The 2004-05 American Hockey League season was unique in league history. With the National Hockey League schedule being wiped out due to a work stoppage, the AHL saw in influx of extremely high end talent, making it arguably the top league in the world.
The Penguins and Senators both reaped the benefits of the lockout to varying degrees.
Wilkes-Barre saw Marc-Andre Fleury, Rob Scuderi, Ryan VandenBussche and Ryan Whitney – all players who figured to see significant playing time in Pittsburgh – suiting up.
And while the Penguins received some nice additions, the Senators were virtually stacked.
Binghamton’s roster featured four players – Jason Spezza, Antoine Vermette, Brian Pothier and Anton Volchenkov – who spent the entire 2003-04 campaign in the NHL. Those four were joined by AHL vet Denis Hamel, two-time All-Star netminder Ray Emery and center Chris Kelly, who would graduate to the NHL full time after the season.
Key to the team was the play of Spezza, the second overall pick in the 2001 NHL draft, who paced the league with 85 assists and 117 points. Hamel did his part as well, finishing third in the AHL with 39 goals and ninth with 78 points, as Bingo recorded a league-high 276 goals on the year.
The Sens’ 106 points (47-21-4-8) were good enough to capture the East Division title, while the Pens (39-27-7-7) finished fourth in the division with 92 points, one behind the third place Norfolk Admirals. A 4-2 loss to the Syracuse Crunch on the last day of the regular season put the Pens in the unenviable situation of facing the high-flying Sens in the first round of the playoffs.
Binghamton wasted little time in showcasing their offensive firepower, as Josh Langfeld scored 123 seconds into Game One, as the Senators skated to a relatively easy 5-2 victory.
It took even less time for the home club to jump out to the lead in Game Two, as Charlie Stephens tallied 1:44 into the contest. Kris Beech evened the score with a second period goal, but Bingo rattled off three consecutive tallies in the third to post a 4-2 win, and take a commanding 2-0 lead in the series.
Game Three started a little slower, with the opening salvo not coming until the 9:04 mark of the first frame when Christoph Schubert beat Andy Chiodo with a power play marker to give the visiting Senators the early lead.
The tide started to turn in the second period, as Shane Endicott and Beech scored power play goals seven minutes apart to give the Penguins their first lead of the series at 2-1. Schubert made sure the advantage was short-lived, though, as he netted his second of the night with 4:49 remaining in the period to even the score.
The Pens peppered Emery with 14 shots in the third period, but couldn’t put one behind the Binghamton backsopper, while Chiodo stopped all nine shots he saw in the third frame.
The teams held each other at bay during the first overtime period, and when the second extra frame ended with the score still tied at 2-2, fans had to be wondering if the game would ever end.
The third overtime dragged on, and it looked like players were skating with cement blocks trailing them after nearly five hours of action.
Then, just past the halfway mark of the third overtime and two minutes shy of midnight, Beech accepted a breakout pass at center ice, and cut to the left boards. As Erik Crhistensen trailed the play, Armstrong snuck in behind defenseman Pat Kavanagh, and tipped home a feed at the top of the crease to give the Penguins a dramatic 3-2 win in the longest contest in team history.
The victory turned the tide in the series, as the Pens used the momentum from the game to post a 2-0 decision in Game Four on April 27. Matt Murley and Armstrong tallied in that contest, and Chiodo stopped 23 shots for the shutout.
Ryan VandenBussche was the unlikely hero in Game Five. The Penguins bruiser game Wilkes-Barre a 2-1 lead late in the second with his first of the postseason, and he scored again just 34 seconds after Josh Langfeld tied the game early in the third to give the Pens a 3-2 victory.
Game Six was back in Wilkes-Barre on Sunday, May 1. Chris Kelly scored 18:47 into the second period to give Binghamton the lead, but Beech tied the score with another power play goal, and Michel Ouellet capped the comeback with his first goal since Game One, as the Pens posted a 2-1 win and a 4-2 series victory in one of the biggest upsets in AHL history.
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