In the first two rounds of the 2011 playoffs, you can say the Checkers did the Senators a favor, as they went out and did the dirty work by defeating the Hershey Bears first, then the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in Round 2 by winning both rounds in six. Mission accomplished, and thank you Charlotte.
The Sens had ended up fifth in the East Division, although the powerful division represented five teams vs three teams for the Atlantic Division. Charlotte finished in third place in their own division (44-27-2-7) in their inaugural season. Interesting enough, the two teams would end up splitting their regular season series with four wins apiece in eight events that seemingly would have predicted a close-fought series.
Meanwhile, the Sens were successful as well in their opening two rounds, as they defied all odds and won the Atlantic Division title. First, it was their improbable defeat over the Manchester Monarchs in Round 1, followed by the Portland Pirates in Round 2 in six. The club was riding momentum, along with determination that led them into the next series.
Captain Ryan Keller was once again in his own element as he scored 2 goals and 4 assists, including an important one in Game 4, as the Binghamton Senators ended up sweeping the Charlotte Checkers in Round 3 of the 2011 Calder Cup Playoffs.
Onto the highlights, that included this warm-up video, summarizing what had taken place for Binghamton in the previous two rounds. Good stuff!
Game 1 - BSens 7 @ Charlotte 4
The Checkers hosted the Senators sporting a 4-2 record at the Time Warner Cable Arena after the opening two rounds of the 2010-'11 post season. Senators countered with five consecutive road wins.
Binghamton received some much needed help on the blue line, as defenseman Eric Gryba returned after he suffered a lower body injury that kept him out of the first two rounds of the post season. That would enable Andre Benoit to get some rest, as he was often relied upon heavily in the first two rounds with Coach KK double shifting him to make up some ground on an otherwise thin defense. Also, another addition came to the blueline by the name of Jared Cowen, as he made his pro playoff debut in Round 3.
Two different tales for the goaltenders in the opener with both clubs altering their players in net. Robin Lehner was forced to sit after the first period (9/12 saves in 19:54 minutes), and with that it made room for back-up netminder Barry Brust. The line on Brust was excellent though, as he seemed to be finally healthy with him stopping 27 of 28 shots in 40 minutes of action.
For the Checkers, starter Mike Murphy was pulled midway through the middle frame (10/15 31:13) and was replaced by Justin Pogge, who was equally as bad, 5 of 7 in 28:29 minutes. Pick your poison, as both Charlotte's goaltenders are maxed out it appeared to be so far.
Erik Condra, Benoit and Kaspars Daugavins each with a goal and two assists in the game that featured Binghamton with a playoff-low 22 shots, and only three in the second period.
Game 2 - BSens 3 @ Charlotte 0
Lehner back in net was surprising, but he seemed to be up to the challenge that his coaching staff presented to him, as he ended up beating the Checkers for his tenth win of the playoffs.
Let's not forget, it was also the continued storyboard success written by Potulny with a pair of goals (12th & 13th), followed by Bobby Butler, his 9th of the playoffs, to spoil a near capacity Friday night crowd which ended up being the final game of the Checkers in Charlotte that season.
Binghamton with their seventh straight road win put themselves up front 2-0 in the series, with the next three shifted to the Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena in Binghamton.
Game 3 - Charlotte 1 @ BSens 7
Condra got the home team the early lead with his fourth of the playoffs, as he beat Charlotte goaltender Mike Murphy up high glove side at 8:33 in the first period. Lehner continued his recent strong performance in Game 2, as he stopped all 15 Checker shots.
Forward Zack Smith contributed with two second period tallies, his 4th and 5th of the post season, that gave the Sens a 3-1 lead heading to the third.
It was there when Binghamton broke it open with four goals that eventually chased Murphy for the second time of the short series, as they would earn the victory and a commanding 3-0 lead. Smith, among the goal scorers (Keller, Butler and Wick) for a four point night and earned Star of the Game honors. Rockin' Robin finished with 37 saves for his second straight win, as the BSens closed in on the Eastern Conference Title.
Game 4 - Charlotte 3 @ BSens 4 OT
A big Wednesday night crowd at the BCVMA to possibly witness history with a four game sweep looming at the hands of the Checkers in Round 3.
The crowd pumped it up with "Let's Go Sens" chants before puck drop, and Ryan Potulny would answer, opening up the scoring with his 14th on a powerplay, followed by another on a shorthanded goal from Kaspars Daugavins, his 10th.
However, Charlotte responded with two of their own (Chris Terry & Casey Borer) to tie the contest at two apiece.
Binghamton looked to have the game won, and more importantly the series, as Benoit scored a powerplay goal, his 3rd for a 3-2 Senators lead. With the home crowd anticipating the sweep with time running out for Charlotte, Checkers forward Terry scored his second of the night with Murphy pulled, as the clock read 1:24 left in the third period. Both teams headed to their respective locker rooms knowing the next goal would be huge.
But the Captain came to the rescue in overtime to give Binghamton the win after a huge faceoff win by Zack Smith, as they finally advanced to the Calder Cup Finals for the first time since the 1982 Binghamton Whalers. It would be Keller's eighth of the playoffs, and most important one to date.
Key Notes; 1.) Potsy and Kells on a offensive tear that would see them rise to the top and continue to carry the team on their shoulders, 2.) The bounce back effort by Lehner, as he retained his focus the rest of the way after his poor outing in Game 1, 3.) Road wins had become critical for Binghamton, as they found themselves on the plus side with their last seven victories in a row.
Binghamton 4 Charlotte 0
A classic gem in a rare post game locker room video, As Coach K addressed his players before they faced the eventual winners of the Western Conference after their decisive overtime win. K-Daug, you're the man!
Next Up: AHL Championship Series Finals vs Houston Aeros.