Nick Brunker's Blog
Eastern Conference Semifinals Blog
May 1, 2013 | View Comments
After a wild, six game first round series, the Cyclones have advanced to the Eastern Conference Semifinals where they'll meet the third-seeded Gwinnett Gladiators! Keep this page bookmarked throughout the series - as I'll have daily updates on the Clones!
UPDATE 5/1 2:15pm
For the second straight series, the Cyclones were able to prevail in six games - knocking off the Gladiators in Game 6 by a 5-3 final score. In case you missed it...here's how it sounded on the Cyclones Radio Network!
You've gotta be impressed with everyone on this team for their persistance...the Gladiators were able to score first in all but one game during the series, yet, the Clones found a way to stick with it and pick up four wins out of six games. Remarkably, Cincinnati is 4-3 when allowing the game's first goal.
Like most playoff series', the goaltending was the key in the semifinals...both Michael Houser and Louis Domingue were spectacular. Both registered shutouts during the series, but the Clones were able to get more past the Gwinnett goaltender in the end. At times, both made some game-saving stops and allowed their teams to keep pace. In my mind, Domingue was the main reason that the Glads were even close in this series. Houser, meanwhile, just kept on doing what he's done all playoff year long - play poised and confident between the pipes. Through two rounds, he's the ECHL saves leader (339), minutes leader (796) and wins leader (8). If he can keep up these types of numbers in the Conference Finals, the Clones will have a great chance of winning.
After the game on Tuesday, we caught up with Jarrod Skalde, Mike Embach, and David MacDonald to get their thoughts on the Semifinals as a whole:
It's hard to name an MVP of the Second Round since everyone was contributing in a major way...but for me, Trevor Lewis has to be among the heavy favorites. His double OT game-winner during Game 5 could be viewed as the turning point of the series. He has a total of 13 points this postseason, 10 of them coming as assists. His line (teamed with Pacan and Embach) have arguably been the best trio in the ECHL through the semifinals.
One of the main things that made Cincinnati so successful this year was it's depth...the Cyclones never relied on just one or two guys to get them points. And that trend has continued in this postseason, as all but three players have notched at least one point.
The semifinals became very lopsided in favor of Cincinnati in the shots on goal category...the Clones are the top remaining team in the ECHL with an average of 33.67 shots per game. And while they have allowed an average 30.58 per game, they surrendered just 25.8 in the series with Gwinnett. Regardless of who the Cyclones face in the Conference Finals, those types of shots on goal numbers need to continue for a greater chance of success.
And with that, we close out the Eastern Conference Semifinals Blog! Keep it locked onto CyclonesHockey.com for all the latest...we'll announce the schedule tonight after the Reading/Florida series has been decided! See you back here for the Conference Finals!!
UPDATE 4/30 4:45pm
Just wrapped up my pre-game chat with Cyclones Head Coach Jarrod Skalde...we talked about the Game 5 win, what the keys are for another victory, and more! Give it a listen on the Podcast Page!
With Josh Shalla back in the lineup, it would appear the scratches will remain the same tonight as they were on Saturday...
UPDATE 4/30 1:45pm
Happy Gameday everyone! As we approach puck drop for Game 6...here are some things you'll need to know to get ready:
- Josh Shalla has been reassigned to the Cyclones...he arrived yesterday evening after the Predators sent a bunch of players down to Milwaukee, and in turn, forcing Shalla back to Cincy. It's a HUGE gain to the lineup as they look to close it out. While he wasn't able to notch a point on Wednesday, he makes the players around him better.
- No shocker here, but Michael Houser will start again...he's been the steady hand in net for the Cyclones. The guy has been the busiest of any goalie during these playoffs, but has managed to be composed and consistent. If he can play like he has throughout this series, he'll give Cincinnati a great chance to clinch.
- But as we've talked about, getting the clincher is always the toughest...Gwinnett is going to be at their best tonight and you can bet that Louis Domingue will be as good or better than he was on Saturday (when he made 45 saves). The key, as it has been throughout this series, is the shots on goal area. If the Cyclones can continue the trend of 35+ shots, they'll likely be on the winning end tonight.
Special teams are always crucial in a game like this...both teams are going to need to stay out of the box to be sucessful. The Clones have killed off 24-of-29 in this series, but cannont afford to spend much time in this game killing penalties. Especially considering, on average, the Glads are converting on more than 23 percent of their chances.
- The first goal tonight could not be more crucial...while the Clones seemingly have become experts at winning games in comeback fashion, putting the Gladiators in an early hole will really shake their confidence. The Cyclones are 3-0 when lighting the lamp first, while the Glads are 6-2. Contrarily, Gwinnett has lost their only game that they haven't scored first.
We'll be on the air again tonight, as always, on FM 100 The Fan beginning at 7:15pm!...we hope you can be with us in person for the 7:30pm puck drop, but if not, dial us up! You can also listen online!
UPDATE 4/29 2:30pm
What a finish to Game 5!! For the fourth time in these playoffs, the Clones needed extra hockey to decide it...and for the third time, they won!
In case you missed it, here is how Trevor Lewis' game-winner sounded on the Cyclones Radio Network!
Lewis' goal at 12:29 of the 2nd overtime ended the Cyclones' longest game in club history...it went a total of 92:29, which smashed the previous high of 88:15 set back in 2011.
After Monday's practice at U.S. Bank Arena, I had a chance to sit down with Lewis, Michael Houser, and Dan Eves to talk about the win and look ahead to Game 6 tomorrow!
One of the more impressive things from Saturday night was the shots on goal category...the Clones eclipsed the 40 shot plateau for the second straight game, giving them 127 shots over the past three games. Their 48 pucks on net was the third highest mark in club playoff history. And for a series that started pretty low in this area, the amount of pressure Cincinnati has thrown Gwinnett's way is awesome.
While the high level of shots for Cincinnati was incredible, their team defense was just as noteworthy....in a game that went nearly 100 minutes, the Gladiators could only must 20 shots on net...20!! They were held to less than five shots in all but the second period, where they got 10 onto Houser. If they can keep up these numbers in Game 6 on Tuesday, things will most certainly go Cincinnati's way.
But don't mistake it, tomorrow's contest is going to be the toughest one yet...as we saw in the Quarterfinals, closing out a series is extremely tough...especailly in a Game 6. And while Louis Domingue ultimately suffered the loss, he was extremely tough to beat. You can bet, he'll be as good if not better on Tuesday night.
Speaking of Game 6...things are going to be a bit different in terms of the rules. As you may recall, this series is a 2-5 match-up due to a building conflict in Gwinnett. Therefore, the Gladiators will techinically be the "home team" for Game 6. While most fans won't be able to tell a difference, here is what will change:
- The Gladiators will get "last change"...meaning, unlike every other game at U.S. Bank Arena, the Cyclones will have to send out their players first during a change at a stoppage. Gwinnett will then get a chance to counter with whatever set of players they choose.
- In the face-off circle...the visiting team's centerman is required to put his stick down first, followed by the home centerman, then the puck gets dropped. Since Cincy will technically be the "visiting team," they'll be forced to put their stick onto the ice first. It's a subtle but important change on draws.
Other than that...it's a big momentum swinger for Cincinnati to have the home crowd behind them in such a pivotal game. We hope you can be with us for all the action at 7:30pm!!
If for some reason, you can't be with us...listen to the broadcast LIVE on FM 100 The Fan or online. We'll hit the air at 7:15pm!
UPDATE 4/26 5:00pm
Just wrapped up my pre-game chat with Cyclones Assistant Coach Matt Macdonald...the audio is posted on the Podcast Page! We discussed the importance of a quick start, announced tonight's starter, and went over line combinations now that Shalla is out.
UPDATE 4/26 1:45pm
As we approach the puck drop for Friday night's Game 4...there are a few notes you should be aware of:
- Josh Shalla was recalled today by the Milwaukee Admirals...looking at the details, it would appear that since Filip Forsberg won't be with the AHL club after all, Shalla will be a necessary piece going into their first round Calder Cup Playoff match-up against Texas. I can't say I am surprised at this move. Having Shalla at all was a blessing considering the circumstances above. While he would have been a nice long-term addition, he was well deserving of a call-up and a spot on the playoff roster with the Ads. Best of luck to him.
- Michael Houser was the first goaltender off the ice today during morning skate...leading us to believe that he'll get the nod again in Game 4. And why not? He was stellar again on Wednesday with 23 saves and his first pro playoff shutout. When talking with Assistant Coach Matt Macdonald before the game on Wednesday, he said the goalie situation is a day-to-day thing now that Foster is back. For now, Houser isn't showing any signs of slowing down. He'll be starting his 10th straight game. Incidentally, he will pull into 5th place on the club's goalie games played list tonight. He needs just 30 saves to take over third on the all-time saves list as well.
- With Shalla back to Milwaukee, Josh Birkholz has been activated off of the reserve list and will likely see some action tonight...when he's on, he's one of the fastest players in the ECHL. He's cooled off a bit since posting a two-goal game in Round 1 vs. Toledo, but has the breakaway speed that turns heads and defensive bodies. Let's hope we see a repeat performance from the Quarterfinals tonight.
- Certainly a shutout exemplifies some great team defense...but the Cyclones have done a tremendous job in this series keeping their leading scorer off the board. Casey Pierro-Zabotel, who was more than a point-per-game provider during the regular season, has yet to notch a single point in the series. Along with Justin Bowers and Doug Jones, CPZ is a guy that makes the Gladiators tick. And so far, the Clones have been able to keep him at bay.
- You can bet that tonight's game is going to be the best we'll see the Gladiators in this series...while this game isn't a must-win, it's pretty darn close to being just that. Things are going to be intense tonight. A strong start for the Clones would be extremely deflating to Gwinnett.
- For to the point, Louis Domingue is likely to have a much stronger game tonight...Cincy will have to keep throwing pucks to the net with a ferocity, as the numbers for the Gladiator goalie quickly worsen after he faces 30+ shots or more. The Clones threw a total of 38 on net in Game 3. Also of note, Domingue only lost back-to-back games once during the entire regular season (Jan 21 / Jan 25). Tonight I'd expect him to be at his best.
- Great to see the special teams come alive on Wednesday as well...that's an area that will need to continue as well. The Clones had their best PK day of the playoffs, killing eight-of-eight. And going two-for-four on the power play isn't all bad either. Here's to seeing those kinds of numbers tonight.
- As always, we'll be on the air 20 minutes prior to the Opening Face-Off tonight! I'll be joined again by Miami RedHawks Hockey voice Greg Waddell in the broadcast booth at 7:15pm. Hope to have you with us in person, but if you can't make it down, listen to us LIVE on FM 100 The FAN or here!
UPDATE: 4/25 1:00pm
Now THAT was a satisfying win last night...the Clones played nearly perfect in all areas of the game. And despite it getting VERY chippy at times, Cincinnati held its cool for the most part and didn't get burned. Another great night for the special teams as the power play came alive with a 2-for-4 night and the PK was a perfect 8-for-8.
You can't say enough about the job Michael Houser has done for this team...last night was his ninth straight start. He needs just three more starts to take over third on the club's all-time games played list. This postseason, Houser has led the ECHL in saves, games played, and minutes played - all the meanwhile posting a goals-against average that currently ranks fourth among all goaltenders. Simply tremendous.
It was also great to see John McFarland come alive last night...he's been frustrated with himself so far, despite playing well in all the game's he has been here. Nothing like a three-point night to get the monkey off your back.
Speaking of Johnny Mac...he and Coach Skalde talked with us after the game:
Hard to think of many things the Cyclones have to change for Friday's Game 4...but you can bet the Gladiators are going to come out flying. It's not officially a must-win game for them, but it's about as close as it can get to being one. The fact that the Clones will play the remainder of the series at home made last night's win such a big one.
We've been saying it all series: get shots to the net...we saw a perfect example last night of what happens when they do. Louis Domingue becomes average. Not to say all four goals he allowed were 100% his fault, but his statistics go drastically downhill when you get 30 shots or more on him. He faced 35 in Game 3...allowed 4. That trend must continue on Friday.
Quietly, Trevor Lewis has risen to the top of the ECHL assist leaderboard in this postseason...he came up with another helper on Wednesday, he is tied for the Cyclones lead in points (10) and is tied for the most assists in the league (9). And the best part is, his endurance continues to stay strong because he missed the entire first half of the season with an injury.
In case you missed it...here are the highlights of the 5-0 Wednesday win!
UPDATE: 4/24 5:00pm
We're rapidly approaching puck drop for Game 3 of the Eastern Semfinals...as the series has shifted back to Cincinnati. Here are some things to note leading up to game time:
- Josh Shalla has returned to the Cyclones for today...what a big offensive weapon he is. The rookie forward had 28 points (21 goals, 7 assists) during the regular season and led the team with 7 game winning goals. Any time he is on the ice, he's a scoring threat. Just as important, he makes the players around him that much better. While we don't know how long he'll be in Cincy (since Milwaukee is in the playoffs), every game he's here is a bonus in my mind.
Speaking of reassignments...Goaltender Brian Foster is back as well. He spent the final month of the regular season up in San Antonio and served as the back-up for Dov Grumet-Morris. While he won't start tonight, I would imagine we'll see #35 at some point over the next few games. Assistant Coach Matt MacDonald told me they're taking a wait and see approach for now. Either way, Foster is a great guy to have in the aresenal, regardless of when he plays.
The shots on goal numbers have been very low...both teams have kept the shots on goal number down during the first few games of this series. As I mentioned on the air this past weekend, Gladiators goalie Louis Domingue struggles mightily when he sees 30 or more shots. The coaches tell me that they've gotta continue to force the issue and amp up the numbers by going back to what made them successful earlier in the playoffs and regular season.
Josh McFadden will make his playoff debut tonight...the talented rookie defenseman has been on the sidelines during this postseason run until now. But he's been keeping in game shape by practicing up tempo and spending ample time after practice working on his endurance. When he's at the top of his game, McFadden can be a major offensive threat from the blue line. Like several other Cyclones D-men, he likes to get active in the offensive end.
As always, we'll be on the air 20 minutes prior to the Opening Face-Off on FM 100 The FAN and the Cyclones Radio Network! We hope you can be with us in person at U.S. Bank Arena, but if not, tune us in!
UPDATE: 4/21 10:00am
It's another gameday here in Gwinnett!! The Cyclones and Gladiators will battle in Game 2 of the series tonight at 6:05pm. Due to a building conflict, they couldn't play yesterday - so tonight will feature the only game in the ECHL.
Things got a bit heated at the end of the Cycloned 3-2 comeback win on Friday. At the horn, David Pacan was hit against the boards and it sparked a get together along the red line. Eventually after several pushing and shouting matches subsided, the teams separated and some fines were handed out by the ECHL. There weren't any suspensions, though. Bottom line: Tonight's game is likely to be just as physical as Game 2, if not more so.
Lineup-wise, I wouldn't expect to see any changes from either side. At least on the Cincinnati side, the health of the team didn't change after Game 1.
Although they had to rally from behind, the Cyclones did a great job of controlling the tempo throughout the game. While both teams had to kill off a bunch of power plays, it seemed like during five-on-five play, Cincy did a much more consistent job of keeping the pressure on and generating offense.
The shots on net numbers were much lower than either side would have wanted...I'd imagine the Clones will amp up the shots on net numbers - as Louis Domingue's record and goals-against average worsens significantly when facing 30 or more shots.
In case you missed all the Game 1 action...here's an audio recap of the 3-2 win!
We'll be on the air tonight on the Cyclones Radio Network (FM 100 The FAN, America One, CyclonesHockey.com) beginning at 5:45pm. The puck drops at 6:05! Hope to have you with us tonight!!
UPDATE: 4/19 11:30am
Morning Skate is underway in Gwinnett...pretty much status quo for the Clones. Who will play their fourth away game of these playoffs.
Roster-wise, everyone seems to be ready for the series-opening action...I'd expect to see few if any line-up changes from the last series. I'd expect Aronson and McFadden to be scratched on defense with Matt Smyth and Mattias Lindstrom sitting out from the forward core. The official word will come down shortly before warm-ups.
The goaltending match-up is what you would expect....Michael Houser against Louis Domingue. Understandably, Houser has been the busier of the two goalies, statwise. He has earned a 2.06 GAA with a 4-2 record in the postseason. Domingue, meanwhile, wasn't nearly as busy between the pipes for the Gladiators in Round 1. In fact, he only faced 30+ shots once in the four game sweep. Still, his 1.50 GAA and 4-0 record is nothing to shake a stick at. The scouting report on him is simple...get lots of shots. When facing 30+ shots during the regular season, his record was just one over .500. Bottom line: if the Clones can rack up the shots and traffic like they did against Toledo, they'll find success.
Former Cyclone Casey Pierro-Zabotel is the engine that runs their top line...he's tough to beat in the face-off circle and uses his size well. While he didn't do a whole heck of a lot in the two games against Cincy this year, he's a dangerous weapon. He's teamed with Ryan Ginand and Evan Bloodoff normally...who are also skilled forwards. However, from watching previous games, they like to cheat a bit and leave the defensive end and neutral zone wide open for odd-man rushes.
As you would also expect, the top defensive core for Gwinnett is also much improved from the last round opponent. While Toledo had a couple of skilled defensemen, they were on the whole a much slower unit. With Sacha Guimond and Corey Fienhage as their top unit, they are not afraid to jump into the play offensively. Just like in Round 1, neutral zone effectiveness is going to be very important against the Glads.
In case you missed it yesterday...here are some comments from Garrett Wilson, Mike Embach, and David MacDonald after yesterday's practice as they look ahead to tonight.
Don't forget to hear all the action tonight on FM 100 The Fan, America One, and online here. We'll be on the air beginning at 7:15pm. Gonna be a fun night...hope to have you listening!
The Cyclones will play the first two games of the series on the road, but due to a Gwinnett Center conflict, will host the remaining five possible games at U.S. Bank Arena.
The full schedule is as follows:
Game 1 – at Gwinnett – Friday, April 19 - 7:35pm
Game 2 – at Gwinnett – Sunday, April 21 – 6:05pm
Game 3 – at Cincinnati – Wednesday, April 24 – 7:30pm
Game 4 – at Cincinnati – Friday, April 26 - 7:30pm
Game 5 – at Cincinnati – Saturday, April 27 – 7:30pm (if necessary)
Game 6 – at Cincinnati – Tuesday, April 30 – 7:30pm (if necessary)
Game 7 – at Cincinnati – Wednesday, May 1 – 7:30pm (if necessary)
It's the first time that I've ever seen such a series layout...it's definitely a BIG help for the Cyclones. However, it's just as important to start strong this weekend on the road and get the best-of-seven off on the right foot!
Don't waste time...get your tickets for the series ASAP as the later rounds tend to fill up much faster. 513.421.PUCK is the number to dial!
As of Wednesday (4/17), the San Antonio Rampage have two more games to go and Milwaukee has three remaining. Wouldn't surprise me to see Brian Foster get reassigned sometime in the next seven days. If I had to guess, I would think after the Rampage wrap up their season on Saturday night, Foster will be on a flight the next day. Whether or not he would join the team for Game 2 on Sunday or just come directly to Cincy is up in the air at this point.
On the Milwaukee side...Josh Shalla, Cam Reid, and Anthony Bitetto are the eligible players still up in the AHL. However, this branch of the affiliate tree is much more undecided. As of Wednesday, they're in the playoffs. But it could come down to the very last day. If the Admirals make the Calder Cup Playoffs...we probably won't see the trio of players until the next round. Again, that's just a guess. However, if they were to miss the postseason, we could see some if not all of those guys by next week as well.
Another programming reminder...ALL the Kelly Cup Playoff games (both home AND away) are broadcast LIVE on FM 100 The FAN (100.3 FM), America One, CyclonesHockey.com, and the Cyclones Mobile App! We'll be on the air 20 minutes prior to the opening face-off.