The hockey gods have spoken.
Norfolk Leads the Series 3-0
Dustin Tokarski stopped all 21 shots he faced for the shutout victory, his 3rd of the postseason. He had long stretches of inactivity and then had to deal with some difficult chances, because a lot of what Toronto does is below the goal line using their size. He's now 11-2-0 with 3 shutouts, a 1.49 GAA, and a .944 save percentage in the postseason. The big thing is, he's gotten better as the games have gotten bigger. He's only allowed 5 goals in the 7 games, thus far, of the Eastern Conference Finals and Calder Cup Finals. The defense in front of him has been exemplary, but he's made big saves when necessary.
NOR Kostka, (4) , 9:09
Mike Kostka and Tokarski were the game's second and third stars.
I could live another 100 years and I'll never see another game that important end on a play that fluky. You just witnessed once-in-a-lifetime, folks. For those who didn't see it, Mike Kostka tried to make a dump-in from the red line that hopped off the right wing boards in the Toronto zone, Scrivens departed his net to try to play the puck behind his cage, and the puck took a weird bounce straight off the glass and made a bee line right into the net. Unbelievable. Norfolk deserved to win this game. They hit three posts (actually four, because TJ had a double-poster) and really had Toronto on their heels most of the contest. But it almost seems like stealing to win it this way. Clearly, the hockey gods have selected their club in this series. When things like that happen, it's hard not to think you have the mantle of team of destiny.
Norfolk goes for the Cup clincher Saturday at 3 pm. As with tonight, all games from here on out will be televised on CBS Sports Network from the LeafsTV feed. If there's a Game Five, it'll be Sunday at 3 pm. At this stage, as deflating as that loss must've been for the Marlies, I would be surprised if there's another game in Norfolk this season.
I think you're going to see Norfolk stamp its claim as one of the greatest single season teams ever in AHL history this weekend. Ever. Between the regular season streak and the way they've been so good defensively in the postseason and, so far, unblemished in the Eastern Conference Finals and Calder Cup Finals, they belong in the conversation. On paper, you'd probably have to say that Hershey team from a couple of years ago is the front runner for that title, but this Admirals team has done/is doing some things not even that loaded Bears team could do. It's going to be interesting to see how this group gets put in historical perspective.
Note, the mere fact I just typed that considering Jon Cooper's only in his second year as a professional coach and there were 6 rookies in the lineup tonight for Norfolk, many of which were Norfolk's best players, speaks volumes about how special this group is and how exciting the coming years are going to be for Lightning fans as these young men continue to grow up and make their bids to be NHLers. Imagine, these guys are going to be added to the likes of Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman. Kind of makes you smile inside, doesn't it?
Box score from TheAHL.com.
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.
PANIK ATTACK, Y'ALL!!!
Norfolk Wins the Series 4-2
Jaroslav Janus allowed 1 goal on 31 shots for the victory. The one goal he allowed was on a weak rebound that ended up ping-ponging behind him, but he was perfect from thereon out. His 30 saves included a penalty shot stop on Connecticut's best scorer, Jonathan Audy-Marchessault, who did Janus a favor by taking his attempt at the pace of a snail's crawl. Easy money for a goaltender as quick and athletic as Janus.
CT Audy-Marchessault, (4) (Hrivik, Wellman), 14:49
NOR Johnson, (2) (Palat), 10:52
NOR Panik, (2) (Killorn, Oberg), 17:01
Richard Panik and Janus were the game's first and second stars. Panik is made of steel. He took a slapshot to the face in the Third Period and looked tough as nails immediately popping up and skating to the locker room for his medical care. No nonsense. Stitch me up. He gets back out midway through Overtime, and on his first shift he absolutely dejocked Cameron Talbot on a backhand-forehand deke for the breakaway winner in Overtime. He was ineffective the final month of the regular season, but what has impressed me in these playoffs is that although the points haven't come in droves, he's been very strong on the puck on the forecheck and he's contributed in other areas. I felt so good for the young man to get the winner.
What a stretch pass by the already immortal Alex Killorn to get Panik that breakaway. Good Lord. I hope Norfolk's trainer did up Panik's face with that kind of laser-like surgical precision.
Other than Alexandre Picard, I don't know if there's been any Admirals player who has been as consistently strong as Ondrej Palat in these playoffs. That guy was a playmaking demon tonight. I'm not surprised Norfolk won it in Overtime. I am surprised Palat didn't set up or score the winner. It seemed like he set up at least a half dozen dangerous chances in the game, including Tyler Johnson's key tying goal in the Third Period. I'm really starting to love me some Ondrej Palat.
It really is a game of (less than) inches. Marek Hrivik had a shot in the Third Period that hit the underside of the crossbar and was waved off that would've given Connecticut a 2-0 lead and likely the game. With Cameron Talbot looking like a wall in net and the Whale defense looking stifling through the first 40 minutes of play, it really did look like the Admirals were going to have to play Game Seven late Sunday afternoon. 1/4 inch lower and Norfolk probably loses. Instead, the Admirals mashed down on the gas pedal and ended up outshooting the Whale 34-7 in the Third and Overtime, after getting outshot 24-12 in the first two frames.
Norfolk awaits the winner of Game Seven between Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and St. John's tomorrow night in the Eastern Conference Finals after the Penguins took Game Six from the IceCaps earlier tonight 4-2. Norfolk should resolve that whoever makes it out of that series, the Admirals jump on them immediately in Game One. Whoever survives that Game Seven will be emotionally drained and have to travel from St. John's all the way to Norfolk. Jump on them and don't look back. In the West, Oklahoma City finished out their series tonight and they'll face Toronto in the Western Conference Finals.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
It's a 3 game series now.
Series Tied at 2-2
Dustin Tokarski allowed 3 goals on 23 shots for the loss. He'll want that first goal that went through him by Marchessault back. As with most goals like that, it became a big difference in the game.
CT Audy-Marchessault, (3) (Deveaux, Newbury), 19:05
CT Tanski, (1) (Tessier, Grant), 3:56
NOR Panik, (1) (Killorn), 7:42
CT Wellman, (4) (Valentenko, Hrivik), 16:48
CT Newbury, (1) (Erixon, Talbot), 17:51 (EN)
The silver lining of the game is the breaking of a month plus long slump by Richard Panik. Norfolk needs more Panik attacks.
Tyler Johnson was scratched after injury led him to be ineffective in Game Three.
The scene shifts to Bridgeport for Game Five on Wednesday. Tonight's attendance was only 1,641, so I'd say the experience won't be altogether different on Wednesday. St. John's can close out their series in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton tomorrow, so Norfolk may very well live to regret allowing this series drag on to 6 or 7 games, even if they make it into the Eastern Conference Finals.
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.
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.
The Admirals get to Jason Wiemer, and oddly their journey didn't take them to The Hideaway.
Jaroslav Janus allowed 1 goal on 28 shots for the victory. His 21 wins is tied for 12th in the league, as he continues his push to try to give Norfolk two goaltenders in the top-10 in the AHL in victories.
NOR Barberio, (13) (Oberg, Johnson), 18:15
BNG Downing, (9) (Dziurzynski, Hamilton), 16:34
NOR Johnson, (30) (Gudas, Jackson), 2:51
NOR Smith, (23) (Segal, Cote), 16:46
Tyler Johnson, Janus, and Jean-Phillipe Cote were the game's three stars. Johnson becomes the second Admiral to hit 30 goals.
Mark Barberio hit 60 points for the season with his goal tonight. Soak that in for a moment.
24 consecutive victories for the Admirals, and this one happens to clinch the AHL equivalent of the President's Trophy. The club will have home ice throughout the playoffs for as long as they survive. With 4 games left to go in the regular season, the only question left on a team level is who their fiirst round opponent will be, and as of this moment, it would be the Manchester Monarchs. The rest boils down to personal goals. Specifically, will Richard Panik get to 20 goals.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
Bob Halkidis (yes)!
Dustin Tokarski stopped all 32 shots he faced for the victory. In Saturday's game, he broke his previous mark for wins, and tonight's shutout, his 5th, sets a new personal best for shutouts as a pro. He also ran his winning streak to 10 games and ran his save percentage for the year up to .911. He leads the league in wins by 3 at 29 and he's now tied for second in shutouts, 1 back of Ottawa's Ben Bishop.
NOR Palat, (8) (Barberio, Johnson), 12:27 (SH)
NOR Panik, (19) (Ouellet, Johnson), 17:34 (PP)
Tokarski and Tyler Johnson were the game's first and second stars. While Johnson saw his goals streak snapped tonight, he ran his points streak to 13 games.
Don't look now, but with 40 points, Richard Panik is now tied for 15th in scoring amongst AHL rookies. The Panik attack is 1 goal shy of the magic 20 goal plateau.
Happy Birthday to Ondrej Palat, who celebrated with the game winning, shorthanded goal.
Among the wonderful things the Admirals win streak has already done, we can add this blog's first ever reference to former Lightning defenseman Bob Halkidis.
Standings-wise, the Admirals' magic number for clinching the division has now dropped to 2 points. A Norfolk win Friday or a Wilkes-Barre Scranton loss to Connecticut gets it done. In the conference, tonight's critical 4-point win did a lot to advance things for the Admirals, as they dropped that magic number from 10 to 6 with a single victory. A win Friday will make everything almost elementary. Norfolk could run their lead on St. John's to 15 points, with only 8 games remaining on the IceCaps' schedule, and there would be no way for St. John's to catch the Admirals in ROW, meaning the magic number will actually drop to 1.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
And the streak reaches Rudy Poeschek.
Dustin Tokarski allowed 3 goals on 38 shots for the victory. He raised his save percentage to .908 and posted his 9th straight win and 28th overall for the season in his first start back from Tampa Bay. Looked like a standard Dustin Tokarski effort to me. He'll be tough on himself even though the first goal was on a breakaway, the second one appeared to go through him on a one-timer, and the third was off a rebound he might want back. But, in general, his movement and positioning was pretty well spot on and he made the key saves he needed to to get the win. Classic Tic.
NOR Palat, (7) , 1:00
ALB Zharkov, (15) , 13:29 (SH)
ALB Tedenby, (4) (Gelinas, Whitney), 8:42 (PP)
NOR Killorn, (1) (Conacher, Devos), 15:02
NOR Johnson, (29) (Panik, Barberio), 1:06
NOR Picard, (6) (Palat, Kostka), 13:55
ALB Anderson, (10) (Mills, Harrold), 18:39
Johnson's got goals in 9 straight games and is now 1 shy of a 30 goal rookie season.
I watched tonight's game specifically to see how Killorn is fitting in, and the answer is: seamlessly. They've put him on what I would classify their second line with Conacher and Devos, and he doesn't get lost in the wash. He's assertive and he's noticeable. He's playing a nice, simple north-south game down the wing with speed and shooting it every chance he gets. He tied for the team lead in shots last night and he did so again tonight. He's also sticking his nose in on the wall and he got his first pro goal tonight by going to the front of the net to the danger zone. He found an open path to the cage laterally from the left wing board down low along the goal line, and Conacher hit him with a nice feed, and then he made a pretty little finish switching forehand to backhand in tight with a d-man coming down on him. I'm looking forward to seeing him in a few weeks in the playoffs once he gets better accustomed to his teammates and we see more of the playmaking side of his game, too, but there was nothing tonight that I saw that made me believe we have made any mistakes ranking him so highly on this website. He's the real thing, and I think his effectiveness on each shift may be helped by the fact he's not going to have to log 20-25 minutes a night like he did for Harvard. He's also come to the right place to develop in a hurry playing for the Rookie Whisperer, Jon Cooper. Tonight, 3 of the 4 goals were scored by rookies, which has been the norm for much of this streak. Just add Killorn to the list.
Palat is playing on what is Norfolk's top line right now with Johnson and Richard Panik, and what I really have been shocked by is the development of Palat physically over the course of the last year. This isn't a guy who believes corners are only for bus stops and mail boxes anymore. This guy digs, and despite his size, he wins his fair share of battles. When you couple that with his playmaking abilities, you have yourself a player.
The most impressive prospect tonight, to me, was Panik, though. I am giddy at the development of Panik over the past few months. He wasn't perfect tonight in the sequence that led up to Albany's extra-attacker goal, but put that aside, and the tape of this game and the Admiral's win in the second game a week ago against Charlotte will show you just what a dynamic all-around player he has become in a short time. Last week was the dazzling between the legs goal and the hands. If you watch him, he's like guys like Lecavalier in that he'll try to do some really creative things that most players won't attempt in pro hockey, because he can. He did that once or twice tonight too on plays where he tried some setups that just missed clicking. Also, tonight, you saw the power game out of Panik. The turnover on Palat's goal was the direct result of Richard coming to destroy someone on a hit, and later in the game he absolutely killed Vladimir Zharkov finishing off a clean check that clearly dinged up Zharkov. The Panik attack is continuing to evolve, and whereas a month ago you might have been able to dismiss him as a guy who was living off the power play, right now he's playing the kind of game that projects well in all phases. Heck, Cooper's even using him with Conacher on the PK, and he's doing a really good job with that, too. If he continues to work as hard as he has been over the past little bit, the sky is the limit for this young man. He could be an All-Star caliber NHL player if he keeps his head and his heart in it. Remember, a year before his entry draft, Panik was projected as a top-10 pick before the bottom fell out due to some things that were beyond his control (limited ice time for his Czech Extraliga club) and some that were in his control (not training like a professional). So, the talent is there, and God bless Jon Cooper for reaching Panik and getting him on track.
Norfolk's win is it's 20th in a row (hence the Rudy Poeschek reference), and thanks to St. John's and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton going head-to-head tonight, a win tonight was going to help one of their magic numbers. Because the IceCaps knocked off the Penguins 2-0, Norfolk moves their division lead out to 14 points with the Pens holding 1 game in hand. So, with 8 games left in the regular season, the magic number for the division is close at hand (4 points, assuming the Admirals manage at least 1 more regulation/OT win). They also maintained an 11 point gap in the conference on St. John's, with the IceCaps holding 2 games in hand. So the Admirals have a magic number for the conference of about 10 points (ties get complicated, of course). Wednesday, St. John's comes to Norfolk to start a 2 game set with the Admirals, so winning those games will whittle that magic number down for the conference in a hurry, and by this time next Friday, the Admirals could have a lot of things effectively wrapped up, if they can keep on this streak another couple of games.
For those wondering, the team also holds a 6 point lead on Oklahoma City for the best mark in the AHL, with the Ads surrendering 1 game in hand. So, the magic number for home ice throughout the playoffs would be at about 13 points right now (again, ties get complicated).
Box score from TheAHL.com.
Jaroslav Janus allowed 1 goal on 27 shots for his 11th straight victory. He's run his season save percentage to .911 and he's moved into the top-20 in the league in wins and may soon be free and clear into the top-10. That's right, the Admirals could have two goalies in the top-10 in the AHL in wins. Nice.
ALB Gelinas, (15) (Tedenby), 14:14 (PP)
NOR Cote, (3) (Barberio, Picard), 14:32
NOR Johnson, (28) (Panik, Palat), 12:08
Janus and Richard Panik were the game's first and second stars. Panik attack, y'all!
19. That's where the Norfolk win streak now sits (hence the Brian Bradley reference). They now are holders of every single regular season win streak record in the books in the AHL, even the not so terribly valid ones, snapping Syracuse's mult-season win streak record of 18 spread over two seasons. They go for an even 20 tomorrow, and the intriguing question will be whether Jon Cooper continues to ride Janus or if he goes back to freshly returned Dustin Tokarski between the pipes. Tokarski, for his part, still leads the AHL in wins despite his two week odyssey with the Lightning.
9 games remain in the regular season for the Admirals. With the Penguins losing tonight, they'll stretch their division advantage to 12 points, with the Penguins holding 1 game in hand. So, another 3 or 4 wins probably will be enough to put the division away. In the conference, St. John's fell in the shootout to Syracuse, allowing the Admirals to expand their lead to 11 points over the IceCaps with St. John's holding 2 games in hand. Norfolk draws St. John's in Norfolk next week, giving the Admirals the chance to put the IceCaps on the canvas for good if they can take care of business.
Box score from TheAHL.com.