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Busy off day

By Phil Janack
Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Phantoms defenseman Denis Gauthier will miss Thursday's Game 5 in Albany for his hit on River Rats forward Marc Cavosie 5:46 into the third period of Game 4 that left the Cohoes native woozy but went unpenalized by referee Francois St. Laurent.

AHL vice president and disciplinarian Jim Mill happened to be at the game and requested a DVD of the play. His ruling came down this afternoon: one game for Gauthier, who is the second player to be suspended in the series. Rats defenseman Tim Conboy is halfway through his eight-game ban stemming from a brawl in Game 1.

"He left his feet and there was an elbow, and I just thought it was a little excessive," Albany coach Tom Rowe said. "The league said they'd review it even if we didn't ask. Jim Mill wanted to see it anyway. It was pretty straightforward."

Gauthier (6-3, 224) had one assist and four penalty minutes in four games. Calgary's first-round pick in 1995, the 31-year-old Gauthier has played 489 career NHL games, including seven straight seasons before joining the Phantoms this season.

Gauthier also delivered a hit early in Game 2 at Philly on Jerome Samson that left the Rats rookie with a black left eye. Gauthier got two minutes for cross-checking, Samson got his first pro playoff badge.

"I guess I look like a warrior," Samson said.

Though the Rats lineup may be nearly intact from Games 3 and 4, Rowe hinted he may have one change for tomorrow night. Don't want to spoil it before you can read Thursday's print version. My hint: it's not Brandon Nolan, who may be done for the year.

Conboy skated with both the main group and the extra players today for the first time since being suspended. Rowe said it was simply to keep Conboy sharp for if and when he does return.

Philly's Game 4 win meant the series will return to the Wachovia Center on Saturday, though the game time was pushed back from 7 to 1 p.m., to avoid a conflict with the Flyers playoff game at Montreal at 7. Believe it, Philly fans love their sports teams.

A potential Game 7 will be played Tuesday night April 29 at 7 p.m., the last possible date for the series to end by AHL rules. It appears the Albany-Philly winner will go on to face Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, which has a 3-0 series lead on Hershey heading into tonight's Game 4. WBS has home ice for the second round, with May 1 and 3 possible second-round opening dates.

The traditional playoff cliches were out in full force after practice today ("one shift at a time," "leaving it all on the ice," "emptying the tank every night"), but there is no sense of panic or desperation from either side. Game 5 is certainly a more important game for Albany, a loss means they'd have to win two straight in Philly to go on.

That being said, Albany needs to maintain its game on a more consistent basis than the one good, one bad, one good, one so-so pace it's on now. The Rats were in control from start to finish in both of their wins; they had every opportunity to win in both of their losses but were outplayed in long enough spurts to affect the outcome.

Providence swept Manchester and Portland got by Hartford in (surprisingly) five games, so the Atlantic Division finals are already set. That should be a great series. Albany matches up well with both teams, as they do Wilkes-Barre, as they do Philly.

Interesting fact: an East Division team has been to the Calder Cup finals four straight years. Philly (2005) and Hershey (2006) both won, while Wilkes-Barre (2004) and Hershey (2007) lost to Milwaukee and Hamilton, respectively. As good as the Atlantic has been, it would be no surprise to see the East represented in the finals again.

 
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