Rat Trap

The Detroit Red Wings annually struggle in the playoffs because their regular season point total is padded by playing loads of games against weak sisters such as Chicago, Columbus and (until the second half of 2006-07, anyway) St. Louis. The AHL’s Albany River Rats are an example of this syndrome in reverse.

The Rats finished the regular season with the 19th best record in the league. They didn’t cement their playoff berth until the league’s final weekend. Three teams that missed the playoffs had better records. The Rats finished the season with a very pedestrian 37-36-4-3 regular season record.

But Albany also plays in the toughest division in the league, the AHL East. Hershey (114), Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (108) and Norfolk (108) all easily eclipsed the century mark while the Rats were a distant fourth with 81 points. Perhaps all those games against the Bears, Penguins and Admirals toughened up the Rats, though.

Albany posted a 6-14-1-1 mark against the three heavyweights of the East, meaning the Rats were a very respectable 31-22-3-2 against the rest of the league. They may be better equipped for the rigors of postseason hockey than Detroit. The Rats gained a split of the first two games of their East Division semifinal series in Hershey against the Bears, meaning they’ve now won two of their last three visits to Giant Center. They’ve played smart hockey, they’re well-coached and their confidence is growing by the day.

All that said, I still have to believe the Bears will win this series. They’ve had 18 power plays to Albany’s nine, and that is evidence of how much Hershey has dominated at times in five-on-five play. Albany has gone long stretches without getting a shot on goal on both of the first two games, and the Rats haven’t been able to sustain much in the way of a forecheck. Two of Albany’s five goals in the series have come on the rush, one was scored on the power play, and another immediately after an offensive zone draw.

The irony is that just one of Hershey’s own five goals in the series has come at even strength, and the Bears’ power play has clicked on only three of those 18 chances. I wouldn’t change much about the way the Bears are playing right now. It would be great to see them convert more of their scoring chances, and it would be good to see a few guys who’ve been sleepwalking get a wake-up call. Other than that, keep on keeping on.

The series shifts to Glens Falls, NY on Sunday for Game 3. That’s where Bears coach Bruce Boudreau concluded his playing career in 1991-92. He was a part of the fourth and final Adirondack Red Wings Calder Cup championship that season, playing for head coach Barry Melrose.

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