Norfolk withstands Connecticut's best shot.
Norfolk Leads the Series 2-1
Dustin Tokarski allowed 3 goals on 30 shots for the victory. The stat line is ho hum, but he gave the Admirals exactly what they needed. Under siege for much of the first half of the Second Period, Tokarski kept the game close and allowed the Admirals to get their legs underneath them and get a critical victory.
CT Wellman, (2) , 5:20 (PP)
NOR Palat, (2) , 8:01 (SH)
CT Deveaux, (2) (Hrivik, Newbury), 17:12
NOR Killorn, (3) (Kostka, Picard), 11:31 (PP)
NOR Smith, (3) (Barberio, Conacher), 12:16
NOR Angelidis, (1) (Ouellet, Gudas), 17:40
CT Wellman, (3) (Newbury, Erixon), 1:06 (PP)
Ondrej Palat and Tokarski were the game's first and third stars. Color me pleasantly surprised with Palat overall this season. He's better along the wall and defensively than advertised. Heck, he even kills penalties. Between Palat and fellow Eastern European Richard Panik, it's really no contest which of the two has played better so far in the playoffs.
Speaking of those from the Czech-or-Slovakia region, Radko Gudas played a ton in the final frame protecting the one goal lead, and played really well.
Alex Killorn is the truth.
Cory Conacher is... touched? Is that the diplomatic way to put it? Heavyweight Andre Deveaux decided to rough up Conacher after the whistle on a play in the Second Period, and Conacher actually chased after him like he wanted to fight him. Cory, brother, you're strong pound-for-pound, but Deveaux eats meals that weigh more than you do. Stick to whipping his behind on the scoreboard, where it really hurts.
Norfolk won tonight despite being outshot for the first time in these playoffs. They'll move on to Game Four tomorrow night with the chance to really put Connecticut behind the eight ball. Yes, they got "home ice" back tonight, but bear in mind Game Five is really a neutral site game in Bridgeport due to a scheduling conflict. The Whale can't afford to lose Game Four. Sweep the leg, Admirals. Sweep the leg.
In the other Eastern Conference Semifinal, St. John's swept the weekend and now hold a 3-1 series lead over Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Another reason for Norfolk to get on the gas tomorrow is that they don't want the IceCaps to have a rest advantage heading into any potential Eastern Conference Finals series.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
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.
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€¦ Cory Conacher, LW, Norfolk Admirals (AHL).
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.
It took a bit longer than usual, but it's David Shaw in overtime! #27!
Dustin Tokarski allowed 2 goals on 24 shots including a ten bell save in overtime to get his 13th straight victory. He now is unlikely to best his .915 (currently .913) rookie save percentage, but he's improved his career marks in every other major statistical category this year, and his 32 wins are a lock now to be the best in the AHL.
NOR Conacher, (36) (Killorn), 19:24
BNG Hoffman, (21) (Gryba, Dziurzynski), 15:17 (PP)
BNG Puempel, (1) (Conboy), 17:13
NOR Killorn, (2) (Oberg, Kostka), 13:21 (PP)
NOR Barberio, (14) (Kostka), 2:04 (PP)
It's been interesting with all the hardware being thrown in Norfolk's direction to players like Cory Conacher and Mark Barberio how there's been a little unstated internal pressure here at Bolt Prospects to reassess the situation at the top of our prospect rankings. Now, there's no doubt that Conacher and Barberio are fantastic players, but a night like tonight shows what Alex Killorn brings to the table. As expected, he's getting more comfortable with his teammates, and he was the best Admiral on the ice tonight. He made a great play to set up Conacher on the Admirals' first goal (no-look, behind-the-back, Harlem Globetrotters type stuff), and with Conacher sitting for what appeared to be disciplinary reasons from late in the second period on, Killorn played a ton during Norfolk's successful comeback bid. His power play goal was another Killorn classic, where he used his speed down the wing to blaze around the corner and then deked to his backhand to finally penetrate the forcefield that McKenna seemed to have up behind him. Point being, Killorn belongs in the same sentence with those players. When you consider this is just his 9th pro game, the fact he can already dominate a night like this is impressive. With the playoffs yet to go, look for him to put up a strong defense of his spot on the rankings. I'm really looking forward to it.
Should we be concerned it took the Admirals putting forth this much effort to put away the league's worst team, Bingo? No. This was the Senators' last game of the season, and they had nothing else to play for. This was Game Seven of the Stanley Cup and the Super Bowl all wrapped into one for them, and the Ads still outshot them 49-24. Only McKenna's brilliance kept this from being a slaughter.
Norfolk finishes their regular season tomorrow night against Adirondack, which was eliminated from playoff contention earlier today. That leaves 3 teams vying for the final two spots in the Eastern Conference: Portland, Syracuse, and Manchester. The plot thickens for all three teams after today's results. Manchester beat the paste out of Hershey 5-1, moving them into a tie with idle Portland at 81 points. Syracuse was embroiled in a struggle with Connecticut, but they managed to sneak by in the shootout. So here's the state of play heading into tomorrow's deciding games. Syracuse holds 7th at 82 points. They control their destiny. Manchester holds 8th because while both Manchester and Portland have 81 points, Manchester leads in ROW by 2 over both Syracuse and Portland. That means the Monarchs win any tiebreaker against both teams. Portland sits in 9th. Manchester draws the toughest opponent tomorrow in 2nd place St. John's. Portland gets 12th place Providence. Syracuse gets 14th place Albany. Throw the records out in a situation like this though. Norfolk draws the 8th seed when the dust settles tomorrow.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
The American Hockey League announced today that left wing Cory Conacher of the Norfolk Admirals has been named the winner of the Les Cunningham Award as the AHLâ€™s most valuable player for the 2011-12 season, as voted by AHL coaches, players and media in each of the leagueâ€™s 30 member cities.
Conacher becomes the fourth rookie to win the award since it was first presented in 1947-48, joining Bill Hicke (1958-59), Pelle Lindbergh (1980-81) and Stephan Lebeau (1988-89).