It certainly wasn’t the start the Calgary Hitmen were looking for in game one of the Eastern Conference Finals. A slow start, too many penalties, and the inability to handle the top players of the Brandon Wheat Kings were just a few things Calgary had trouble with on Friday night. It’s a big reason why they find themselves down 1-0 in this series.
A 9-4 loss in game one leaves lots of room for improvement for the Hitmen and they will have their hands full in attempting that against what is a very good Wheat Kings team. Here are a few things to look out for in tonight’s game two (6:30 pm, Sportsnet.ca/960).
In order for the Hitmen to have success in this series they will need to have good starts. That was not the case in game one, as they fell down 2-0 just 7:39 into the game and had been outshot at that point 6-0. Although Calgary did erase that deficit and tied the game at 2-2, the slow start ended up really hurting them in the end.
Stay out of the box
Special teams are always important during postseason play, but in game one it was taken to a whole new level. It seemed that every time the Hitmen took a penalty the Wheat Kings were quick to make them pay. The further the game went on, the more the Hitmen became unravelled and the Wheat Kings continued to run up the score. Calgary coach Mark French was ejected in the third period, although his frustration was warranted with some absolute blown calls by the officiating crew. French also could have been trying to fire his team up and send a message that their play in game one will not land them many wins at this point in the season. By game’s end, Brandon had scored three times on eight powerplays they were given in the game.
Secondary scoring needs to continue to chip in
Both these teams have many big name players and offensive weapons. Despite that, this series may be won by secondary scoring. In game one the Hitmen got a goal from 16 year old Beck Malnastyn, while Pavel Karnaukhov also chipped in with a goal. Despite the game one loss, if Calgary can continue to get contributions from other players that aren’t their superstars, they should be able to find success in this series. The Wheat Kings got scoring from pretty much everyone in game one and that was another big reason for their success.
Handle the Brandon’s waves better
The Wheat Kings came out strong in game one which wasn’t a surprise to anyone. Brandon jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period and then scored three times in a 3:37 span in the second period after Calgary had tied things up. The WHL regular season champs have a lot of fire power and can clearly turn it on at the drop of a hat. The key for Calgary will be to limit the damage Brandon does when they turn it on. They don’t necessarily have to keep them off the score sheet during these waves but keeping the damage to a minimum will help.
Who will be in and out of the lineup for the Hitmen?
The Hitmen were already without Connor Rankin in game one, as he sat out with a lower body injury suffered in game five of round two. Last night, Calgary suffered an injury scare when Adam Tambellini crashed into the boards in the second period and left the game. He did return but was clearly in some discomfort the rest of the night. Chase Lang suffered what can only be described as a scary injury when he got tangled up on a faceoff and had his leg twisted up. He left the game without putting any pressure on it and didn’t return.
Who starts in game 2?
Mack Shields played by far the best hockey of his career in round two against the Medicine Hat Tigers. Despite how good he was in that series he would certainly love if he could have a mulligan in game one of this set. After Shields was pulled after allowing four goals on 19 shots, Brendan Burke took over and also allowed four goals. Now, for the first time since round 1, we have a question of who will start in game 2.
Game 2 goes on Saturday night with a 6:30 pm start. Brad Curle and Ken thrower have the call online only by heading to Sportnset.ca/960 and following the links.