s game melted down instead of himself this time. First period Crunch came out with a very physical game, getting under the skin of the Checkers from the get go. Pogge even literally threw a Crunch player out of his crease at one point, a play everyone but the ref saw happen. A few get togethers broke out behind the Checker net, resulting in a Brian McGrattan interference major and game misconduct (which gave him an automatic 1 game suspension for accumulation). Patrick Maroon (who’s still shaking his head at our “Leblond Says Hi” sign) and Kyle Palmieri gave the Crunch an early 2-0 lead (meaning 2 Pogge chants from the crowd, about 5700 strong). Second period the Checkers got on the board courtesy of Nick Dodge to cut the deficit to 2-1, but that was as close as they would get. Syracuse exploded for 4 goals in 3 and a half minutes late in the period to turn a close game into a blowout 6-1 lead after two periods. Palmieri completed the hat trick while Josh Green and Matt Beleskey added goals. Third period Mike Murphy stepped in to stop the bleeding, going a perfect 7 for 7 in saves, but the Checkers couldn’t get the offense going. Rookie Timo Pielmeier stopped 40 shots and earned a #3 star as the Crunch took an inexplicable 6-2 win.
Looking ahead to this week…the Devils road trip doesn’t get much easier. Wednesday they travel to Wilkes-Barre Township for one last matchup with the Penguins, the first AHL team to punch their Calder Cup playoff Ticket and also to reach 100 points. Friday they return to Syracuse to face the Crunch (a game I will be attending, yes two trips to Syracuse in less than a week for me), then travel back down Interstate 81 Saturday to face the Bears in Chocolatetown. Another good test to see how far they’ve come over this recent surge. Season comes to an end in 3 more weeks, but it’s not over yet…