Tuesday, 17 April 2018

On The Precipice

I've never been a slave to the refresh button on my internet browser. I've bid on stuff on eBay and whatnot, but I'm not the guy to sit there and pound away on a refresh button until time runs out. I almost became that guy today as I sat watching the updates on the Metal Ligaen website as the Aalborg Pirates traveled to Herning to meet the Blue Fox in Game Three of their best-of-seven championship series. With the Pirates leading 2-0 in the series in what would be a pivotal Game Three, I needed the updates faster than they were being printed on the website!

Goals early in the second period from Martin Lefebvre and Jeppe Jul Korsgaard put Aalborg out in front 2-0 just 5:07 into the middle frame, forcing Petri Skriko to use his timeout to gather his troops and have them refocus as the Pirates absolutely dominated the opening minutes of the second period. Things settled down for the remainder of the period, but it was clear that the better team was on the visiting side of the scoreboard in the second stanza.

Things were rolling along nicely until Herning's bench decided to run a fire drill by sending too many men over the boards seven minutes into the third period, and the Pirates would make them pay for that impromptu exodus from the bench. Peter Quenneville struck at the 7:37 mark on the power-play, and it was 3-0 for the Pirates in what was as close to a must-win game for Herning if they wanted to stay in the series. While Herning's Branden Gracel would find the next with just over four minutes to play, this game was never in doubt as the Pirates won 3-1 to extend their series lead to 3-0.

Before we start handing out championship trophies prematurely, let's dig into the numbers as these two teams prepare for Game Four in Aalborg's Cool East Arena on Friday night. The Pirates, in these Metal Ligaen playoffs, are 7-0 on home ice while outscoring their opponents 26-11 in those seven games. The closest game was a 5-4 overtime game against Esbjerg in the last series. Every other game has had a two-goal difference or more including a 3-0 win against Herning two days ago. I don't want to jinx anything that's happening here, but it might be time to get those cases of champagne chilling on ice if the trend at home continues for the Aalborg Pirates.

The second-best team in the Metal Ligaen has now won three-straight games over the best team in the Metal Ligaen by a combined score of 10-2. The highest scoring team in the Metal Ligaen this season has been held to one goal on home ice in two games and was shutout on the road. Herning, who rolled through the Herlev Eagles and Rungsted Seier Capital by 4-1 series finals, has yet to even lead in a game in the final as Aalborg has been entirely dominant in three games. To suggest that things will get easier on Friday night for Herning with Aalborg playing at home and looking to end 37 years without a Metal Ligaen Championship to their name would be entirely unfathomable.

The hole that Herning has dug for themselves in this series is more closely resembling a grave right now as Aalborg continues their work-like effort in shoveling dirt on top of Herning. The two goals that Herning have scored have both come in the third period of the game after Aalborg has built a comfortable lead. Again, they were shutout in their most recent visit to Aalborg two days ago, so we're talking about a Herning team who needs every ounce of desperation to try and extend the series, but will walk into an arena where they have yet to light the lamp in the playoffs. Ouch.

Tadeas Galansky has stared down the high-powered offence of the Herning Blue Fox and laughed. Ok, he hasn't literally been laughing, but he has been everything and more that Brandon Reid has asked and expected from his goaltender. In the final, Galansky is sporting a 0.67 GAA and a .972 save percentage - numbers that are almost inconceivable when you consider the offensive talent and scoring that the Blue Fox boasted this season. Branden Gracel has been in both goals for the Blue Fox thus far, but the likes of Toni Kalella - one assist - and Lasse S. Lassen - no points - seem to be caught in suffocating defence that the Pirates are playing. Right now, if you're head coach Petri Skriko, there is no shortage of frustration after watching your amazing regular season in which you finished fifteen points ahead of the rest of the field vanish like a chest full of treasure at the hands of the skillful Pirates.

Friday night is going to be a party that the city of Aalborg hasn't seen for a while as I expect a capacity crowd to be inside Cool East Arena as they look to erase 37 years of "next year" as the Pirates attempt to sweep the regular-season champion Herning Blue Fox out of the playoffs. At the end of the night, Herning will have had to played one helluva game to escape Aalborg for a Game Five, but everything we've seen in this series thus far has suggested that the Pirates will probably lay waste with another blitz of offence to the Blue Fox defence as they siege the goal once more.

I'm not saying to get your eye patch out, but this could be the best Friday night to be a Pirate!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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