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.
Tic returns with a vengeance.
Dustin Tokarski returned from missing the weekend set against Albany with a minor injury to stop 32 of 33 shots for the victory. Since the start of February, Tic has gone 10-2-2 with 2 shutouts, and he's 6-1-0 in the month of March with 1 shutout, a 1.56 GAA, and a .942 save percentage. Put simply, Tic continues to live up to his reputation of playing his best when the stakes go up. Don't gamble with Tic: he'll take your money, your shirt, your car keys, and your girl. Believe it.
NOR Roy, (4) , 2:29
NOR Angelidis, (18) (Wright), 4:38 (SH)
ADK Pither, (9) , 16:43 (PP)
Tokarski, Mathieu Roy, and Mike Angelidis were the game's three stars. Angelidis has obliterated his career best statistics this season playing a very well rounded, power forward's game with 18 goals, 35 points, a +19 rating in 69 games. He's also tied his career high of 151 penalty minutes, to boot.
Norfolk moves into 3rd in the East Division via the win percentage tiebreaker over Charlotte and are now 5 points back of 2nd place Hershey with 3 games in hand. They also maintain a 5 point gap on 5th place Binghamton with 2 games in hand and they've expanded their lead on the Atlantic's 4th place team, Worcester, to 8 points with 2 games in hand. With 11 games left to go in the regular season, Norfolk has 86 points, meaning they likely need just 2-4 points to realistically insure a playoff spot, and they control their own destiny in terms of moving up to 2nd in the Division to try to clinch home ice in the first round.
But, the degree of difficulty goes up this weekend. Norfolk faces Manchester Friday and Saturday before traveling to Charlotte on Sunday. The Monarchs are a solid 2nd in the Atlantic Division and Charlotte has refused to go away all season long.
One other note: with their victory tonight the Admirals moved past their point total (84) from all of last season, with another 22 points still up for grabs on the schedule. After a rough start to its affiliation with Norfolk, the Lightning's farmhands have improved each season.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
Norfolk escapes after blowing another lead late.
Dustin Tokarski allowed 3 goals on 28 shots for the victory.
NOR Bergeron, (1) (Vernace, Jones), 7:22 (PP)
BNG Butler, (22) (Greening, Locke), 10:13
NOR Harju, (18) (Giliati, Pouliot), 16:56
NOR Giliati, (6) (Pouliot, Bergeron), 19:11
BNG Wiercioch, (3) (O'Brien, Smith), 7:59 (PP)
BNG Daugavins, (11) (Condra, Locke), 18:55
NOR Bergeron, (2) (Pouliot, Quick), 3:03 (PP)
Norfolk got the two points, which is the big thing, but it continues to be a recurring problem for the Admirals when it comes to protecting leads late. They were outshot 14-3 in the third period and allowed 2 goals to the Senators in the frame. They capped a bad period by allowing the equalizer with 1:05 left to go in the period, and thereby surrendered a point to the division rival they currently have in their rear view mirror. Not good. The Admirals still look in line to be a playoff club, but they may be an early out if they can't get better defensively. Getting Mathieu Roy back yesterday was probably an excellent start to solving that puzzle.
With 2 goals and 1 assist tonight, Marc-Andre Bergeron is signaling that he's starting to round into form. After posting just 1 point in his first 6 games as an Admiral, Bergeron has 7 points in his last 7.
Johan Harju's goal tonight marked the first time he's scored goals in back-to-back games since late November. One wonders if Harju is enjoying an All-Star bounce or if possibly a certain GM or Assistant GM had a heart-to-heart with Big Joe after reports surfaced in the Swedish papers he was unhappy.
Norfolk holds a 2 point lead over Charlotte for 3rd in the East Division and a 7 point lead over 5th place Binghamton. A win tomorrow night (in regulation) could really put Bingo in a bad way, and can help Norfolk try to close the gap on surging second place Hershey.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
The Monarchs were deposed, violently, by Norfolk.
Cedrick Desjardins stopped 23 of 25 shots for the win.
NOR Angelidis, (6) (Roy, Fornataro), 1:49
NOR Fornataro, (6) (Angelidis), 12:23
MCH King, (7) (Moller, Voynov), 17:10 (PP)
NOR Fornataro, (7) (Szczechura, Angelidis), 4:45
NOR Jones, (8) (Labrie, Angelidis), 9:12
NOR Angelidis, (7) (Roy, Durno), 18:55
NOR Pouliot, (5) (Wright, Jackson), 19:38
MCH Holloway, (6) (Kozun, Mullen), 2:34
NOR Pouliot, (6) (Wright, Roy), 8:00
Mike Angelidis, Matt Fornataro, and Marc-Antoine Pouliot were the game's three stars. Angelidis, who had just 24 points all of last season for Albany, had 2 goals and 5 points in this game and is already sitting on 15 points for the season.
Norfolk jumps back into second place in the East Division, but are 8 points back of first place Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Norfolk heads into Portland tomorrow night to face the Pirates. With 92 goals, the club is averaging an even 4.00 goals per game to lead the AHL.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
Gagne is back.
Dan Ellis allowed 3 goals on 25 shots tonight for the win. His rebound control was pretty poor tonight, and he didn't make the greatest decision on Toronto's third goal to leave his crease to try to play the puck. Fortunately, the boys in front of him picked him up.
01:25 TOR Versteeg (7), Bozak (4), Gunnarsson (2)
05:18 TB Malone (6), Gagne (1)(PP)
11:51 TOR Kulemin (8), Kaberle (11), Versteeg (7)(PP)
07:23 TOR Kulemin (9), Crabb (1), Komisarek (6)
08:25 TB St Louis (9), Downie (12)
19:51 TB St Louis (10), Stamkos (19), Moore (5)
01:15 TB Gagne (1), Clark (6)
Simon Gagne and Martin St. Louis were the game's first and second stars. Gagne, in his first game back after missing almost a quarter of the season, scored the overtime winner, had a helper, and set a screen in front on the tying goal with less than ten seconds to go in regulation. I think I'd call that a successful return.
Credit to the Lightning for playing 60 minutes of hockey. Good teams find ways to win games like this when they don't have their best but they find ways to make plays to pull out the two points. Bad teams find ways to lose games like this, and Toronto is surely a bad team.
Mathieu Roy had 1 hit in 2:00. Nice work if you can get it.
Dana Tyrell was -1 with 1 shot in 12:06.
How close are the Lightning's prospects to graduation, you ask? Roy is 17 games off, based on the 82 career games rule. Tyrell is 19 games off. Ritola is 26 games off. B. Jones is 32 games off. Harju is 37 games off.