A brave Norfolk Admirals team has nothing to be ashamed about effort-wise in this playoffs.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Wins the Series 4-2
Dustin Tokarski allowed 4 goals on 27 shots, including an unsuccessful third period penalty shot by Joe Vitale in the third period. Considering the winning goal was essentially a 3-on-1, there's not much more Tic could've done tonight. He finishes the playoffs with 1 shutout, a 2.20 GAA, and a .924 save percentage, and he looks like a lock to be Norfolk's starter next season. In all likelihood, Cedrick Desjardins will be the backup in Tampa Bay next season, and Tokarski's play down the stretch seems to indicate he's the type of netminder who wants and needs to be the clear cut #1 in order to be at his best after struggling a bit as a tandem starter with Desjardins. He's regained the title of the Lightning's "Goaltender of the Future" and the priority for next season, his third pro season, will be for Tokarski to prove he can be that consistent #1 goalie before potentially moving up to the NHL in the 4th season of his pro career. At least, that seems to be what the plan is for Tic.
WBS Wagner, (1) (Walker, Craig), 2:13 (PP)
WBS Wagner, (2) (Potter, Walker), 3:58 (PP)
WBS Wagner, (3) (Wallace, Potter), 18:36
NOR Pouliot, (4) (Ritola, Vernace), 14:18
NOR Jones, (1) (Ritola, Milam), 16:03 (PP)
WBS Vitale, (2) (Wallace, Collins), 7:23
NOR Wright, (1) (Fornataro, Pouliot), 10:35 (PP)
WBS Wallace, (1) (Vitale, Potter), 18:57 (EN)
WBS Sill, (1) (Strait, Thiessen), 19:21 (EN)
Marc-Antoine Pouliot was the game's third star.
When you consider the Penguins came into this series the best team in the Eastern Conference, and the Admirals had to win their last game just to avoid having to cross over into the Atlantic Division, the Admirals have nothing to feel ashamed of in playing this series so tightly. The hard work and character of this Admirals team is worthy of mention, and the team and organization have come such a long way in 4 seasons since the Lightning started their affiliation with Norfolk.
Coincidentally, the East's crossover team, Binghamton, just knocked off Manchester in Game 7 to advance to the Atlantic Division final against Portland. One wonders what shape a Norfolk/Manchester series might have taken if Norfolk hadn't beaten Connecticut to close the regular season.
The big question now is what this Norfolk Admirals team will look like next season, with several of their older players facing contract decisions and several of the Lightning's best young prospects ticketed for Virginia next season.
Will veterans like Marc-Antoine Pouliot, Chris Durno, Mike Vernace, Mathieu Roy, and Troy Milam be back with the team next year? What about long-time pros like Blair Jones, Mike Angelidis, Mattias Ritola, and Vladimir Mihalik? Mihalik and Ritola just finished their 4th years of pro hockey and Jones and Angelidis finished their 5th. Many of these players will surely have opportunities to play in European leagues next season. We know Johan Harju will, for instance, and the question is whether Johan will stay in North America after a disappointing second half. And will Kevin Quick's time in the Lightning organization be over as well?
Conversely, the Admirals will need to free up spots for several of the Lightning's top prospects. Carter Ashton and Charles Landry have already made appearances for the club this season in the playoffs. Richard Panik and Tyler Johnson seem like locks to be in Norfolk next season, too.
Next season could be a big change for the Admirals organization, as the last vestiges of previous regimes pass on. Change is inevitable for a minor league club, but the Admirals seem destined for even more change than is the norm. The good news is that they seem to have good goaltending locked down and even better coaching after a successful inaugural campaign by Head Coach Jon Cooper and assistant Mike Flanagan along with player development consultant Steve Thomas. This group seems to have taken a decent foundation laid by earlier teams and made it even stronger this year, and that foundation can help the new Admirals grow to be even more successful than this year's edition, in time. Look at how well guys like Mark Barberio and Radko Gudas took to the league this season. It portends good things.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
Dwayne Roloson allowed 6 goals on 31 shots in the loss.
06:40 DET Cleary (18), Lidstrom (34), Zetterberg (45)(PP)
14:57 DET Datsyuk (15), Cleary (14), Kronwall (18)
11:51 TB Hedman (3), Gagne (10)
14:38 TB Downie (8), Stamkos (35), St Louis (48)
16:34 DET Kronwall (10), Zetterberg (46), Lidstrom (35)(PP)
18:00 DET Abdelkader (4), Holmstrom (13), Kindl (1)
11:39 DET Datsyuk (16), Hudler (19), Cleary (15)
18:09 DET Helm (7), unassisted
That was tough to take. The Lightning seemed preoccupied with the mystique of this game from the start and weren't minding the details of their system. So, they looked tactically impotent for most of the first half of the hockey game. They were generating no zone time and few chances, and Detroit hopped out to a 2-0 lead by playing meat and potatoes hockey by getting pucks on net and get traffic and rebounds. Hedman made a good individual play to get it to 2-1 and the Lightning started to generate more pressure and chances and got it to 2-2 pretty quickly. At that point, hope abounded that the Lightning could at least get a point out of the night. But a questionable goaltender interference call on Lecavalier was converted by the Wings and then the bottom fell out. That's the Achilles heel of this Lightning club, in my mind. They can't seem to apply their system and maintain focus for 60 minutes. They're good enough to be a very good regular season team even though they only play their best 30-40 minutes at a time, but it seems unlikely you can survive very long in the playoffs with that lack of mental discipline to do the little things at top speed for a full 60 minutes, and sometimes more, every game.
The good news is that it's February, and not April, and this is 1 game of 82 and not 1 game in a 7 game series. Yes, it's disappointing that the team wasn't as competitive against the Wings as they might've liked (I believe they tied 1-1 in Detroit in 2004 in the Cup season), but there's a lot of hockey left to play, and I suspect Steve Yzerman may well be on the lookout for a little more veteran leadership for this group now after what he witnessed tonight.
Michael Vernace was -1 in 7:50 of ice time.
Dwayne Roloson allowed 3 goals on 29 shots before allowing 2 of 7 shooters to convert in the shootout loss.
12:42 PHI van Riemsdyk (13), Giroux (33), Carter (24)
00:59 TB Moore (10), Hall (6)
07:33 PHI Hartnell (18), van Riemsdyk (13), Meszaros (16)(PP)
08:48 PHI Powe (5), unassisted (PS)(SH)
09:55 TB Lecavalier (13), Bergeron (3), St Louis (47)(PP)
10:48 TB Purcell (12), Kubina (17), Vernace (1)
PHI- Richards, Timonen
I give a lot of credit for how the Lightning responded to falling behind by a pair of goals. They responded to adversity the exact opposite to how they did in the last Buffalo game, and that's a welcome sight to see.
Good news/bad news: the Lightning fall 5 points back of the Flyers for 1st place in the conference, but they did move to 6 points ahead of Washington in the Southeast Division with 25 games left in the regular season.
Johan Harju was +1 in 8:24.
Michael Vernace had his first NHL assist and was +1 with 1 shot and 1 hit in 10:44.
The Tampa Bay Lightning, NHL parent club of the Norfolk Admirals, have recalled defenseman Mike Vernace from the Admirals today, Lightning Vice President and General Manager Steve Yzerman announced. The move was made because Lightning defenseman Matt Smaby is ill.
Resisting the cheap "Admirals Harpoon Whale" opening...
Cedrick Desjardins stopped 24 of 26 shots to improve to 13-5-1 this season.
NOR Harju, (15) (Pouliot, Durno), 0:17
CT Dupont, (6) (Tessier), 8:45
NOR Wright, (11) (Fornataro, Szczechura), 10:06
CT Williams, (2) (White, Nightingale), 15:00
NOR Vernace, (6) (Jones), 11:22
NOR Angelidis, (12) (Jones, Berry), 11:45
NOR Durno, (11) (Pouliot, Quick), 12:30
Johan Harju broke a 4 game pointless skid and a 6 game goalless skid. Radko Gudas improved to +16 for the season with a +3 effort. He's tied with Chris Durno and now one plus behind AHL leader Mike Angelidis of the Ads. That's right, three of the four league leaders in plus-minus are Norfolk Admirals.
Incidentally, rebranding your team in the middle of the season is odd. The Whale was the Hartford Wolf Pack a few months ago, if you were wondering.
Box score from TheAHL.com.