BENTON’S BLOG: Clinching Early

Wednesday, 02.27.13 / 8:00 AM
By Mike Benton

The way they’ve been playing this year, it was a mere formality.

The Thunder are going to the playoffs for the seventh consecutive season.

Sure, it hasn’t been completely smooth along the way. The lockout’s end demanded the services of the Thunder’s best at the upper levels. Toni Rajala and Philippe Cornet are hitting their stride in the AHL. Nathan Deck has evolved into a legitimate Oilers prospect with the recent two-way contract he signed.

Harrison Reed has been getting consistent minutes in Lake Erie. Yannick Riendeau found a home in Switzerland. But Matt Thomas hasn’t hesitated at changing the game with his team’s complexion.

Defense now gets it done.

Olivier Roy has been magical since joining the Thunder from the AHL. Tyler Bunz’s game and save percentage (.931 since Feb. 9) are heading north, while his goals against average (2.17 since Feb. 9) is heading south.

Brandon Davidson – who might be the comeback story at this point in hockey – has seven points in seven games with the Thunder. Three defensemen scored goals in Sunday’s win vs. Ontario and all four Thunder goals had a blueliner factor in with a goal or assist.

So, there are 12 more games to kill with the Thunder in the playoffs already. There’s plenty to play for, of course, with home ice advantage at stake.

To give you an indication of how early the Thunder clinched a playoff spot, here’s a list of dates that are coming or have come after the playoff clinch (last Sunday vs. Ontario), but have usually fallen on the time they get in. Observe and giggle along.

* FEBRUARY 25 – National Clam Chowder Day (or, as or friend, colleague and South Boston native @BroadcastHolt in Bakersfield calls it, “Chowdaaaah”)
* FEBRUARY 27 – National Chocolate Cake Day (hey, you have to celebrate with something sweet, right?)
* FEBRUARY 28 – National Public Sleeping Day (according to www.theultimateholidaysite.com, the train, bus or desk are the three best places to fall asleep on this day. How about a nap in the training room or dressing room to rest up for the playoffs?)
* MARCH 1 – Beginning of National Caffeine Awareness Month (March is now “pace yourself appreciation month” – don’t burn the energy tanks before playoffs!)
* MARCH 1 – Also the beginning of National Sauce Month (referencing the marinara or alfredo kind, but is it tempting for players to now show off those sleek passing skills a little more in practice, with little retribution? If you don’t get the joke, then Google “hockey” and “sauce.” You’ll figure it out.)
* MARCH 8 – National Be Nasty Day (The Las Vegas Wranglers roll into town. That means more of this.)
* MARCH 16 – National Everything You Do Is Right Day (The Ontario Reign – for what will seem like the 27th time – roll into town. Could a 27-0 Thunder win, on a 27-0 shot count, with a 4-for-4 night on the power play be out of reach?)
* MARCH 17 – St. Patrick’s Day
* MARCH 26 – National Make Up Your Own Holiday Day (That falls on a Tuesday. Let’s just give the key to the city to whatever Thunder player that could possibly win the ECHL Player or Goalie of the Week award on that day, shall we?)
* MARCH 31 – Easter

Mike Benton has served the Thunder as television and radio play-by-play announcer since the team’s inception. Got a question or comment? Follow Mike on twitter at twitter.com/Benton_mike