April 27, 2013

Crunch time for Pirates

Portland opens the playoffs against a foe stocked with players from last year's AHL champs.

By Paul Betit pbetit@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Neither Portland Pirates Coach Ray Edwards nor Syracuse Crunch Coach Rob Zettler have had much experience running an AHL team in the postseason, but both know how their teams have to play in order to succeed in the Calder Cup playoffs.

SATURDAY'S GAME

WHO: Pirates at Syracuse Crunch

WHAT: AHL Eastern Conference quarterfinals, Game 1

WHEN: 7:35 p.m.

"We have to play the way we play," Edwards said. "We have to play our game, and this is a big key for us. There are multiple things we've got to look at, but the biggest thing is how we play."

Zettler has the same outlook.

"You always do some studying and find out what the other team is doing," he said, "but at the end of the day, you've just got to worry about what you're doing and how you're going to play. It's a cliche, but it's true."

Edwards was an assistant coach for the San Antonio Rampage the last time an AHL affiliate of the Phoenix Coyotes made the playoffs.

Zettler, who spent 10 seasons as an assistant coach in the NHL, became coach of the Crunch on March 25 when Jon Cooper took over as coach of the NHL parent Tampa Bay Lightning.

Last season, Cooper guided the Norfolk Admirals to the Calder Cup championship. The Lightning switched their AHL affiliation to Syracuse and stocked the Crunch with a solid core of players from last year's championship squad.

"(We're) dealing with a team that was the champion," Edwards said. "They obviously got there for a reason, so there's talent, there's ability, there's character."

As many as 12 players from that championship team, led by AHL Most Valuable Player Tyler Johnson, could be in the lineup Saturday night when the best-of-five series between the Crunch and Pirates opens in Syracuse.

"They've done a nice job there," Edwards said. "Not only did they win it all last year, but they've come back and put themselves into position to do it again. You've got to prove that what you did wasn't a fluke, and they've done that."

"The key to me is the consistency we get from our players," Zettler said. "There's been a lot of guys who have been up and down with Tampa Bay, so there has been a lot of flux in our lineup here, and we have been able to stay the course with a lot of different looks."

At 43-22-8-5, Syracuse compiled the third-best record among the 30 AHL teams this season, but Zettler said his Crunch can't take the Pirates lightly. Portland finished with a 41-30-3-2 record, 15th best in the league.

"The Pirates have a lot of skill," said Zettler. "In watching them, they're a pretty talented team. They make a lot of stuff happen."

Games 1 and 2 will be played at War Memorial Arena, which has a smaller ice surface than a lot of AHL arenas.

"Things happen quick in that building, and you have to be ready to play quick," Edwards said. "You have to defend close. You've got to be smart and you have to manage the puck in those buildings just like you would (on our home ice). Everything happens a little quicker there, so you've got to be sharp."

The cozy confines won't change the Pirates' style of play.

"It doesn't make us change our game at all," Edwards said. "It just makes us put some emphasis on certain areas."

Staff Writer Paul Betit can be contacted at 791-6424 or at:

pbetit@pressherald.com

Twitter: PaulBetitPPH

 

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