As uncertain as things have traditionally been for the Lightning between the pipes, the defenseman position may be even more unsettled at this point in the offseason. After cheating father time for much of the 2011-2012 season, age caught up to many of the Lightning's veteran defensemen in 2012-2013. Mattias Ohlund may never play another NHL game after the 35 year old's knee finally gave out after over 900 games of NHL service.
Controversially, Norfolk gets to Marc Bureau (#28) to conclude the regular season.
Jaroslav Janus allowed 2 goals on 19 shots for his 15th consecutive victory. He'll finish the season tied for 8th in the AHL in victories with 23 and tops on the Admrials with a .914 save percentage, one point better than tandem-mate Dustin Tokarski and his .913 mark. Tokarski finishes with a league leading 32 wins, for his part. It's never a bad thing when you have 2 goalies in the top-10 in the league in wins.
ADK Holmstrom, (15) (Manning, Gustafsson), 2:19 (PP)
NOR Segal, (18) (Smith, Conacher), 15:30
NOR Conacher, (37) (Segal), 17:27
ADK Akeson, (14) (Testwuide), 12:15
NOR Conacher, (38) (Segal, Smith), 18:00
NOR Conacher, (39) (Segal), 19:58 (EN)
Why controversial, you ask? With 14 seconds remaining in the final frame, Adirondack had a goal waved off for goaltender interference after defenseman Keith Aulie got beat wide by the Phantoms' Mike Testuwide, a sin he committed far too often earlier this season with the Lightning. Norfolk dodged a big bullet with the wave off to secure their 28th consecutive victory, much to the chagrin of the Phantoms and their fans. In fairness to Aulie, Adirondack would have never been that close were it not for a horrendous turnover by Tyler Johnson that allowed Adirondack to score their second goal. Heading into the playoffs, everyone's got to tighten up that much more.
There's one more bit of regular season business to wrap up now. With Cory Conacher scoring his first professional hat trick, he has moved out to a 2 goal lead over Texas' Matt Fraser for the Willie Marshall Award, the AHL's equivalent of the Rocket Richard Trophy. Conacher entered the day 1 goal behind Fraser, and was actually benched again today, momentarily, after taking a delay-of-game minor. Once he got back on the ice again, though, he and linemate Brandon Segal made sure that their efforts in the Admirals' final regular season game would leave some Exit Wounds. As of this posting, Fraser has just about 15 minutes left to try and score 2 goals to get back even with Conacher, who picked just the right time to get back on track offensively.
Richard Panik failed to score a goal in his final 7 games of the regular season, leaving him 1 shy of a 20 goal rookie campaign. It's just about the only goal, personal or team, that someone on the Admirals didn't manage to accomplish, although Conacher's hat trick did leave him 1 shy of 40, in retrospect.
Norfolk now draws the Manchester Monarchs in the first round of the playoffs, beginning next Friday with Game One. Because of a scheduling conflict with an annual military drill and band show, the Admirals won't have home ice advantage for the best-of-five series despite finishing 30 points ahead of the Monarchs in the standings. Norfolk and Manchester haven't played all season, and in the playoffs just as in boxing, styles make the fight, so we'll see how these two teams match up. Manchester is veteran laden, but is missing a couple of good younger players that are currently up with the LA Kings for their playoff series against the Vancouver Canucks. I think the lack of familiarity may play in the Admirals' favor, as Manchester is a little bit older and hasn't seen the speed that Norfolk brings to the rink both with their skating and the transition game that guys like Mark Barberio and Mike Kostka start from the blueline, but you never know until the game gets onto the ice. With so many rookies contributing to Norfolk's success that have never seen professional playoff hockey, we don't know how they'll react to the pressure, especially in a nightmare scenario if Manchester can pick off one of the first two games at Scope.
It's critically important that the Admirals set the 28 game regular season streak aside and focus on the fact they desperately need to set the tone quickly and win Game One and Game Two in Norfolk. Fortunately, the Admirals have the AHL Coach of the Year, Jon Cooper, to get them refocused for the postseason. The Admirals also got Jon Kalinski back in the lineup this weekend, and the expectation is that Mike Angelidis will be back next weekend for the club. So, other than Richard Petiot, Norfolk looks to be almost completely healthy heading into the looming war of attrition that is professional playoff hockey.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
Jaroslav Janus stopped 20 of 21 shots for his 14th straight victory. He now has a .914 save percentage and is tied for 8th in the league in wins.
NOR Smith, (25) (Segal), 2:55
NOR Ouellet, (16) (Aulie), 7:17
NOR Oberg, (7) (Palat, Johnson), 17:29
NOR Segal, (17) (Picard, Kostka), 5:17
NOR Devos, (7) (Aulie, Ouellet), 7:07
ALB Zharkov, (16) (Gelinas, Perkovich), 14:13 (PP)
Good to see Keith Aulie get off to a strong start for the Admirals. These 20-30 games coming up to end the regular season and the playoffs are so crucial for his development to get him ready to potentially take an NHL spot in the Fall. It might very well be the most critical 20-30 games of his career, thus far.
After a brief stint in the NHL, Brandon Segal is Out for a Kill!
26 straight wins and the Admirals keep rolling. I mentioned last weekend how impressed I was that the team has been winning these close games late in the last dozen or so games of the streak, and it is impressive. But, there's no substitute for running out to a 3-0 lead and crushing a team early like they did tonight and like they were doing a lot in the first half of the streak. They have 2 games left in the regular season and take their unprecedented streak of excellence into Binghamton tomorrow night.
For those scoreboard watching and wondering who Norfolk's first round opponent will be, both Manchester and Portland got big wins tonight, but Syracuse is getting hammered by Rochester 5-1 late in the third. If the Syracuse score holds up, then Portland will jump into 7th place at 81 points with 1 game left on their schedule, Syracuse will drop to 8th place at 80 points with 2 games left, and Manchester will be at 79 points in 9th place with 2 games left. Adirondack still has a mathematical chance, as they can still get to 80 points if they win their last 2 games, but it really looks like Portland, Syracuse, and Rochester fighting for 2 spots, and the potential of an ironic and interesting Norfolk/Syracuse first round matchup looms large.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
The Tampa Bay Lightning have assigned defenseman Keith Aulie to the Norfolk Admirals, Lightning Vice President and General Manager Steve Yzerman announced today.
Aulie, 6-foot-6, 217 pounds, appeared in 36 NHL games this season between the Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs, recording three assists and 29 penalty minutes. Aulie played in 17 games with the Maple Leafs, collecting two assists and 16 penalty minutes before being acquired by the Lightning on February 27 in exchange for Carter Ashton. Aulie then appeared in 19 games with Tampa Bay, posting one assist and 13 penalty minutes. In 76 career NHL games, Aulie has scored two goals and five points with 61 penalty minutes.
Aulie also skated in 23 games with the Toronto Marlies of the AHL this season, recording one assist and 30 penalty minutes. The 22-year-old native of Regina, Saskatchewan, has skated in 107 career AHL games with the Marlies and Abbotsford Heat, posting five goals and 16 points. He represented the Marlies at the 2011 AHL All-Star Classic in Hershey, PA last season.
Aulie was drafted by the Calgary Flames in the fourth round, 116th overall, of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. He was acquired by Toronto along with Fredrik Sjostrom and Dion Phaneuf from Calgary in exchange for Jamal Mayers, Niklas Hagman, Matthew Stajan and Ian White on January 31, 2010. (News Observer photo)
This season will be remembered 5 years from now as a minor speed bump on the ride of a lifetime.
Dwayne Roloson allowed 3 goals on 31 shots for the victory. If that was Roli's last NHL game, I'm glad the boys played him out with a win.
TB Purcell (22), (Lecavalier), 17:49
TB Purcell (23), (Lecavalier, Brown), 1:12
WPG Antropov (15), (Miettinen, Kane), 8:53
TB Stamkos (60), (St. Louis, Lee), 3:29
WPG Slater (12), (Clitsome, Enstrom), 4:59
WPG Slater (13), (Wheeler, Ladd), 19:07
TB Purcell (24), (Hedman), 1:08
Teddy Purcell and Steven Stamkos were the game's first and third stars.
This game had just about all the elements you wanted to see to reaffirm that the Lightning, despite the struggles of this season, are on a path to longterm prosperity. Despite all their problems and despite unilaterally disarming at the trade deadline, the club finished 2 games over .500. Yes, there's several things to fix both between the pipes and defensively, as evidenced by the team finishing worst in goals against, but these guys aren't losers, even when the going gets tough. They have the character winning organizations are premised on.
Individually, the big story will obviously be Steven Stamkos' 60th goal and his second Richard Trophy. He's the best young player in the game, but we all knew that. I was far more intrigued by the B stories in this game.
Teddy Purcell's second half seems to me to be a clear sign he's ready to erupt into stardom next season, and the thing Lightning fans should be giddy about is that Teddy can produce on both Stamkos and Lecavalier's line. That gives the coaching staff a lot of flexibility.
Another B story is the young defensemen on this team. These are young guys who bring the kind of elite mobility that Guy Boucher's system really needs, and they started to produce down the stretch of the year. No offense to guys like Pavel Kubina, who did yoeman's work for the team, but the new blood has the pace to play this system the way it ought to be played. I'm looking at Victor Hedman ending the season with points in 7 of his last 9 games. I'm looking at Brian Lee with points in 4 of his last 5 games of the season, and 8 points in 20 games with the Lightning, which pro-rates to a 33 point season. Here are two guys I believe can and should be in the 30-40 point range next year, and, heck, even Eric Brewer was showing more toward the end of the season. You mix in what I believe Brendan Mikkelson has shown, and that's 4 guys to invest some hope in. You go out on the free agent market and add 1-2 more good defenseman and get a healthy Marc-Andre Bergeron into the mix, and you'll get a top-7 that can play Boucher's system well.
Beyond that, there's an obvious need in goal that Steve Yzerman has clearly stockpiled a ridiculous amount of draft picks to address. Between the draft picks and the amount of quality young forward prospects in this organization, I dare say Yzerman will not be outbid by anyone.
And then there's what we can expect to see added from Norfolk and their ongoing 25-game winning streak next year, and the youth in the system, as a whole.. More youth, more speed, and more confidence at the forward position. The likely AHL defenseman of the year in Mark Barberio. Two goaltenders playing out of their minds in Norfolk and another guy in Finland, Riku Helenius, who also just can't seem to lose. It's an embarassment of riches, and you will see a training camp next season where you may very well see darn near 30 NHL caliber players fighting tooth and nail for 23 spots. Good problems to have.
Keith Aulie had 3 hits in 11:48. He's on Norfolk's Clear Day roster, which means he should be sent down after Lightning exit interviews and begin what I feel will be a critical 20-30 games worth of development in his young career. The crucible of the AHL playoffs could make him into a player to be reckoned with.
J.T. Brown got his first NHL point, an assist, and was +2 with 2 shots in 13:52. J.T., my friend, before you leave Tampa, beg Steven Stamkos to let you go train with him with Gary Roberts. Promise him your first born. Do whatever it takes to go spend this offseason getting ready to take the pounding of an 82 game NHL season, because if you do, you might have the talent to be a Calder Trophy winner next season. But, for you, that award will be won in June, July and August, not October through April.
J.T. Wyman was -3 with 1 shot in 13:25. Wyman finishes the season with 40 NHL games, 1 shy of what he needs for graduation from prospect status on BoltProspects. Ain't that a shame? He'll start from scratch next year needing 39 games to graduate via the 82 game rule on the site.