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.