Friday, April 23, 2010

North Stars hope to close out Jackets

If there’s a decisive fifth game in the NAHL North Division Finals between the Traverse City North Stars and Motor City Metal Jackets, it’ll be played next Monday at Centre ICE arena.

But the Stars hope it won’t come to that. With two chances to lay claim to the best-of-five finals, and with two victories already in the coffers, Traverse City can book its first-ever trip to the Robertson Cup Finals with a triumph in either contest this weekend in Motown. The first chance comes on Friday evening at Taylor’s Kennedy Ice Arena in the third game of the set.

“We have an opportunity, but we haven’t won anything yet,” Stars head coach-GM Anthony Palumbo pointed out. “Until you get that third win, there’s really nothing ahead but the next shift. Nobody over here is taking anything for granted.”

The North Stars protected their home ice advantage last weekend, sweeping a pair of contests at Centre ICE with a 4-1 triumph on Friday and a 5-1 win the following night. Palumbo says the Jackets will be eager to do the same this time around.

“They’ve played well against us at home,” said Palumbo, whose Stars have dropped four of seven contests in metropolitan Detroit during the regular season. “They’re playing at a different arena now in Trenton, but it’ll be their home ice, their fans, their energy. We have to be ready to win that first shift, win that first period, and do all those little things it takes to be successful this time of year.”

John Scorcia (four goals) and Steve Brancheau (four points) continue to lead the Jackets offense, while all-star selection RJ Kleiman has scored thrice in his five postseason outings. Philip Graveline and Jason Torf split the series in TC last weekend.

For the North Stars, who have outscored their playoff opponents by a 22-3 margin, Garrett Thompson leads the charge with four goals and assists on three more. Doug Clifford is sixth among all NAHL skaters with six postseason assists, while Dan Radke (four goals) and Nick Shkreli (four assists) chipping in.

Statistically speaking, Drew Strandberg’s postseason numbers are otherworldly. He’s given up a trio of goals in 300 minutes – five full games – of action for a diminutive 0.60 goals-against average and .973 save percentage.

“We’ve tried to make it hard for teams to get a lot of shots on Drew,” Palumbo said. “But when he’s been called upon, he’s come up big.”

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