Stat of the night: the winner of Game One in the Calder Cup Finals has gone on to hoist the championship 74.9% of the time.
Norfolk Leads the Series 1-0
Dustin Tokarski allowed 1 goal on 24 shots for the victory. He came within an eyelash of setting an all-time AHL playoff shutout streak record. Norfolk's playing a championship brand of defense right now. They're not allowing a lot of chances and the few times they do, they're getting the timely save from Tic. If they keep playing defense like they have since they tightened up at the end of the Connecticut series in the Eastern Semis, it's hard to imagine they can lose a 7 game series.
NOR Conacher, (2) (Johnson, Oberg), 12:21
NOR Johnson, (4) (Barberio, Conacher), 10:03 (PP)
TOR Ashton, (1) (Scott, Gardiner), 3:57
NOR Segal, (4) (Smith, Gudas), 19:31 (EN)
Cory Conacher and Tyler Johnson were the game's first and second stars. When the chips are down, you need your best players to be your best players. Conacher was the best player in the league the first half of the AHL regular season and TJ was probably the best in the second half, but neither has really had a dominant playoffs. Tonight they stepped up at the time when they were needed to put their club over the top.
Looking deeper into the box score there's some interesting nuggets to consider going into Game Two. Norfolk outshot Toronto a very impressive 42-24 in the game, as Toronto struggled with the speed and tenacity that have really been the cornerstones of Norfolk's game this year. But, Norfolk allowed Toronto 10 power plays to the Admirals' 5, which is unacceptable. Then again, that kind of puts the quality of Norfolk's night defensively into even better perspective. If you allow an 10-5 PP disparity and still outshoot your opponents 42-24, that says something.
I suspect Norfolk wanted to set a tone with the machismo tonight against a Brian Burke led Toronto organization that prides themselves on being able to bloody their opponents' noses. Norfolk does have some guys on their roster who are speedsters who are on the slight side, and an uninformed scouting report might say to try to push them around. This Admirals team has relished the physical challenge all year, though. They don't care if the Marlies have Don Cherry's endorsement, and while they do have a few guys who are small speedsters with skill, it would be incredibly foolish to think they can't handle their business when called upon. They've got jam in every flavor. Norfolk probably got a little overzealous in that respect, though, and I suspect that, with the point proven, Jon Cooper's going to reel his boys in. Tomorrow night's going to be a huge game for Norfolk, because you want to head into Toronto with the luxury of really only having to win 1 of 3 in Toronto before, if necessary, going back to Scope for Game Six and Game Seven. They can make their lives a lot easier and go a long way toward finishing the drill, overall, by focusing in and getting this big Game Two "W" tomorrow night.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
Norfolk passes the midpoint on their way up the mountain, but there's still a lot of climbing left to do.
Norfolk Leads the Series 1-0
Dustin Tokarski stopped 29 of 30 for the win as Jon Cooper again flexes his superior coaching instincts.
NOR Kostka, (2) (Oberg, Smith), 18:55 (PP)
NOR Ouellet, (1) (Johnson, Barberio), 3:08 (PP)
NOR Kostka, (3) (Devos, Angelidis), 11:04
NOR Cote, (1) (Smith, Labrie), 13:42
NOR Palat, (4) (Johnson, Conacher), 1:28
STJ Redmond, (1) (Trotter, Postma), 2:11 (PP)
NOR Aulie, (1) (Palat, Conacher), 7:21
Alex Killorn was a scratch for, presumably, health reasons.
Norfolk's players can enjoy this win for another 2-3 hours tonight, and then they need to erase it from the memory banks. The danger after a win like this is complacency. Norfolk's good, but they're not 5 goals better than the IceCaps on any given night, and they have to be ready to go Saturday night in Game Two. The IceCaps won't lick their wounds long, because they've got the shot for redemption on Saturday and they can be right in the spot they want to be with a 1-1 split, so Norfolk can't go into that game overconfident. They have to bring their lunch buckets and make sure they give themselves the best chance to get that 2-0 lead before heading north.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
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).
(Norfolk Admirals press release) The American Hockey League announced today that forward Cory Conacher of the Norfolk Admirals has been named the winner of the Dudley (Red) Garrett Memorial Award as the AHLâ€™s outstanding rookie for the 2011-12 season, as voted by AHL coaches, players and media in each of the leagueâ€™s 30 member cities.
Conacher signed with Norfolk following four seasons at Canisius College and an impressive training camp with the Tampa Bay Lightning, and has been one of the top scorers in the league since opening the year with 12 points in nine games during October. Conacher, who only once has gone more than two games without a point this season, leads all AHL rookies with 75 points and ranks second in goals (35) and assists (40) while showing a plus-13 rating in 72 games for the Admirals. He is also first among rookies in power-play goals (14) and game-winning goals (seven). A 22-year-old native of Burlington, Ont., Conacher represented Norfolk at the 2012 AHL All-Star Classic and tied game highs with two goals and three points in the contest. Named an All-Rookie Team member and a Second Team AHL All-Star at left wing last week, Conacher signed a two-year deal with the Lightning on Mar. 1.
The record goes down, and it goes down hard.
Jaroslav Janus stopped all 20 shots he faced for his 10th consecutive victory. It's also his first shutout of the season, and he pushes his save percentage up to .909 for the year.
NOR Conacher, (33) (Kostka), 11:25
NOR Johnson, (27) (Palat, Panik), 17:14
NOR Hutchings, (2) , 5:38
NOR Panik, (18) , 6:53
NOR Conacher, (34) (Panik, Johnson), 8:07 (PP)
Conacher scored on a fortuitous bounce that went through Justin Peters for the game opening goal and then a shot from the right wing circle on the power play on a busted play that was supposed to go into the slot. The most impressive play of the day to me, though, was when he picked up 196 pound defenseman Michal Jordan and threw him to the ice like a piece of garbage during a goal mouth scrum.
You're going to see Panik's breakaway goal on youtube. The Panik attack came in the form of a deke to the right where he came back through his legs and roofed it going top shelf to his left. So much skill there for a guy who is also so strong on his skates. He had a 3 point night tonight to put him at 18 goals and 37 points in 54 games. To put that in perspective, Carter Ashton had 19 goals and 35 points in 56 games before he left the Admirals. The two are now tied for 15th in rookie scoring in the league, and the emergence of Panik and Tyler Johnson, who set an Admirals goal scoring streak record tonight, is what made Ashton expendable, to a degree.
So, the Admirals now own the all-time AHL record for a single-season winning streak at 18 games. They also tied the mark set by Syracuse a few years back of 18 wins that they spread over 2 years winning 15 to end one season and 3 to start the next. Norfolk can break that record, too, with a win against Albany on Friday. That's the last bit of streak business that's left to take care of before they need to divert their attention to locking down their division and the conference, and getting into the playoffs healthy and ready to smoke through the early rounds quickly.
I'll have a separate story up later on the streak from the perspective of Bolt Prospects and the Lightning organization sometime within the next day or two. Suffice it to say, there's a reason why we have spent the past 6-1/2 years or so doing the website, and days like this validate the effort.
With St. John's losing to Manchester today, Norfolk opened up a 10 point lead in the conference with the IceCaps holding 3 games in hand. So, Norfolk now controls its destiny in the conference with a key weekend set against St. John's still on the schedule. Norfolk also maintained a 10 point edge on the Pens in the division, with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton holding a game in hand. Remember, the AHL reduced its regular season schedule to 76 games starting this year, down from 80 in order to reduce heavy scheduling and promote better player health. So, Norfolk has just 10 games left on their schedule before the postseason, so the magic numbers are going to come up really quickly now for clinching. Norfolk's remaining games are against: Albany (3 games), Binghamton (3 games), St. John's (2 games), Adirondack (1 game), and Wilkes/Barre-Scranton (1 game). So only 3 of Norfolk's remaining contests are against teams that would make the playoffs if the season ended today. Advantage: Admirals.
Oh, and all 5 goals today came from rookies. If Jon Cooper's not the AHL Coach of the Year this year, then obviously the award is trash.
Box score from TheAHL.com.