This season Bolt Prospects introduced our Prospect of the Week award, an honor (virtually) given to one Tampa Bay Lightning prospect for their on-ice contributions. There are no trophies or plaques or kisses from Morganna involved, but weâ€™re fairly certain this will be printed off and end up on a mantle somewhere. Quite simply, we wanted to highlight prospects throughout the year to help fans get better acquainted with the next round of Lightning stars while recognizing the prospectâ€™s achievement on the ice.
This weekâ€™s BP Prospect of the Week award goes to â€¦ Radko Gudas, Norfolk Admirals
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.
Big trouble in Norfolk.
Dustin Tokarski allowed 4 goals on 16 shots before leaving the game with an injury. With Cedrick Desjardins likely shelved for the rest of the season, any kind of injury to Tic is a big, big problem. The early indication is that Tokarski had his chin sliced open with a skate blade. So, you'd think he should be back, but considerably more ugly, for the road trip.
Jaroslav Janus allowed 1 goal on 14 shots for the hard luck loss. It was, by far and away, Janus' best performance of the season, and he may inherit the starter's job if Tokarski is out for any length of time.
HER Greentree, (29) (McNeill, Fahey), 0:59
NOR Ritola, (5) (Pouliot, Barberio), 3:56
NOR Pouliot, (22) (Jones, Ritola), 6:09 (PP)
NOR Pouliot, (23) (Ritola, Milam), 18:53 (PP)
NOR Durno, (19) , 19:17
HER Bouchard, (12) (Souray), 2:33
HER Greentree, (30) (Aucoin, McNeill), 3:08 (PP)
HER McNeill, (7) (Perreault), 6:12
HER Gordon, (26) (Aucoin, Fahey), 17:34
Marc-Antoine Pouliot was the game's second star.
Mattias Ritola has 19 points in 12 AHL games this season. Classic case of being too good for the AHL but not quite good enough to stick in the NHL?
Radko Gudas is -9 since the calendar turned to 2011 and he has plummeted from a +20 rating to a +11 rating in a little over 3 months. With an assist tonight, the Lightning's other gifted young defenseman, Mark Barberio now has 28 points and is just 2 shy of the 30 point plateau.
Norfolk finishes their season 19-11-10 at home. There have 5 games remaining in the regular season, and all will be on the road.
Norfolk remains in 4th place in the East Division by 1 point thanks to a loss by Binghamton. The Ads still hold 1 game in hand on the Senators. Unfortunately, 3rd place Charlotte won to take a 5 point lead over the Admrials with Norfolk holding 2 games in hand. It's not impossible for Norfolk to catch the Checkers, but they have to win their next game in Charlotte to have any kind of legitimate chance. Honestly, though, I want no part of Hershey. I'd almost rather play Wilkes/Barre-Scranton or take the crossover into the Atlantic Division and play Portland or Manchester.
Norfolk's remaining schedule: at Charlotte on Monday, at Binghamton on Wednesday, at Syracuse next Friday and Saturday, and the season finale at Connecticut next Sunday. It's a brutal stretch of 5 road games in 7 nights, with uncertainty between the pipes because of injuries.
One bit of good news, with Worcester's 4-1 loss to Providence, the gap on the 4th place team in the Atlantic remained at 6 points. The Sharks have just 4 games remaining, so any combination of Norfolk points earned and Sharks points lost equal to 3 will officially clinch a playoff spot for the Admirals. But, right now, it feels like the team is backing into the playoffs, and that's not good.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
The Lightning wins the first half of their AHL/NHL battle with the Columbus organization.
Correction: Columbus' affiliation with Syracuse ended last season. Syracuse is now the Ducks' affiliate.
NOR Milam, (8) (Jones, Szczechura), 2:47
SYR Bonino, (4) (Paetsch, Green), 7:55 (PP)
NOR Gudas, (3) (Szczechura, Wright), 0:47
Radko Gudas, Troy Milam, and Tokarski were the game's three stars. Gudas is riding a three game points streak to go along with his ever-impressive plus/minus statistics.
Norfolk moves four points ahead of Charlotte again in second place in the East Division, nine points behind first place Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, which had opened as big as a thirteen point advantage recently.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
The Admirals continue to feel at home on the road.
Cedrick Desjardins allowed 2 goals on 23 shots before leaving the game with an injury. Dustin Tokarski stopped all 12 shots he faced in relief to take the victory. Tokarski entered the weekend with a slumping 0-6-0-1 mark in his last 7 appearances, but was 2-0-0-0 in his two appearances this weekend, and raised his season save percentage back up to .901. If Desjardins is anything more than just nicked, it'll be important for Tokarski to step up in the coming days.
CHA Sutter, (6) (Osala), 0:12
NOR Fornataro, (11) (Milam, Gudas), 16:06
CHA Carson, (1) (Rodney, Dalpe), 2:34 (PP)
NOR Jones, (11) (Szczechura), 4:41
NOR Gudas, (2) (Wright, Vernace), 15:21 (PP)
NOR Jones, (12) (Vernace, Durno), 18:58 (EN)
With 31 points in 29 games, Blair Jones just eclipsed his season output of 30 points in 63 games last season. His career high was 54 points in 80 games in 2008-2009, when he spent a significant amount of time anchoring the left point on the power play for the Admirals.
Norfolk moved 2 points ahead of Charlotte to claim a clear hold on second place in the East Division with the win. Their .652 road winning percentage in 4th in the league behind Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Peoria, and Hershey.
Box score from TheAHL.com.