Having taken care of business at home by winning the first two games of their best-of-five playing series against the Utica Comets — and doing so in impressive fashion — the Albany Devils can exhale, relax even, as they head into Game 3 tonight at the Utica Memorial Auditorium.
No, no and no.
If one thing sports, and especially hockey, teaches you is that you better finish off a wounded opponent as quickly as possible.
“Anything can happen. Any team can bounce back,” said Devils defenseman Damon Severson, who spent most of the season with the parent club in New Jersey. “You want to create a sense of urgency and finish them off — go for the sweep.”
Exactly: Finish them off. If the Comets take Game 3 at home tonight in their historic hockey barn that is the The Aud (see below), then it’s a
2-1 series, with Game 4 also in Utica. And then there is nothing that says they can’t win again at home, which if they do means the once-lopsided series comes down to a decisive Game 5, which is in effect a Game 7.
And you know home-ice, stats, tendencies — everything — gets thrown out in a winner-take-all game.
“We talked about it a bit this morning and we’ll talk about it again tomorrow,” Devils coach Rick Kowalsky said Monday morning. “We know this is the toughest game to win. They are going back to their building where they play very well. Our guys have done a good job all year of just focusing on the next task. I feel confident that our group knows what’s ahead of us.”
There are tangible differences beyond the obvious playing at home: last lineup change, last shift change, and familiarity with the rink loom largest.
Then there is the obvious: the fans.
Utica averages 3,860 fans per game at The Aud, near the bottom of the American Hockey League attendance standings. Think that is advantage, Devils?
The Aud holds 3,860. The place will be rocking.
“They’re pretty consistent in the way they play, but they’re aggressive in that building — a very good forechecking building,” Kowalsky said. “They should have a good crowd. Just I think getting over the atmosphere and everything certainly early on is going to be key for us.”
That’s it, right there. Get on the Comets early — and get this series over as early as possible.
O’BRIEN WILL PLAY
Jim O’Brien has been a one-man Comet-killer for the Albany Devils this season; the center has nine goals and six assists in 10 games against Utica this season. But after scoring two goals and netting an assist in Saturday’s 5-1 Game 2 win, he left during the third period with an upper-body injury. (In hockey, that is as specific as injuries get.)
Although he did not skate during the main practice session Monday morning, he did get on the ice later. Kowalsky said the forward will be on the ice for tonight’s game.
“He is good to go,” Kowalsky said,
BRING MY TOYS?
This will be my first trip to The Aud, an arena that holds a special place in cinematic lore: It was used in some of the hockey scenes in 1977 classic “Slap Shot.”
And, yes, I do, have blankin’ “Slap Shot” toys — figurines of the Hanson Brothers that sit in my office. (You have a problem with that?)
If you want to see what the arena looked like in the mid-1970s, Google “Slap Shot” and “pre-game brawl.” As a bonus, the clip also includes the classic National Anthem scene.
A ONE-TOUCH WIN
Last summer at Saratoga Race Course I knowingly committed a hockey sin: I touched the Stanley Cup. I had my reasons, and an out, as I wrote:
“I’m a New York Islanders fan. My team won four straight Stanley Cups from 1980-83 (not to mention “The Miracle on Ice” gold medal in that span). I reckon I have no right to ask the hockey gods for another lap around the rink with Lord Stanley’s trophy. In short: I got mine. So there can be no disrespect, no blasphemy, if I’m not asking for a fifth Cup. If the gods wish to bequeath another through their sheer benevolence, so be it.”
On Sunday, the Islanders notched their first playoffs series in 23 years. I knew the hockey gods would understand.
John Tavares, who scored the game tying goal against the Florida Panthers with 53.2 seconds left, and the game-winner in double-overtime in the 2-1 win helped a little bit, too.
DEFLATEGATE, PART . . . OH WHO CARES?
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that, yup, the NFL could suspend New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for four games.
Now what? Here are two predictions:
Sports talk radio will be unlistenable for the next two weeks if not months. And;
The Patriots will still win the AFC East.
All the rest is hot air. Or cold air. Whatever.