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Bingo Bites: Reliving That Special Spring Of 2011

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First of a three part series featuring the 2011 Calder Cup run by the BSens beginning with the Atlantic Division

Alicia Strauch - SilverSevenSens

It's the fifth anniversary of Binghamton's first Calder Cup and in the spirit of the current AHL playoffs, I thought it would be neat to go back in time five years ago to 2011 and that incredible, magical playoff run by the Senators.

This is the first of a three part series with this, the Atlantic Division, followed by the Conference Finals, and finally the Championship of the 2010-'11 season. The BSens went 16-7 in the playoffs, including 8-2 in the final 10 games to capture the Cup for the first time in 40 years of hockey in the City of Binghamton.

The club made the playoffs for the first time in five seasons with a record of 42-30-3-5, good for fifth place in the East Division, seventh in the Eastern Conference. That's 480 regular season games (including 2010-'11) since the lock-out season's first round failure to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins back in 2005.

Let's face it, it had been a while. A long while. Too long, to be honest for any diehard.

Enter 2011 and the BSens were in the post season, winners of 8 of their last 12 during the regular season and finished with a total of 92 points. Not bad, as the team earned the crossover position with the lower standings from the East to compete in the Atlantic for the Division Championship.

Manchester Monarchs - Round I, Atlantic Division Semi

Opening night line-up* in the best of 7 series;

Roman Wick - Jim O'Brien - Erik Condra
Colin Greening - Derek Grant - Bobby Butler
Kaspars Daugavins - Ryan Potulny - Ryan Keller(C)
Dave Dziurzynski - Zack Smith - Cody Bass(A)

Andre Benoit(A)- Derek Smith
Patrick Wiercioch - Craig Schira
Patrick Coulombe - Geoff Kinrade

Barry Brust - Robin Lehner

*Forward Corey Locke and defenseman Eric Gryba were both out injured and missed the opening series. Italics represent the starters.

Buckle up, this round was pretty epic.

First game went to Manchester in a low scoring affair by a score of 2-1, as goaltender Jeff Zatkoff kept the Senators at bay with his 34 save performance. Binghamton showed their hand with fan favorite Barry Brust in net, as he stopped 27 shots against his former team. That would relieve some tensions and break the ice for some of the rookies on the BSens squad, as these two teams battled hard the rest of the way during the series.

In Game 2, the Senators woke up and scored three times in the third period to take a 3-2 lead, only to have Manchester defenseman Jake Muzzin tie it with a 1:02 remaining, as the two teams headed for overtime, the first of a total of five OT games it would take down the road.

In a surprise result, a rookie by the name of Derek Grant scored the game winner on a great individual effort in by Zatkoff in OT to cap off a remarkable 4-3 win. That would knot up the series at a game apiece for his first professional playoff goal, as he was mobbed afterwards behind the cage by his teammates in celebration. The always enthusiastic voice of Grady Whittenburg with the call.

The next three tilts took place in Binghamton that gave the home fans something to cheer about: playoff hockey!!

Excitement was in the air that night, as the team soaked in some home cooking and fed off the fans as they roared to a 3-0 lead after the opening 20 minutes by goals from Benoit, Wick and Greening. That would end Monarchs' starter Zatkoff's night, as rookie Martin Jones took his place in the second period.

The change in net worked, as Manchester responded and tied the game by the third period that eventually ended up in overtime. There, Monarchs' stud Bud Holloway scored his third of the night that sent the visiting team back to their hotel rooms with a 5-4 win in their back pocket, along with a comfortable 2-1 lead. Rookie Defenseman Mark Borowiecki made his post season debut despite the loss and had a +1 status.

In Game 4 with the score tied at 3-3, Sens' goaltender, and fan favorite, Barry Brust experienced a meltdown, as he let in three quick goals in a span of 3:30 that left a sour taste, not only with the fans, but the club as well, as they lost for a second straight night, this time by a 6-3 margin and found themselves in a three games to one hole. Not good.

Something needed to be changed, and in a hurry.

Enter goaltender Robin Lehner for Game 5, as head coach Kurt Kleinendorst, in his attempt to shake things up a bit with his club down 3-1, gave his regular season rookie stallion an opportunity with an otherwised banged up veteran Brust needing some much needed rest. (Although Game 4 would end up being his final game as a starter in a Senators uniform.)

New folk hero Ryan Potulny scored his seventh on a power play with 4:34 left in the third, as it would take another overtime session to decide the winner in that thriller. With their backs against the wall, forward Kaspars Daugavins scored the game winner on another power play for a 5-4 victory that gave Lehner his first playoff win with 30 saves. Sens rookie forward Mike Hoffman also made his playoff debut and recorded an assist.

The bad news was Manchester took two out of three in Binghamton and looked to end it with the next two games slated in Manchester. The good news? Binghamton gained momentum and looked to feed off from it with their latest overtime win.

Lehner earned the nod for Game 6, and why not, it worked in the previous game. Justin Azevedo and Butler exchanged the only goals of the game, as Lehner and Jones were solid in net in a battle that lasted for for over 90 minutes. The tightly played contest then reached the second overtime that featured a penalty shot at 4:55.

In what was perhaps the most critical time in the 2011 playoffs for the BSens, forward Erik Condra was whistled for intentional dislodging of the net and the Monarchs were rewarded with a penalty shot that was taken by their leading goal scorer in Holloway. With the series on the line and the BSens not ready to take the long bus trip home, his shot glanced off of Lehner's left shoulder to help preserve the game at 1-1.

Huge sigh of relief for all listeners on the radio side of the broadcast by Grady at the time. I mean, wow!

Then, with renewed energy, defenseman Kinrade scored the eventual game winner at 10:01 for the big win, as Lehner recorded 51 saves that lifted the team to a decisive Game 7 at Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester the very next night.

"We’re just fortunate we have another day to live, but unfortunately this series should have been over.  Not only tonight, but it should have been over in Binghamton, but we kept letting them back in the door.  It’s a hard lesson to learn for [young players]." ~ Manchester Head Coach Mark Morris, courtesy of LA Kings

In a wild Game 7, Sens' Captain Keller would score a pair of goals in the first period, and Erik Condra was successful on a shorthanded tally just 56 seconds after in the middle frame that ended the night for Jones in goal.

He was then replaced by Zatkoff down 3-0, but Manchester responded with four second period goals, as the game was tied at four apiece. Ugh! I recall at this points not feeling good, but forever optimistic.

After Monarchs forward Dwight King put his team ahead on a powerplay tally, it looked rather bleak to be honest, with the Senators' season in jeopardy. However, Condra to the rescue, as he rallied the troops with his second of the evening with 1:45 remaining, and once again this would be decided in extra minutes in what would end up being another comeback win.

Potulny's postseason would continue to rise as he scored the game winner from high in the slot past Zatkoff, for a series ending 6-5 win. Enjoy the clincher!

The Senators won the final three games in that improbable series story-line after being down 3-1. Lehner was in net for the last three wins that eventually earned him the MVP of the playoffs, as successful headlines in the playoffs back then ultimately paved the way for his future career currently today for him in Buffalo.

Potulny ended up with 8 goals and 6 assists while Kellar added 3 goals and 7 assists. Lehner went 3-0, 2.81 GAA and 0.909 SV% in 219.34 minutes after he took over from Brust in Game 5. Five out of seven went into overtime including double OT in the sixth contest as all but one game was decided by a goal. What a series. What a comeback!

Key Notes; 1.) Coach K inserting Lehner in relief of Brust was a gutsy call, but a needed one in the long run 2.) Pots on the offense side was remarkable, 3.) Lehner got a piece of that shot by Holloway in the 2nd OT that saved the season. The Monarchs' goaltending was inconsistent for the most part on one of the many reasons why the Sens ousted Manchester.

However, this was by far the hardest challenge of a series the team would face the rest of the way to the Calder Cup.

Binghamton 4 Manchester 3

Portland Pirates - Round 2, Atlantic Division Final

The second series would shift again on the road for the Senators against the mighty Portland Pirates at the Cumberland County Civic Center. A team that finished the regular season in first place in the Atlantic Division with 103 points, and the league’s second best winning percentage (.713) at home during the regular season (25-8-6-1).

Portland won their first round series over the Connecticut Whale in six. But they suffered a key injury to defenseman T.J. Brennan.

One crucial player who would return from injury for Binghamton was Corey Locke.

Momentum was on their side after a tremendous comeback in the first round with the emotional seven game series vs the Monarchs. Reigning AHL MVP Corey Locke returned to action after he missed the first round and was a huge boost to the offense, as well as his locker room presence with his post season experience.

In Game 1 Portland was ready as they held a 1-0 lead after one, but it wouldn't last as the Senators turned on the heat for the remaining two periods as they poured on 34 shots on goaltender David Leggio, which resulted in three goals by Keller, Butler (his fourth game in a row) and Smith for the 3-2 win.

Just the opposite in Game 2, as it was the Pirates that applied the pressure with 46 shots, only to have Lehner step up with his 43 saves. Three second period goals by  Daugavins, Smith and Butler proved to be too much for new Portland netminder Jhonas Enroth en-route to a 5-3 victory, as the Sens took a 2-0 series lead with the next three scheduled on home ice.

A near sellout greeted their team on a Saturday night, as they cheered on the players for the first time after their comeback in the first round. But it was the Pirates that silenced the capacity crowd with the early lead, as sparingly-used defenseman Brian O'Hanley scored his first playoff goal off Lehner in the first period.

Binghamton mounted a comeback with second period goals by Keller and Daugavins to take a 2-1 lead, but Portland responded with two goals of their own to take Game 3, 3-2.

Game 4 resulted in Hoffman scoring his first post season goal on a powerplay off of Leggio, as the team took a 3-1 lead to the locker room after 20 minutes. Daugavins would score his second of the night 1:26 into the middle frame that chased Leggio, as he was replaced by Enroth. (Sense a pattern with the Sens chasing goalies again?)

Potulny scored a pair to round up the onslaught that led Binghamton to a 6-1 drubbing and could end the series with another home win the next night.

With the pressure all on Portland, they rolled out with four first period tallies on 20 shots that chased Lehner, as he had an off night allowing the four on just 14 shots. In a mop-up duty, Brust was back on the ice for the first time since Game 4 against Manchester and did fairly well stopping 25 of 27 shots as the Pirates starved off elimination with the 6-2 romp that forced Game 6 in Portland.

Back on the road with Lehner, Kleinendorst stuck to his rookie goaltender, and it proved to be the right move as he earned a shutout with 36 saves for the team's fifth straight win on the road in the decisive 3-0 win. JOB, Smith and Daugavins the goal scorers with one coming in each period.

"We had a great record at home all season and in the first round of the playoffs we played tough on home ice. Losing all three home games (in this series) is frustrating. We deserve better, but it is what it is. ~ Portland Left Winger Derek Whitmore, courtesy of Portland Press Herald

Binghamton won the Atlantic Division and advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2003 against the Charlotte Checkers.

Key Notes; 1.) Daugavins with 6 goals and 2 assists along with 6 assists from Locke including 3 in Game 4. 2.) Kleinendorst's decision to run Lehner back in net after a rough outing in Game 5. 3.) Binghamton winning all three games on the road to extend their road winning-streak to five was a big factor.

Binghamton 4 Portland 2

Next week's Bingo Bites: Eastern Conference Finals