The Belleville Senators need a rest.

The B-Sens have been on the go for the better part of the past two weeks. They did not clinch a Calder Cup Playoff berth until Apr. 19, in the second-to-last game of the regular season. After their regular-season finale the following night, they had to pivot immediately toward preparing for their best-of-three first-round series against Toronto, then right into their division semifinal against Cleveland.

A nail-biting final week of the regular season and then five playoff games in 10 nights – including three that went to overtime – has added up to a lot of hockey.

Head coach David Bell is giving his club today off for what he’s calling a “reset day” after a 4-3 overtime loss to Cleveland last night. A practice day will follow on Sunday before a 400-mile ride to Cleveland to gear up for Game 3 on Wednesday.

“They’ve been at the rink every day since the (regular) season ended,” Bell said after last night’s game. “Take a day, get away from the rink, shut their hockey brains off, and then have a good work day on Sunday.”

Hot, crowded, and loud.

That’s how it felt for Grand Rapids Griffins goaltender Sebastian Cossa last night at Van Andel Arena, always one of the AHL’s most intimidating arenas. Nearly 9,000 fans got a good show, albeit a nerve-wracking one, as Rockford rallied in the third period to erase the Griffins’ two-goal lead before the home team took it in overtime, 4-3.

The IceHogs like to crash the net, create havoc in front, and constantly put sticks on pucks in-close. The 21-year-old Cossa had to deal with that chaos all night.

“It was unreal,” Cossa told the media after the victory. “It was pretty hot in there. A lot of people, a lot of screaming. I loved every second of it.”

But after two Rockford goals in the final 3:38 of regulation forced overtime, Cossa and the Griffins had to regroup, and they eventually took a 2-1 series lead on Jonatan Berggren’s second OT goal of the series. Learning how to manage pressure and setbacks is part of the growth process that the Calder Cup Playoffs provide.

“One of the biggest things I’ve worked on is my mental strength,” explained Cossa, a first-round pick by Detroit in the 2021 NHL Draft.

How did he spend the intermission before overtime?

“I think I did a really good job of reminding myself what to do out there. I still had full confidence that we were going to win the game. I wasn’t going to let in a goal there.”

Even after lifting the Calder Cup twice and skating at Madison Square Garden in the Stanley Cup Playoffs just days prior, Hershey captain Dylan McIlrath still felt nerves going into Game 1 of the Bears’ Calder Cup title defense on Wednesday.

McIlrath was back in the Hershey lineup as they opened their Atlantic Division semifinal with a 2-1 win against Lehigh Valley, his first game with the Bears since Apr. 13. He had been with the Washington Capitals for a pair of games at the end of their regular season before dressing for all four of their first-round playoff games against the New York Rangers.

So he could relate to younger teammates making their Calder Cup Playoff debuts and feeling those pregame jitters. McIlrath, who won the Calder Cup with Grand Rapids in 2017 before doing so again last year with the Bears, detailed a pre-game conversation with fellow veteran Mike Vecchione.

“We both said, ‘We’ve got the butterflies again,’” McIlrath said. “We both know how special it is to play at this time of the year.”

But McIlrath also knows how to remedy those nerves by this point in his career.

“What was said in the room was just, we’ve got to go,” McIlrath said. “Just go right in. If you’re going to make a mistake, make it hard. We didn’t want to dip our toe in the water, and I thought we had a pretty good start.”

Meanwhile, Phantoms head coach Ian Laperriere sounded an upbeat tone after the tightly played loss at Giant Center in Game 1.

“I liked the effort,” Laperriere said of facing the AHL’s regular-season champion. “I’m not complaining about anything here. They’re a great team. They’re going to be better in Game 2, so we need to be better.

“It’s done. You’ve got to move on. That’s playoffs.”

That’s not to say that Laperriere did not see an area of his team’s game that needs more attention. Hershey’s first goal came off a Hendrix Lapierre tip of a long point shot from Chase Priskie early in the first period. On the Bears’ second strike, their fourth line drove the net before Henrik Rybinski slipped a rebound past Phantoms goaltender Cal Petersen.

“It’s going to be a series [of] who’s going to win the net-front battle, and they won one more,” Laperriere said. “We just need to regroup and just be a little bit better in our zone and be a little bit better in front of our net. They won’t give us any goals, so we need to battle for those goals.”

“I think you always try to win the game in the first period,” Providence Bruins head coach Ryan Mougenel said after his team’s 6-0 win over Hartford in Game 2 of their Atlantic Division semifinal last night.

Mission accomplished, as the Bruins used first-period goals from Jayson Megna and Brett Harrison 24 seconds apart to build a 3-0 lead before turning the game into a rout in the second period.

Providence went 16-4-3-1 when scoring first in the regular season.

“Our mindset is play and let the momentum take over,” Mougenel explained. “Find those moments when you can create them, and when you lose it, find a way to get it back. I thought we did a good job of that.”

― with files from Patrick Williams


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