Once again, Norfolk finds themselves playing with the house's money as they head out for the road portion of this series.
Norfolk Leads the Series 2-0
Dustin Tokarski allowed 2 goals on 32 shots for the victory. It's the first time since the Connecticut series in the Eastern Conference Semis that the Admirals allowed more than 1 goal in a game, and Toronto's second goal came late in the Third Period in garbage time after falling 3 goals behind.
NOR Panik, (4) (Oberg), 14:38
TOR Colborne, (2) (Gardiner, Lashoff), 18:20 (PP)
NOR Picard, (9) (Angelidis, Oberg), 15:17
NOR Segal, (5) (Angelidis, Aulie), 8:26
NOR Smith, (5) (Panik, Aulie), 15:52
TOR Mikus, (1) (Ashton, Dupuis), 19:17
The 2-3-2 playoff format stinks if you stub your toe as the home team in the first 2 games. But, if you hold serve, you're in excellent position. All Norfolk has to do is win 1 of 3 on the road to guarantee 2 shots at hoisting the trophy on home ice. I would have to like the Admirals' odds in that scenario. Beat Toronto twice and you get to skate the trophy in their barn, giving Don Cherry a mild stroke in the process.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
Norfolk pours it on in the second and hangs on in the third to break the seal on their 2012 AHL playoff run.
Norfolk Leads the Series 1-0
Jaroslav Janus allowed 2 goals on 29 shots for the victory. He got the surprise start after Dustin Tokarski missed a couple of practices with illness this week. Janus played well up until allowing a very soft goal in the third that gave Manchester life. I would not be completely surprised to see Tic in Game Two.
NOR Barberio, (1) (Picard), 6:39
NOR Picard, (1) (Smith, Conacher), 1:42 (PP)
NOR Smith, (1) (Oberg, Kostka), 3:39 (PP)
MCH Legein, (1) (Azevedo), 9:53 (SH)
MCH Cliche, (1) (Hickey, Mullen), 13:57
Really a scary finish for the Admirals, having to fend off a 6-on-4 situation to preserve the win. Hopefully they learned a couple of lessons tonight. They took their foot off the gas at times in the third and paid a price for it. Also, they need to respect their opponent going into a critical Game Two tomorrow. Manchester's not going to lay down.
For those wondering, Radko Gudas also missed practice time this week with illness and was also scratched.
Mike Angelidis returned to the lineup after missing several weeks with a broken finger.
Also, if you were wondering, although the streak is technically shelved, we could call this win number Alex Selivanov.
Tomorrow night's game is really, really big. I'd go so far as to say Norfolk should approach it as a must-win. Knowing the next 3 games are in Manchester, it was very important for them to hold serve tonight, which they did. The other half of the equation is to get it done tomorrow night. And, they can't play like they did tonight. They were flat in the First Period and were only leading thanks to a pretty soft goal allowed by Zatkoff to Barberio. They need to play with the pace they had in the Second Period for a full 60 minutes. They dominated the middle frame and chased Zatkoff, bringing in Martin Jones for Manchester, who played very well. The stakes have been raised, even despite the victory, and I don't think Jon Cooper's going to be terribly pleased with all the tape from tonight's contest.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
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.
Still the pound for pound champ...
Mathieu Garon allowed 3 goals on 22 shots in the victory. He made a few good stops at key times in the game to make sure the Lightning stayed in the game.
NJ Ponikarovsky (12), (unassisted), 12:07
TB St. Louis (20), (Stamkos, Garon), 6:39
TB St. Louis (21), (Purcell, Stamkos)(PP), 14:55
NJ Sykora (15), (Bernier, Zubrus), 2:28
TB Gilroy (2), (St. Louis, Purcell), 3:09
TB St. Louis (22), (Purcell, Brewer), 10:18
NJ Parise (23), (Kovalchuk, Elias)(PP), 17:25
Martin St. Louis and Ted Purcell were the game's first and second stars. For Marty, that's 9 straight 20+ goal seasons. While it's not as long a streak as Vincent Lecavalier's, a lot of the same praise applies to Marty. He played the bulk of his career in an era where mugging players was legal, and the amount of training and preparation work he had to put in to stay healthy enough to have 9 straight seasons of 20 goals is why he's arguably the most respected player in the NHL. It's especially true when you consider his size. Think of how hard he's had to work to maintain durability when he's the smallest player on the rink most nights. Truly impressive.
For Purcell, who had a slow first half, that's 18 points in his last 13 games. Will next year be the year he puts it together for a full 82 games and becomes a superstar? He was awesome in the playoffs last season and he's been awesome in the stretch run of this season, so far. If he dedicates to play a full 82 like this, he'll be an All-Star.
Today's game was indicative of the kind of style of game the Lightning have to embrace to win now that the bench has been shortened up by trades and injuries. They've got to play opportunistic, which means the goaltender's got to make saves to keep the team in the game, and the team's got to bury the chances they get when they come along, especially on the power play. That's the formula, and it's really the New Jersey formula, ironically. They're not going to run anyone over with talent. They've got to manufacture wins the hard way.
Tampa Bay crawls back to within 6 points of 8th place Winnipeg with 2 games in hand on the Jets. The Lightning really have to still be a little sick about that 4-3 loss in Winnipeg. A W there and the team would be sitting 3 points out of 8th and 4 points out of the division lead (pending the outcome of the Panthers' game). Finding ways to win those 4-point games is going to make or break the season. They can't afford to lose anymore of them.
Tim Wallace had 3 hits in 6:33.
Trevor Smith was +1 with 2 penalty minutes in 10:37.
J.T. Wyman had 1 hit in 11:49.
Evan Oberg was +1 with 1 hit in 11:25. The ramblin' man, making it happen.
Mike Angelidis had 1 shot and 2 hits in 7:29.
Pray for the rest of the AHL if the Lightning ever get healthy enough to send some of these guys back to Norfolk.
Ending with a thud.
Dwayne Roloson allowed 8 goals on 34 shots, as Pittsburgh followed the formula the Lightning need to follow by being opportunistic and getting good goaltending. Not so much on the Lightning's side.
All I can say is, keep this one in your memory banks for the next few years. Evegeni Malkin celebrating goals like he had just won game 7 of the Cup Finals in a game that was already well out of hand was disgusting. There will be a time for payback.
Tim Wallace was -1 with 4 hits in 10:53 in his Lightning debut.
Trevor Smith was -1 with 3 shots, 5 hits, and 2 blocked shots in 17:16. Here's a guy getting an extended look.
J.T. Wyman was -1 with 2 shots and 1 hit in 14:35.
Mike Angelidis was -2 with a fight, 3 shots, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 9:40.
If that sounds like a lot of minutes for a lot of borderline AHL/NHL players, it's because it is, which is why Malkin's antics annoy me that much more. Like I said, there will be a time for payback. Ask old "Hot Stick" Ovechkin what happens, in the end, to punks who show the Lightning up.