ABBOTSFORD, B.C. – The Abbotsford Heat desperately need to find a way to solve goaltender Tyler Plante.
He came in for the Rochester Americans during Game 1 of their first-round series and has been virtually unbeatable since?helping his team build a 3-1 lead over Abbotsford heading into Game 5 on Friday.
Despite outshooting Rochester 143-105 in the series, the Heat have been on the losing end of three lopsided games. They’re now facing elimination, but aren’t planning any drastic changes to the gameplan.
“I think we’ve just got to continue doing what we’ve done: lots of traffic and lots of shots,” said Heat forward Brett Sutter. “We’ve got to try and get in his face a little bit and throw him off his game. Eventually one’s going to go in for us and once we get one they’ll start to come.
“So we’ve got to stick to what we’ve been doing.”
The key move of the series came from Americans coach Benoit Groulx, who sent in Plante for Alexander Salak with his team trailing 3-1 in the first period of Game 1.
Rochester would end up losing that game, but they’ve taken control of the series since. Plante has a 3-0 record with a 1.65 goals-against average and a .955 save percentage.
“Tyler’s played very well in this series for us,” said Americans assistant coach Jason Cipolla. “We weren’t hesitating a bit when we made the switch. He finished March as the goaltender of the month and the week after he was goalie of the week.
“It was one of the key moves in the series for sure.”
Plante is one of seven players who returned to the AHL team after the Florida Panthers’ regular season ended. Shawn Matthias and Jason Garrison are also part of the group, which has totalled 18 points in four games.
“It was obviously a big lift,” said Cipolla. “The Panthers had a lot of injuries this year so we were missing a lot of our team for most of the year, but that’s just life in the American Hockey League.
“We got (seven) guys back from the Panthers and that’s certainly a boost for our team.”
After winning the series opener 3-2, Abbotsford has been outscored 18-6.
The team has struggled on the penalty kill. Nine of Rochester’s 20 goals in the series have been scored with the man advantage.
“(The players) have got to want to do it,” Abbotsford coach Jim Playfair said of killing penalties. “It’s simple: you’ve got to win faceoffs, you’ve got to shoot pucks down the ice, you’ve got to get in shooting lanes, and you have to come back to the net and get on their sticks. There’s four things you’ve got to do.
“To me, it’s not that difficult. It’s the easiest part of the hockey game.”
In addition to the penalty killing woes, some of the Heat’s most important players have struggled individually.
Goaltender David Shantz has shouldered most of the load, posting a 1-2-0 record with a 4.53 GAA and a .827 save percentage. Backup Leland Irving didn’t fare any better in his one appearance.
The Heat have just nine goals in the series and are 4-for-24 on the power play. However, Playfair dismissed a suggestion the team lacks desperation.
“We outshot them,” he said. “You think we didn’t compete, fight and get after them?”
Injuries have plagued the Heat all season and the trend has continued into the playoffs. Shawn Weller and Colin Stuart both went down in Game 3 with undisclosed injuries.
Heading into a must-win game, Abbotsford appears to have received some good news. Leading scorer Jason Jaffray is expected back in the lineup after missing time with a groin injury.