Kalamazoo faced the South Carolina Stingrays (Washington Capitals affiliate) in the first round of the ECHL Playoffs. Kalamazoo won 9 of their final ten games to finish the regular season to make the playoffs. South Carolina was the only team hotter than Kalamazoo to finish the regular season. On paper, this series appeared the most mismatched series of the first round. South Carolina being the 2nd seed and Kalamazoo as the 7th seed. All rounds of the ECHL playoffs are a best of 7.
Game 5 was a must-win for Kalamazoo to keep their playoff dreams alive. South Carolina had the 3-1 lead in the series. Kalamazoo starting goalie, Joel Martin, kept the team in the series with stopping everything he could. Kalamazoo won game three at home before the series shifted to South Carolina. Even though South Carolina was the higher seed, the series started in Kalamazoo due to scheduling conflicts in South Carolina. I only attended game five on Saturday but followed the other games online.
Kalamazoo was without the services of Cederholm on the back end in game 5. Cederholm had one eye swollen shut from a high stick in game 4 two nights prior. It was also unfortunate that Valk remained with Utica despite being scratched for their playoffs games Friday and Saturday. Having Valk in the Kalamazoo lineup would have been very beneficial.
As expected, Witt did not see any game action in the playoffs. Witt finally got a Canucks themed mask a few weeks ago. I had been wondering when or if that would happen…
Blomstrand was on the 1st line with former Canucks prospect Alex Mallet. McEneny was on the top defensive pair with Sacha Guimmond. Both Blomstrand and McEneny were on the 1st PP unit. Kalamazoo had 6 PP opportunities in the game, 4 of which in the first 12 minutes of the game.
Blomstrand had his strongest defensive game to date. I have been impressed throughout this season at how much the defensive side of his game has improved. Tonight it was especially evident. In his first shift tonight Blomstrand raced down the ice to catch up with a South Carolina player on a breakaway. Blomstrand got just enough in front of him to poke the puck away to eliminate the scoring threat. Blomstrand had hopped up since he was able to reach the South Carolina player before McEneny could.
Later in the first period, Blomstrand made another great defensive play. Kalamazoo was on the PP, but a South Carolina skater got the puck at center ice. Blomstrand out-skated him to get ahead of the play and again poke check the puck away from South Carolina skater. With this turnover, Blomstrand helped create another PP scoring chance for Kalamazoo.
McEneny had a solid game as usual. He threw several hard checks throughout and provided solid support to his goalie. In his second shift, McEneny threw the hardest hit of the game in the corner of his end.
Due to the four powerplays in the 1st period, Blomstrand saw a ton of ice. He seemed to be out every other shift. At one point in the second period, Blomstrand had a shift that lasted a full 2 minutes, with just a short whistle to break it up. Even with all the extra ice time in the 1st he never looked gassed at all during the game. That shows how well conditioned Blomstrand is. My guess is that Blomstrand played at least 25 minutes of the game.
A few minutes into the second period McEneny saved a rebounded puck from going in the net when the Kalamazoo goalie was caught on the outside of the crease after the initial shot. Best McEneny play of the night.
McEneny and Blomstrand were on the 1st PK unit. McEneny and Blomstrand also saw time together during a four on 4. Blomstrand picked up an assist on the lone Kalamazoo goal of the game. Blomstrand only had two shots on goal in the game. Kalamazoo had very few scoring chances – a testament to the especially strong South Carolina defensemen.
As of this writing, no prospects have been called up to Utica with the Kalamazoo season over. I will be watching closely this summer to see where Blomstrand signs as this was the last year of his ELC with the Canucks. With the strong rookie campaigns of McEneny and Cederholm, I hope there is room in Utica for them next season.