"This series is gonna be great for Bavarian hockey,“ Barons head coach Simpson said. “It’s gonna be very emotional and exciting.”
“Top seed against 8th seed – that sounds pretty easy on paper,” Simpson added. “But we had a close season series. We won three games, they beat us once. But all the games were pretty tight. We both play a similar system, very aggressive, with intense forechecking, but also capable of taking the offense.”
Flashback: Only a week ago, the Munich Barons beat the Augsburg Panthers 3-1 on home ice thanks to a very disciplined game plan.
The postgame analysis of Panthers coach Danny Naud kind of epitomized the whole season series: “It was a tight game till the end,” Naud remarked. “The Barons were cleverer, they scored their goals, easy goals. I’m content with the performance of my team, though. We’re just not fortunate enough to convert our chances. Otherwise, the game could have ended 3-3.Herter: “Local rivalry - fun on the ice”
If you take the past games as an indicator, one thing seems to be certain: The fans will be treated to some great hockey. As Simpson pointed out, all four regular season meetings between the Barons and the Panthers were tight and narrow, with a lot of hard checking, cheap shots, a couple of scuffles and entertaining offensive plays.
What might be a good omen for Munich’s fans: The Barons won three of the four games (5-3 and 3-2 after shootout on the road, 3-1 at home). The only loss was painful enough, though, a bitter 4-1 defeat on home ice.
Sure the Barons are warned. But the momentum can shift quickly in a best-of-five series. And that gives both teams a decent shot at advancing to the semifinals. And don’t forget: Local rivalries are always weird.
“The rivalry is there,” Barons defenseman Jason Herter said. “And that makes it fun on the ice. We don’t take Augsburg too lightly, though. Maybe two or three years ago, it was a different story. They got a lot of good hockey players. They got a good goalie (Magnus Eriksson). When a series is only five games, anything can happen.”Offensive powerhouses
The Munich Barons
are the whole package. The team is a true unit, the chemistry is good - and that’s really important for a successful hockey game. Munich’s offense ranked 4th in the league this season, tallying 182 goals in 60 games. Only Krefeld, Mannheim and – watch out - Augsburg are better. The Barons have some very skilled offensive players like, for example, Derek Plante, who finished fourth in scoring in the league. His offensive partners David Oliver and Derek King both can decide games on their own, as well as Peter Douris and Mike Kennedy. What’s most important: There’s enough depth, veterans Simon Wheeldon and Johan Rosen can contribute, too. Sometimes, Munich’s skilled stickhandlers tend to be a little too tricky, though, preferring to take one beautiful pass too much instead of knocking the puck home directly. Throughout the season, Barons netminders Boris Rousson and Christian Künast have seen more odd-man rushes and breakaways than they would have liked. If the Barons can adjust this little problem and can find back to a good powerplay setup, they have a dangerous and productive offense.
The Augsburg Panthers
forwards don’t need to hide behind Munich’s offensive squad. At 185, Augsburg even scored three more goals than the Barons. In Sergej Vostrikov and Igor Maslennikov, the Panthers have one of the most skilled offensive duos in the league. Maslennikov might miss the series due to an injury, though. But like Munich, Augsburg has enough depth on offense. Vostrikov can also be paired with Igor Alexandrov and Vasily Pankov, who might be cleared to return after his (unintentional?) substance abuse at the Olympics. And the first line with rookie standout Andreas Morczinietz and veterans Marc Beaucage and Rob Guillet is always sharp and productive. Big D
Defense seems to be the big advantage for the Munich Barons
. The Barons only conceded 138 goals in the regular season, ranking third overall – while Augsburg allowed 189 goals against. If the Barons play solid defense while keeping their offense in flow, they surely will advance to the semi-finals. Despite their good numbers, Munich’s defense might still be under-rated if you just take a plain look at the stats. Taking into consideration that half of the regular defensive starters missed most of the season, 138 goals against have to be rated as almost “incredibly good”. Veterans Kent Fearns, Jason Herter and Mike Smazal returned late in the season after long injuries. The main thing is: They ARE back now and give the Barons defense a key ingredient that’s been missing all year: depth! Defense will be the key in this series because both teams have so much firepower on offense.Great goalies
Good defense and goaltending go hand-in-hand, of course. And the Barons have a slight advantage in this department, too: Boris Rousson is one of the best netminders in the league, and he usually steps up in big games. At the other end, Augsburg’s Magnus Eriksson has proved that he is an excellent goalie, too. He’s been the one who kept Augsburg’s playoff dreams alive in the second half of the season. Veteran leadership
How important will experience be? Pretty much, come clutch time. The Barons have a very experienced team. Plante, King, Douris, Oliver and company have about a hundred NHL postseason games between them, not to mention numerous AHL and IHL playoff contests. On the Augsburg squad, there are no players with NHL postseason experience. And don’t forget that Munich made it to the finals two straight seasons while the Augsburg Panthers haven’t been in the playoffs since their first-round loss in 2000.
So on paper, Munich definitely has an edge. But there’s still a lot of very intense playoff hockey to be played. Augsburg comes in as an underdog, so they have nothing to lose. Let’s hope for a thrilling and fair playoff series!
Thomas Neumair/Frank Johne