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.
Dwayne Roloson allowed 6 goals on 31 shots in the loss.
06:40 DET Cleary (18), Lidstrom (34), Zetterberg (45)(PP)
14:57 DET Datsyuk (15), Cleary (14), Kronwall (18)
11:51 TB Hedman (3), Gagne (10)
14:38 TB Downie (8), Stamkos (35), St Louis (48)
16:34 DET Kronwall (10), Zetterberg (46), Lidstrom (35)(PP)
18:00 DET Abdelkader (4), Holmstrom (13), Kindl (1)
11:39 DET Datsyuk (16), Hudler (19), Cleary (15)
18:09 DET Helm (7), unassisted
That was tough to take. The Lightning seemed preoccupied with the mystique of this game from the start and weren't minding the details of their system. So, they looked tactically impotent for most of the first half of the hockey game. They were generating no zone time and few chances, and Detroit hopped out to a 2-0 lead by playing meat and potatoes hockey by getting pucks on net and get traffic and rebounds. Hedman made a good individual play to get it to 2-1 and the Lightning started to generate more pressure and chances and got it to 2-2 pretty quickly. At that point, hope abounded that the Lightning could at least get a point out of the night. But a questionable goaltender interference call on Lecavalier was converted by the Wings and then the bottom fell out. That's the Achilles heel of this Lightning club, in my mind. They can't seem to apply their system and maintain focus for 60 minutes. They're good enough to be a very good regular season team even though they only play their best 30-40 minutes at a time, but it seems unlikely you can survive very long in the playoffs with that lack of mental discipline to do the little things at top speed for a full 60 minutes, and sometimes more, every game.
The good news is that it's February, and not April, and this is 1 game of 82 and not 1 game in a 7 game series. Yes, it's disappointing that the team wasn't as competitive against the Wings as they might've liked (I believe they tied 1-1 in Detroit in 2004 in the Cup season), but there's a lot of hockey left to play, and I suspect Steve Yzerman may well be on the lookout for a little more veteran leadership for this group now after what he witnessed tonight.
Michael Vernace was -1 in 7:50 of ice time.
Dwayne Roloson allowed 3 goals on 29 shots before allowing 2 of 7 shooters to convert in the shootout loss.
12:42 PHI van Riemsdyk (13), Giroux (33), Carter (24)
00:59 TB Moore (10), Hall (6)
07:33 PHI Hartnell (18), van Riemsdyk (13), Meszaros (16)(PP)
08:48 PHI Powe (5), unassisted (PS)(SH)
09:55 TB Lecavalier (13), Bergeron (3), St Louis (47)(PP)
10:48 TB Purcell (12), Kubina (17), Vernace (1)
PHI- Richards, Timonen
I give a lot of credit for how the Lightning responded to falling behind by a pair of goals. They responded to adversity the exact opposite to how they did in the last Buffalo game, and that's a welcome sight to see.
Good news/bad news: the Lightning fall 5 points back of the Flyers for 1st place in the conference, but they did move to 6 points ahead of Washington in the Southeast Division with 25 games left in the regular season.
Johan Harju was +1 in 8:24.
Michael Vernace had his first NHL assist and was +1 with 1 shot and 1 hit in 10:44.
The Tampa Bay Lightning, NHL parent club of the Norfolk Admirals, have recalled defenseman Mike Vernace from the Admirals today, Lightning Vice President and General Manager Steve Yzerman announced. The move was made because Lightning defenseman Matt Smaby is ill.
Resisting the cheap "Admirals Harpoon Whale" opening...
Cedrick Desjardins stopped 24 of 26 shots to improve to 13-5-1 this season.
NOR Harju, (15) (Pouliot, Durno), 0:17
CT Dupont, (6) (Tessier), 8:45
NOR Wright, (11) (Fornataro, Szczechura), 10:06
CT Williams, (2) (White, Nightingale), 15:00
NOR Vernace, (6) (Jones), 11:22
NOR Angelidis, (12) (Jones, Berry), 11:45
NOR Durno, (11) (Pouliot, Quick), 12:30
Johan Harju broke a 4 game pointless skid and a 6 game goalless skid. Radko Gudas improved to +16 for the season with a +3 effort. He's tied with Chris Durno and now one plus behind AHL leader Mike Angelidis of the Ads. That's right, three of the four league leaders in plus-minus are Norfolk Admirals.
Incidentally, rebranding your team in the middle of the season is odd. The Whale was the Hartford Wolf Pack a few months ago, if you were wondering.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
Vernace pushes Norfolk to a 5-1-0 finish to their 6 game road trip.
Dustin Tokarski allowed 2 goals on 24 shots for the victory. He's getting a little stronger now. He's been at .917 or better in three of his last four starts in the save percentage department.
SPR Blunden, (10) (Goloubef), 14:27 (PP)
NOR Vernace, (4) (Durno, Marks), 18:01
NOR Berry, (7) (Jones, Vernace), 11:35 (PP)
SPR Pandolfo, (2) (Clitsome, Goloubef), 19:40
NOR Vernace, (5) (Jones, Durno), 1:43 (PP)
Michael Vernace was the game's first star with 2 goals and 3 points, including the overtime winner.
Norfolk moves to within 6 points of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton with the Penguins holding a game in hand. Here's an interesting statistic: Norfolk has played 18 games on the road already and just 7 games at home. That means that with only about a quarter of the season gone, the club has already played almost half of its games away from The Scope. They have a ridiculous .722 winning percentage on the road, and just a .571 winning percentage at home. The team will have a glut of home games to play during the second half of the season, and if they can start winning at home at the same clip they do on the road, they've got a great chance of winning their division.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
Norfolk takes Charlotte to the woodshed.
Cedrick Desjardins allowed 3 goals on 27 shots for the win. It was another sub-.900 performance, but he did shut the door in the final two periods, so there's still positives to take away.
NOR Durno, (6) (Quick, Milam), 1:05
CHA Dalpe, (7) (Bowman, Rodney), 3:30 (PP)
CHA Micflikier, (9) (Boychuk, Carson), 4:37 (PP)
NOR Durno, (7) (Giliati), 8:31
CHA Samson, (12) (Nash, Boychuk), 14:07
NOR Harju, (8) (Berry, Fritz), 16:48
NOR Vernace, (3) (Durno), 11:09
NOR Harju, (9) (Angelidis), 16:40
NOR Wright, (5) , 1:00 (SH)
NOR Giliati, (2) (Vernace), 5:16
Chris Durno, Johan Harju, and Michael Vernace were the game's three stars. It's great to see a pair of goals by Harju. You always wonder how a player is going to respond the first time they get sent back down to the minors, especially a European player. Harju appears to have responded well. Same thing with James Wright, who had a shorty tonight in garbage time.
Stefano Giliati had 1 goal and 1 assist tonight. That's my guy. Don't look now, but the Montreal native has 5 points in 11 games this season.
As of this posting, Chris Durno and Radko Gudas are tied for second in the AHL with a +12 rating, one back of Portland's Drew Schiestel.
Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.
Norfolk's weekend has the sour taste of a two point weekend that should have been a four point weekend.
Dustin Tokarski allowed 7 goals on 29 shots for the overtime loss. Rebound control was the culprit. With the exception of the last goal, he was making the first stop and his positioning wasn't bad. But, he was kicking rebounds up the slot and the Admirals defense was not clearing them out. I thought he played better than Desjardins did last night, but neither was acceptable, obviously.
POR Mancari, (7) (Byron), 3:27
NOR Szczechura, (5) (Giliati, Mihalik), 5:36
NOR Roy, (2) (Barberio, Szczechura), 13:27
POR Whitmore, (4) (Turnbull), 2:01
NOR Simek, (3) (Pouliot, Harju), 6:30
NOR Fornataro, (3) (Szczechura, Wright), 13:47
POR Whitmore, (5) (Crawford, Turnbull), 9:36
NOR Wright, (3) (Szczechura, Fornataro), 10:03 (PP)
POR Stuart, (3) (Brennan, Biega), 10:29
NOR Harju, (5) (Simek, Pouliot), 11:28 (PP)
POR Turnbull, (1) (Roloff, Whitmore), 12:59
POR Schiestel, (2) (Roloff, Turnbull), 14:54
POR Gragnani, (3) (Mancari, Biega), 1:05
Paul Szczechura was the game's second star. Juraj Simek was, in my opinion, the best Admiral tonight. He showed excellent hand-eye coordination batting a puck out of air for his goal, and that line he has with Pouliot and Harju in one of the best in the league right now.
Through two periods, the defense was much improved tonight. I don't know if that's a function of Mike Flanagan being back to run the defense after Steve Thomas did it last night, but they were better at taking care of details within five feet of their own blueline, with the exception of Portland's first goal. The last period was just the intersection of a team letting its foot off the gas once Harju scored on a semi-soft goal to make it 6-4 and some bad luck with rebounds going right onto Pirates' sticks. The biggest play of the game was the 2-on-1 goal Portland scored to make it 6-5, where Michael Vernace got completely lost. I'm not surprised he was -3 tonight. He's struggling with his positioning and the way he surrenders the blueline on the rush, they might need to start calling him Versailles.
My revalation of the night was Stefano Giliati, who is a speedy little sparkplug who was either generating scoring chances or popping people all night long. He got his first point as an Admiral tonight, and I was impressed. I'm surprised they don't play him more.
I liked the way rookies Mark Barberio and Radko Gudas played. Barberio ended up a team high +2 along with Mihalik, and although his skating is mediocre, he's outstanding at reading the play in the offensive end. He's a very crafty player. He has a ways to go, but I enjoyed what I saw. Gudas appeared in both games this weekend, and he was quiet for most of five periods of hockey, but he was very visible in the third period tonight. He and Wishart are the only two Admirals who routinely step up at their blueline and give a pop, but what surprised me about Radko was how he carried the puck offensively a couple of times. The skill set is there, and it's real. Like Barberio, he's a couple of years off, but there's something to work with there, and he and Mihalik make a decent little pairing. The reunification of Czechoslovakia going on with that pairing.
It makes me puke that a goaltender as bad as Leggio managed to backdoor his way into two wins this weekend. That's annoying.
I'll be leaving Norfolk tomorrow morning, but I just wanted to close by encouraging Lightning fans to make the trip if you're looking for a weekend trip. This is an entertaining team, with the highest scoring offense in the league, and this is a good town. I enjoy coming to Norfolk because it reminds me a lot of Tampa, and I think you'll feel the same way to if you come up here.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
The Tampa Bay Lightning assigned defenseman Mike Vernace to the Norfolk Admirals of the American Hockey League today, Vice President and General Manager Steve Yzerman announced.
Vernace, 6-foot, 216 pounds, has played in seven of the Lightningâ€™s nine games this season, averaging 9:06 in ice time per game. He made his debut with Tampa Bay on October 9 against Atlanta and played a season-high 16:33 in ice time October 16 at Florida. Vernace has played in 19 career NHL games with the Lightning and Colorado Avalanche.
A native of Toronto, Ontario, Vernace has skated in 236 career AHL games with the Hamilton Bulldogs, Chicago Wolves, Lake Erie Monsters and Albany River Rats. He has amassed nine career goals and 71 career points.
Vernace was signed by the Lightning as a free agent on July 29, 2010. He was originally drafted by the San Jose Sharks in the seventh round, 201st overall, of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft.
--Tampa Bay Lightning press release
When the Lightning need a good luck charm, they put St. Pete Times Forum VP of Operations Mary Milne on the TV, and game winning goals ensue.
Dan Ellis stopped all 24 shots he faced after replacing Mike Smith to get the win. He was excellent controlling his rebounds, which is a new. Smitty, bless his heart, allowed 3 goals on 7 shots. He looked so good in his last start. It was surprising to see him fall off so quickly. The NHL should be scared to death of a time that will eventually come when the Lightning get some consistent goaltending.
02:51 TB Tyrell (1), Thompson (2), Kubina (3)
03:28 PIT Adams (1), Cooke (4), Orpik (1)(SH)
04:29 PIT Cooke (2), Letang (7), Adams (2)(SH)
12:15 PIT Dupuis (2), Adams (3), Crosby (6)
16:40 TB Purcell (1), Kubina (4), Ritola (1)
08:43 TB Lecavalier (3), St Louis (7), Stamkos (8)(PP)
06:40 TB St Louis (4), Downie (5), Stamkos (9)
19:29 TB St Louis (5), Stamkos (10)(EN)
Martin St. Louis, Dan Ellis, and Nate Thompson were the game's three stars. A lot of teams would've packed it in after giving up three unanswered goals to the Pens in the first period. Credit to Teddy Purcell for getting the Lightning back to within one. They were like a pack of hungry, wild dogs after that, seriously outchancing Pittsburgh in the final two frames.
Mattias Ritola had his first point with the Lightning, an assist, in 8:18. My initial impressions of Ritola! is that he wins the D. Affy award for being an NHLer from the opposing blueline in.
Dana Tyrell had his first NHL goal, two shots, and one blocked shot in 15:18. Here's what I liked about Dana tonight: it's human nature to relax a little after you've had some success. Dana seemed to work even harder after he got that goal, if that's possible.
Michael Vernace was +1 with 2 penalty minutes and 1 hit in 3:23. In case your wondering, my back-of-the-envelope estimate is that Vernace made $1,567.71 for every minute he was on the ice tonight. Nice work if you can get it.
As I've been saying on the BoltProspects Message Board, my hope for the team was to get 14 points out of their first 10 games. That was an aggressive number for a team with a lot of new players and a new system, but it's the kind of start they really needed to get out of the chute well on a playoff push. They have 13 points through their first 9 games heading into Phoenix on Saturday. That's not a gimme, but they're definitely off to the kind of start they needed.