Lake Erie Monsters dominate, sweep first-round playoff series

Monsters dispatch Rockford in three games, await next opponent

From the Department of Good Problems to Have: By the time the Lake Erie Monsters play their next game, they will have had to wait more than a week for the other playoff teams in the AHL to finish their respective series.

The reason, you may have heard, is because the Monsters tore through their first-round match-up with the Rockford IceHogs, sweeping three games in a series that took 75 hours of real time to complete and saw the Monsters outscore the Blackhawk-affiliated IceHogs, 15-6.

The red-hot Monsters move on to the division finals to face either the Grand Rapids Griffins or the Milwaukee Admirals. Grand Rapids leads that series, 2-0.

There was much concern – including from me, I'm not going to lie – about the fact that Lake Erie had to open the best-of-five series on the road with games in Rockford on Wednesday and Thursday. But neither of those contests was ever really in doubt, with the Monsters winning by scores of 5-2 and 5-1.

That brought the series to Cleveland, where a lower-bowl sellout of 10,025 fans saw the Monsters close things out in what was the closest game of the series thanks to two Rockford goals in the third period that produced a final score of 5-3.

That series-clinching victory, by the way, gave Lake Erie a sparkling 26-8-1-4 record at Quicken Loans Arena this season. If Grand Rapids holds on and wins its series against Milwaukee, the first two games of the Monsters-Griffins series will be played at the Q.

And while we're talking stats, you will note that Lake Erie has won 12 of its last 14 games, including its last six in a row. In technical terms, the Monsters are hotter than all get-out right now.

Now normally this is the spot where we mention Lake Erie's heroes over the past week, but the list this time is an especially long one. Sixteen different guys recorded more than one point in the short series. Sixteen! That's pretty impressive in itself.

But the guy who should get first mention here is Joonas Korpisalo. Yes, it was nice for the normally offensively frugal Monsters to score so many goals in the three games, but Korpisalo was superb in net. In Saturday's clincher, only the first Rockford goal was one he should have stopped (it deflected in off of his glove). The other two IceHog scores came on a strange bounce and during a late-game, 6-on-5, goalie-pulled situation. Korpisalo kept the momentum from ever really shifting Rockford's way.

Then there's Josh Anderson. Shut out in Game 1, Anderson came back to record the Monsters' first hat trick of the season to go along with an assist in Game 2, then tallied another goal in Game 3. He played the kind of physically assertive series you want to see from a guy with his size and skill set. Anderson is becoming a force, at least at the AHL level.

Stat sheet-wise in the series, we should also mention:

And so Lake Erie moves on after winning a playoff series for the first time in the franchise's nine-year history. They're doing it with speed, physicality and a very level-headed approach to the game for which credit must go to head coach Jared Bednar and assistants Nolan Pratt and Toby Petersen. That trio with help and input from Columbus, surely has convinced a team comprised largely of youngsters to buy into the notion of not getting too up or too down, but simply following the old hockey cliche of one shift at a time.

That in itself could take this team far in the postseason. But for now, Lake Erie gets a week of practice during which to work on some tactical issues while trying to maintain its collective focus. The Monsters could know their second-round playoff opponent as soon as Tuesday night, but presumably the first game of that series won't be until at least early next week after all of the current series conclude.

In the meantime, hockey fans in Cleveland will enjoy their first playoff series victory since the 2003-04 Cleveland Barons. That, friends, is a sweet, sweet thing to ponder...

Subscribe to The Cannon

Don’t miss out on the latest articles. Sign up now to get access to the library of members-only articles.