CINCINNATI – Next door at Great American Ball Park this cool May evening, it was Star Wars Night at the Reds’ game, the usual complement of counterfeit Darth Vaders skulking about with an air of contrived menace.
They needn’t have bothered. The genuine article was right down the street.
One genuine article was down there at one end of U.S. Bank Arena, and his name was Ben Meisner. Genuine Article 2 was at the other end, and his name was Rob Madore.
Remember those names. If what happened in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Friday is any guide – and what happened was, Meisner and Madore proved far more adept at shutting off a man’s airway than Luke Skywalker’s father ever was – their signatures are going to be all over this series, shaping its every turn one way or another.
That was, after all, Madore down in the Cincinnati Cyclones goal this night, swatting away 34 shots and giving the Komets almost nothing until Christian Ouellet banked a rebound off a defenseman’s skate and through for a 2-1 win.
And that was Meisner down between the pipes for the Komets at the other end, stoning Wade Megan on a breakaway in the first period, letting Megan get even on bang-bang play in front – and then not letting anything get past him again on a night when the number of shots he faced, 23, didn’t begin to tell the story.
That story is this: A sieve is a kitchen appliance. Unless something untoward happens – and it could, because the only mortal lock in these things is there are no mortal locks – you won’t find one within a nautical of these two hockey teams.
Oh, yeah, Komets coach Gary Graham said. I thought both goaltenders really stole the show tonight. I mean, there were some great saves at both ends of the ice, and it’s going to continue to be that way. I expect goaltending’s going to be a huge part of it.
And if that is an eternal truism in this game when it gets down to win-four-of-seven-or-go-home, it’s sometimes not that way at both ends. With their win Friday, the Komets have given up just four goals in the last 12 periods, but they’ve scored 12. Ten of those came in the last three games against Reading, when Meisner was a locked door and his counterpart in the Royals’ goal somewhat less so.
Friday suggests that will not be the script this time around. At least in regards to the Cincinnati end.
In the Cyclones’ six-game takedown of Orlando, Madore gave up 12 goals and had a goals-against of 1.82, three times making 30 or more saves. Meisner, of course, was even better, giving up just nine goals in five games and putting up a miserly 1.10 GAA.
And so to Friday, where it was more of the same for both. Only, slightly more of the same for Meisner.
Benny was a rock, Graham said. If you look at it, the chances that we gave up were Grade A chances, and that’s the thing. We didn’t give up a lot of shots, but the chances that we gave up were some pretty good ones.
Which suggests it could get even tighter before it’s through, with two such dark lords.
Absolutely, defenseman Simon Danis-Pepin said. We’ve seen it from the beginning of the playoffs how big of a factor Meisner’s been for us, and again he came out tonight and made some huge saves the whole game. And their goalie too; we took a lot of shots, and we finally got one in at the end of the game.
It’s going to be a good battle the whole way.
Or in other words: A star war.