NOTE - now updated with Game 1 notes (scroll to bottom) from www.theahl.com
This first-round series is about two really good teams with a chance to go all the way in 2011.
Peoria was built to win and win big. As the year wore on the Aeros added to an already talented roster and found two pieces (Ortmeyer and O'Sullivan) that make them one of the most dangerous teams in the postseason.
The Rivermen started hot, and limped in to the playoffs. They did earn their way in, but they were under .500 in their last 40 games. The Aeros have been on fire since New Year's Day. They have the momentum, and for now the health and depth to get this done.
To me, the wild cards are the two rookie goalies. Jake Allen was amazing up until the New Year. He'll get the bulk of the playing time with Brontosaurus Ben Bishop out. For the Aeros, Anton carried the load until traded, and now Matt Hackett is the No. 1 goalie in H-town.
I hope you will take a look at and comment on my two stories on chron.com today. The advance story looks a bit deeper at the two teams and has some decent quotes from Ortmeyer (John used some of the same for his piece yesterday). The matchups article breaks down the basics, and I even provide for you a prediction: Aeros in seven games.
Big picture wise, I cannot recall a year where so many teams have a good case for going all the way. Just out of the West alone, Milwaukee, Houston, OKC and Lake Erie will be interesting to watch. On the right coast, Charlotte, Wilkes-Barre and Hershey will make some noise too.
And in the NHL; wow. Anaheim/Nashville will be fun. Even Chicago/Vancouver will be a bit more interesting than it looks on paper. Look for the Red Wings to go down in Round 1, and out East? Will Washington choke again? Are the Bruins for real this time? Will Tampa Bay do some damage?
No matter how you look at it or who you cheer for, the next nine weeks or so are going to be absolutely fantastic!
Aeros vs. Peoria; Game 1 notes
Game 1 – Peoria at Houston, 7:05 p.m. - Toyota Center
Both back in the Calder Cup Playoffs after missing out in 2010, second-place Houston and third-place Peoria kick off their West Division semifinal tonight at Toyota Center… These teams are meeting in the first round for the third time in the last six years, with the Aeros prevailing in a four-game sweep (2006) and a seven-game marathon (2009)… Houston was just 2-5-1-0 through its first eight games of the 2010-11 season but collected points in nine of its next 10 outings (7-1-0-2) to climb into playoff contention for good… Aeros captain and former Rivermen forward Jon DiSalvatore led the team in goals (28) and points (61) while playing all 80 games; DiSalvatore’s career-high 28 goals marked the eighth consecutive season in which he scored at least 20… Former AHL rookie of the year Patrick O’Sullivan led the entire AHL in scoring after the All-Star break with 41 points (16-25-41) in 29 games… Houston rookie goaltender Matt Hackett, who assumed the bulk of the workload after Anton Khudobin was dealt to the Boston organization at the NHL trade deadline, finished 23-16-4 (2.37, .916) in 45 appearances overall and went 8-3-0 in his last 11 outings down the stretch… Peoria posted a 4-1-1-0 mark in April to secure a playoff spot and climb to third place in the West… Three-time AHL All-Star T.J. Hensick paced the Rivermen with 69 points (21-48-69) despite playing only 59 AHL games in between NHL recalls to the St. Louis Blues… Graham Mink, who netted a team-best 24 goals (24-26-50), is a two-time Calder Cup champion (2006, 2009) with the Hershey Bears… Peoria forward Nicholas Drazenovic closed the regular seasons by scoring a goal in three straight games (3-1-4) and six of his last eight (7-1-8)… The Rivermen finished in the AHL’s top 10 in both power play efficiency (19.5 percent – eighth) and penalty-killing efficiency (84.8 percent – sixth).