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.
Until Roloson stops allowing soft goals, the Lightning will not win.
Pittsburgh Leads the Series 3-1
Dwayne Roloson allowed 3 goals on 53 shots for the loss. Yes, 50 saves in a big number. Yes, Roloson made several key saves to keep the game close. But, the first goal was a soft goal through Roloson on the short side, the second goal was off a bad rebound kicked straight up the slot, and the third goal was a soft goal short side high from a poor angle off the wall. If you're keeping score at home, that's 3 soft goals and 2 bad rebound goals in the last 2 games. It's a prerequisite in the playoffs for your goaltender to be one of your best players, and you cannot have your goaltender surrendering soft goals early in the game as Roloson has done in Game 3 and Game 4. Nothing sucks the life out of a team and poisons morale quicker, and so much of the playoffs is about willpower. It's frustrating. Roloson was magnificent in Game 1 and Game 2 in Pittsburgh, and if he had maintained that level of play I suspect the Lightning would be winning this series 3-1 instead of being down 3-1. Is he the only reason the Lightning lost the last 2 games? Absolutely not. However, it's a prerequisite for success in the playoffs that a goaltender not surrender bad goals. It cannot happen, and it's happened at least 3 times in the past 2 games.
08:14 PIT Kennedy (2), Michalek (1), Letestu (1)(PP)
02:39 PIT Asham (3), Lovejoy (2)
17:14 TB St Louis (4), Lecavalier (2), Purcell (1)
16:43 TB Bergenheim (1), St Louis (2), Kubina (1)
03:38 PIT Neal (1), Staal (2), Martin (2)
Martin St. Louis was the game's second star. The telepathy between he and Vincent Lecavalier, who laid out a pretty little aerial pass on the rush to spring St. Louis on his goal, was the stuff of legends.
All the Lightning can do now is try to win Game 5. They've dug an incredibly deep hole for themselves and they can't leap out with one effort. It's going to take some climbing one hand over the other toward the light, and it starts with putting together a redeeming effort in Game Five. It's going to be a damned bitter offseason if they don't.
Shorthanded Admirals can't quite get over the hump.
Series Tied at 2-2
Dustin Tokarski allowed 4 goals on 33 shots for the loss.
WBS Potter, (1) (Sill, Wagner), 4:48
NOR Harju, (1) (Pouliot, Fornataro), 16:04
WBS Strait, (1) (Sterling, Vitale), 2:38
NOR Pouliot, (3) (Mihalik, Fornataro), 13:25
WBS Craig, (1) (Lerg, Sterling), 18:17 (PP)
WBS Vitale, (1) (Collins, Potter), 15:38
Marc-Antoine Pouliot was named the game's second star.
Norfolk was allowed to insert Alex Hutchings in the lineup and they added Charles Landry, but they were still without 6 of their best forwards due to injuries and recalls. They may get one or both of Mattias Ritola and/or Blair Jones back for Game Five and with Tri-City being eliminated last night, there's the possibility of adding Carter Ashton to the lineup. Maybe they can get Angelidis or Berry back too? We'll see.
Game Five seems like a must-win, and the Admirals need as many hands on deck as possible.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
A brave effort by the Admirals comes an eyelash short.
Norfolk Leads the Series 2-1
Dustin Tokarski allowed 2 goals on 25 shots for the loss.
WBS Veilleux, (2) , 17:58
NOR Giliati, (1) (Roy, Vernace), 15:40 (PP)
WBS Lerg, (1) (Hutchinson, Thiessen), 10:20 (PP)
Stefano Giliati and Tokarski were the game's second and third stars. Giliati played a heck of a game and was arguably the team's most dangerous forward.
Due to injuries, the Admirals were already without the services of Alex Berry and Mike Angelidis going into the week. They lost 2/3 of arguably the best line in the AHL to recall when Mattias Ritola and Blair Jones were moved up to Tampa Bay earlier in the day. Captain Chris Durno then went out very early in the game with an injury and never returned, and was soon followed to the locker room by Paul Szczechura, who was injured by Brian Strait after the whistle in a very questionable play. So, the Admirals played the Penguins to a stalemate with no less than 6 of their best forwards out of the lineup until a Pierre-Cedric Labrie double minor for high-sticking gave the Pens the opportunity to get the go-ahead goal.
The difficulty for the Admirals now is that Ritola and Jones won't return for Game Four tomorrow night, and Durno and Szczechura's injuries are obviously serious to have missed the remainder of the game when the team was so shorthanded. The Admirals do have a healthy Alex Hutchings on the roster, but Hutchings was not listed on the team's Clear Day roster as a player in residence. So the team may be very shorthanded again in Game Four. Tonight might have been the Admirals' best chance to get to a third win before Friday. You knew things were dire when Admirals radio voice Pete Michaud let a Freudian slip that the Pens were about to tie up the series if they could hold off Norfolk in the final few minutes of the game.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
It's an organization-wide Lightning vs. Penguins playoff matchup.
Jaroslav Janus allowed 3 goals on 20 shots for the victory.
NOR Pouliot, (25) (Ritola), 9:26
NOR Szczechura, (21) (Milam, Barberio), 15:46 (PP)
NOR Jones, (24) (Pouliot, Ritola), 19:22 (PP)
CT Mitchell, (8) (Couture, Valentenko), 1:02
NOR Ritola, (9) (Jones), 3:15
NOR Szczechura, (22) (Wright, Harju), 5:34
CT Valentenko, (5) (Yogan, Dupont), 13:10
CT Niemi, (3) (Grachev, Couture), 11:56 (PP)
NOR Angelidis, (20) , 17:36
In 56 games, Blair Jones set a new career high in points with 55. His previous high was 54 in 80 games two seasons ago.
Johan Harju finishes his rookie AHL campaign with 23 goals and 52 points in 63 games, and a +15 rating.
With the victory, Norfolk leapfrogged Binghamton into 4th place in the East Division. That means Norfolk will draw the top team in the Eastern Conference, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, in the first round. The Pens have the stingiest goaltending and defense in the conference, allowing just 183 goals (2.29 GAA). It'll also be an interesting meeting of old friends, as a key member of the Pens is BoltProspects alumni Ryan Craig. Craig had 19 goals and 48 points to finish 2nd on the Pens in scoring this season.
It's a brutally tough matchup. The key will be for Norfolk to focus on getting a win in the first two on the road. Get that win, settle into the grind of the series, and let the chips fall where they may. On paper, Norfolk is as talented as anyone in the conference, although there's a question mark in net with Dustin Tokarski recovering from getting slashed with a skate. If they get goaltending, though, they have a chance.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
Norfolk clings to 4th in the East Division by the slimmest of margins.
Jaroslav Janus shined making 42 saves in the overtime loss. He's allowed just 5 goals on 86 shots (.953 sv%) since spelling Dustin Tokarski against Hershey when Tic got cut with a skate. All of a sudden, he's playing under control and serving notice to the new organization why the old organization was so high on him. He's also finally justifying that #11 ranking he currently holds here on BoltProspects.
BNG Benoit, (11) (Daugavins, Smith), 11:46 (PP)
NOR Ritola, (8) (Jones, Mihalik), 16:01
BNG O'Brien, (24) (Condra, Greening), 3:48
Janus was the game's third star.
Blair Jones has points in 9 straight games. Mattias Ritola has points in 7 straight and 8 goals and 17 points over that span, including 6 multi-point games. Tonight was the first time since 2/26/11 that Ritola didn't have a multi-point effort.
Norfolk climbs to within 2 points of 3rd place Charlotte with 1 game in hand on the Checkers. They also now hold a slim 1 point lead over the 5th place Senators with 1 game in hand on Binghamton. If a crossover scenario were to occur, Norfolk could get the 3rd seed in the Atlantic Division if they finish with more points than the 3rd place Connecticut Whale. They now have a 5 point lead on Connecticut with 3 games left to go for each club, so they could easily clinch no worse than the 3 seed in the Atlantic in their upcoming games against the East Division's 6th place team, Syracuse.
Norfolk draws Syracuse tomorrow night and again on Saturday night before closing out the regular season on Sunday in Hartford against the Whale. Charlotte draws the now eliminated Worcester Sharks on Friday and again on Saturday. Binghamton goes to Rochester (7th in the North Division) on Friday and finishes at home against Adirondack (7th in the East Division) on Saturday. So, Norfolk likely will need 4 out of 6 possible points to hold off Binghamton for 4th, and they may need to run the table and hope Worcester can take at least a point away from Charlotte to get to 3rd place. 2 more points earned or lost by Connecticut will clinch no worse than the 3 seed in the Atlantic via the crossover. In that scenario, Norfolk would face Manchester. Unfortunately for Norfolk, their three most likely matchups (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Hershey, or Manchester) happen to be the 3 best defensive teams in the Eastern Conference in terms of goals allowed. Great.
Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.
A magical night in Charlotte for Jones and the Admirals.
Jaroslav Janus rose up and played his best AHL game of the season stopping 21 of 23 shots, including a Brett Sutter penalty shot, to take his first win as an Admiral this season. He kept the Admirals where they needed to be through the first two periods and then made sure to make the last stop or two the team needed to pull away at the end. What Mike Smith was for the Lightning against Chicago last night, Janus was for the Admirals tonight.
NOR Ritola, (6) (Pouliot, Barberio), 7:54 (PP)
CHA Terry, (33) (Sanguinetti, Matsumoto), 12:30 (PP)
NOR Labrie, (6) (Wright, Berry), 7:56
CHA Sanguinetti, (3) (Graham, Matsumoto), 13:18 (PP)
NOR Jones, (22) (Pouliot, Milam), 18:49 (PP)
NOR Ritola, (7) (Jones, Pouliot), 0:36 (PP)
NOR Jones, (23) (Ritola), 7:40
Blair Jones is now the Norfolk Admirals' all-time leading scorer. He tied and then destroyed the record with a 3 point night that now leaves him just 3 points shy of his career high in points, despite the fact he set that mark in 80 games in 2008-2009 and he's played just 52 games this year. Jones has always been a BoltProspects favorite since his days with Moose Jaw and his rookie season with Springfield in the AHL. Through all the ups and downs of his professional career, he's kept getting better and climbing the ladder. To surpass some of the most beloved Admirals in the history of that franchise to claim the mantle of leading scorer is truly impressive and special.
His new line, with Marc-Antoine Pouliot and Mattias Ritola showed tonight it could be one of the league's best going into the playoffs. Ritola also had a 3 point night and now has 22 points in 13 AHL games this year. For his part, Pouliot climbed to 6th in the AHL in scoring with 69 points in 65 games.
Mark Barberio got point 29 tonight. He needs 1 more point in the 4 games remaining this week to reach the 30 point plateau.
Norfolk pulls to within 3 points of the Checkers for 3rd in the East Division with 2 games in hand, and now holds a 2 point edge over Binghamton with 1 game in hand. More to the point, the Admirals magic number for making the postseason is now 1 point. With a 6 point lead over Worcester and just 3 games remaining for the Sharks, any combination of a point gained by the Admirals or a point lost by Worcester will clinch a playoff berth for the Admirals by, at a minimum, the crossover rule. Interesting note about the crossover rule, if Norfolk were to crossover they could gain the 3rd seed in the Atlantic Division if they can continue to lead the Atlantic's 3rd place team, the Connecticut Whale. However, for tonight, the crossover seems like an afterthought for a team that controls its destiny to climb into the #3 spot in the division.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
54 minutes of garbage followed by the awakening of a long slumbering giant.
Dwayne Roloson allowed 4 goals on 39 shots for the loss.
07:11 TB Gagne (13), St Louis (60), Lecavalier (24)(PP)
12:52 CAR Skinner (26), Ruutu (32), Pitkanen (29)
08:23 CAR Cole (21), Stillman (22), Staal (37)(PP)
06:50 CAR Cole (22), unassisted
12:20 CAR Staal (30), Corvo (25), Pitkanen (30)(PP)
13:17 TB Lecavalier (20), Hedman (22)
14:09 TB Gagne (14), St Louis (61), Clark (21)(PP)
Simon Gagne was the game's second star.
That was painful and ugly to watch for about 54 minutes, and then the Lightning got a tip to go their way and it was, "Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war." It looked as if the Lightning finally got sick of getting kicked in the ribs and decided to rise up and try to do something about it. Maybe I'm an optimist, but those last 6 minutes looked like a turning point to me. Time will tell, but I saw the Lightning play with a tempo and urgency that hasn't been seen in a while. Not that the Lightning haven't been playing hard, but they haven't been playing THAT hard in a while.
Congratulation to Vincent Lecavalier on his 11th straight 20 goal season. In doing so he's accomplished something that many a Hall of Famer couldn't. Steve Yzerman? His career best was 8 straight seasons. Jean Beliveau? 7 seasons. Mario Lemieux? 6 seasons. With injuries and in a sport where teams change personnel like they're pairs of socks, it's really difficult to string that many 20 goal seasons. When you throw in the fact that 2/3rds of Vinny's career was played in the pre-lockout clutch and grab era, it's even more amazing that he could stay healthy enough and get enough chances to complete the feat when facing nightly muggings.
It's ironic that Lecavalier has faced so much criticism over the course of his career for a presumed lack of consistent effort or interest, but 11 straight 20 goal seasons suggests that any critique of Lecavalier's career to this point needs a little more depth and nuance than that because the stats speak to a level of professionalism he hasn't always been given credit for. Let me put it another way: if Vinny had played the last month the way Steven Stamkos has, there would've been at least 3 dozen rumors of various trades to Montreal and a segment of the Lightning fan base ready to tar and feather him before putting him on an airplane out of town. Ultimately, there's an easy way for Vinny to complete his legacy in Tampa Bay: captain this team to a Stanley Cup. I've just always found it a little bizarre how much higher the bar has been set for Vinny and that he doesn't seem to get the full measure of respect, not just in Tampa but league-wide, for accomplishments that are almost unheard of in this era of hockey.
Blair Jones was -2 in 5:59.
Rock bottom (?)
Dwayne Roloson allowed 4 goals on 27 shots for the loss, including a softie to Frans Nielsen that would've made Dieter Kochan himself blush.
01:01 TB Thompson (9), Purcell (31), Lecavalier (23)
10:22 NYI Bailey (11), Jurcina (12)(PP)
05:16 NYI Okposo (5), Jurcina (13), Grabner (17)
13:39 NYI Martin (5), Hillen (16), Konopka (7)
08:08 NYI Nielsen (11), unassisted(SH)
10:31 TB Moore (14), Bergenheim (15), Thompson (14)(PP)
19:14 NYI Grabner (31), unassisted(SH)(EN)
Nate Thompson was the game's second star.
This feels like last season, and that's not a good thing. The Lightning could not buy a win at this time late last season and fell like a rock out of the playoff hunt. With 9 games left to go, the Lightning have an 11 point lead on 9th place, but even that doesn't feel safe with 3 games against the Canes on the schedule. The division is gone. An opportunity to hang a banner has been squandered. Right now, the Lightning just need a win, any win, to try to stabilize their sagging fortunes, and it feels like the team won't be able to beat anyone until Steve Downie or Ryan Malone return to the lineup. The Lightning look stale and lost, and it feels like only a shakeup in the lineup will work. Nobody can find the back of the net. Stupid decisions keep getting made defensively. And, now, you even have the likes of Sean Bergenheim making undisciplined plays and Roloson giving up Dairy Queen Blizzards. It's a near total collapse, and I don't care if the Lightning outshot the Islanders 38-28 if you keep giving up shorthanded 2-on-0's, the number of shots matters little.
Blair Jones had 3 shots and 2 blocked shots in 10:42.
Mattias Ritola will have to wait to graduate from prospect status next season.
Dwayne Roloson allowed 3 goals on 34 shots for the overtime loss.
06:32 TB Lecavalier (19), Thompson (13)
07:42 TB Tyrell (6), Bergenheim (14)
12:27 OTT Shannon (9), Condra (3), Karlsson (30)(SH)
16:05 OTT Foligno (12), Smith (4), Neil (10)
03:28 OTT Spezza (16), Karlsson (31)
Roloson was the game's third star.
The Lightning took their foot off the gas after gaining a 2 goal lead and their now customary power play implosion to allow a shortie led to a Senators team that had half of Binghamton's roster on it to come back and steal a point in the standings the Lightning desperately needed. Now the Lightning are 5 points back of the Caps with 1 game in hand in the Division, which even if the Lightning cash in their game in hand means the spread is now, essentially, 2 games because Washington has the tiebreaker pretty much sewn up (barring absolute collapse). It's a sickening feeling. The Lightning have no one to blame but themselves. The schedule set up nicely. They had Ottawa under control tonight. If there's not a Division Championship banner going to the rafters next Fall, they've got nobody to point the finger at. This is the very definition of a choke, and now, with 10 games left in the regular season, the sights may need to be lowered to trying to catch Pittsburgh to at least get home ice in the opening round.
We lost 2 games to Curtis flipping McElhinney. Let that sink in, Lightning fans.
Vincent Lecavalier is now 1 goal shy of the 20 goal plateau, which would be his 11th straight 20 goal season. We'll have more on that when/if he gets to 20, but let's just say Lecavalier's consistency in hitting 20 goals is the stuff of Hall of Famers and legends.
Mattias Ritola had 1 hit in 8:22. In case you're wondering, Ritola has to play in each of the remaining 10 games this year to graduate as a prospect from BoltProspects' prospect list. One scratch and he'll have to wait until next season, where he'll likely move over to the 82 career NHL games graduation path, which is more of a graduate level degree from the School of Hard Knocks (see: Downie, Steve).
Blair Jones had 4 shots in 9:02 and probably should have had a goal in the opening period. It's a shame, in retrospect, he couldn't finish.