And now things get really tight in the playoff race.
Dustin Tokarski allowed just 2 goals on 25 shots, but his first period softie allowed to Jesse Boulerice ended up being the margin of defeat.
WBS Boulerice, (4) (Conner, Lee), 4:23
WBS Johnson, (13) (Haddad, Wagner), 13:19 (PP)
NOR Fornataro, (9) (Wishart, Fadden), 15:22
It was a beautiful stickhandling play by Matt Fornataro that helped pull the Admirals to within one goal late in the game. Defenseman Ty Wishart got his 31st point of the season on the play, but he should be chastized along with Vladimir Mihalik for some very soft play along the wall in the defensive zone, especially in the first period. The soft goal, the soft play along the wall, and a disgustingly bad 0-for-8 power play doomed the Admirals in this one. That, and Mitch Fritz losing his mind at the end of the second period, including the ever-classy crotch chop to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton crowd, drawing a double minor and game misconduct that killed off about a quarter of the third period for a Pens team that only held on by one goal.
On the bright side, the two pro debuts went pretty well tonight. Carter Ashton almost had a beautiful goal chipping the puck between two defenders and showing surprising burst to split them and get himself a breakaway. He got in too tight on the backhand, though, and couldn't lift the puck to notch the goal. He had another chance a few minutes later when he spun out in front from behind the net on his backhand. Had he been a little more patient, he could've taken another half stride and maybe stuck it in far post. Richard Panik had one good chance from the slot, but the defining play for him was a downright nasty check he threw coming back into the Admirals zone. Downright nasty. In case you didn't know, he's strong as a bull.
Norfolk's lead over the Pens is down to 1 point with the Pens holding 1 game in hand. Uh oh. Norfolk has 11 games left to play in the season: 3 on the road and 8 at home. Norfolk draws Adirondack at Scope on Friday.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
Five straight wins at home for the Admirals.
Jaroslav Janus allowed 2 goals on 28 shots before stopping 2 out of 4 shooters in the penalty shot session for the shootout win. Janus moved his record to above .500 for the season at 7-6-0 with the win, and he's riding a personal 5 game winning streak.
ALB Terry, (14) (FitzGerald), 3:47
NOR Hall, (12) (Tyrell, Craig), 9:59
NOR Keller, (13) (Mihalik, Tyrell), 16:07 (PP)
ALB McBain, (6) , 0:26
ALB- Terry, McBain
NOR- Keller, Jones, Fornataro, Fadden
In a stunning development, Juraj Simek, the Don of the Presov Mafia, was stopped for the first time all season in the shootout. He was the one and only Admiral to fail to convert on Justin Pogge. With a pair of assists, Dana Tyrell had his 5th multi-point game in his last 11 games, and he's on a 3-game point streak. Vladimir Mihalik notched his 6th point in his last 12 games and has matched his season total for point from a year ago and is 1 point shy of his career best AHL season. Paul Szczechura is about to be recalled to Tampa Bay and did not play tonight.
The win moves the Admirals to within 1 point of Albany for 2nd place in the East Division with the Rats holding 1 game in hand. The Admirals will give the Rats a rematch tomorrow night at The Scope, and a regulation win could move Norfolk into 2nd place all by themselves in the division. Fourth place Wilkes-Barre/Scranton is losing 4-1 to Syracuse in the third period. If that holds up, Norfolk will move 7 points up on the Penguins with the Pens holding 3 games in hand. 5th place Adirondack lost to Rochester 5-2 and, if the Crunch's score holds up, they'll be tied with Syracuse at 12 points behind the Admirals with each team holding 3 games in hand on Norfolk. Bolt Prospects has declared the Binghamton Senators deceased.
In the crossover, Bridgeport beat Portland 5-4, Providence fell to Manchester 2-1, and the Hartford Wolf Pack were idle. So, the Admirals remain 5 points up on the 5th place team in the Atlantic (Bridgeport), move 7 points up on the 6th place team (Providence) with the Bruins holding 2 games in hand, and the Admirals move 11 points up on 7th place Hartford with the Pack holding 3 games in hand. If the Admirals were to fall to 4th in the East Division, they would have to finish ahead of the 5th place team in the Atlantic to make the postseason.
It's an epic clash tomorrow between the Admirals and the Rats with 2nd place in the division potentially up for grabs.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
Don Simek makes sure the Crunch will sleep with the fishes.
Dustin Tokarski allowed 2 goals on 22 shots for the win.
NOR Simek, (17) (Lashoff, Tarkir), 4:21 (PP)
NOR Tyrell, (5) (Lashoff, Parrish), 19:40
SYR Bell, (10) (MacKenzie), 2:26 (PP)
SYR LaVallee-Smotherman, (6) (Sestito, Frischmon), 19:32
NOR Simek, (18) (Szczechura, Mihalik), 15:54
Juraj Simek and Matt Lashoff were the game's first and second stars. Simek, the Don of the Presov Mafia, is now 2 goals shy of the first 20 goal season of his AHL career and has had multi-point nights in each of the past two games.
Vladimir Mihalik, the Luca Brasi of the family, assisted on Simek's winner and finishes the month of February at +13 with 6 out of 11 games at +2 or better. He had only one minus game the entire month, and had 2 goals and 5 points, too. He's now 2 points shy of his AHL career high of 16 points set in his rookie season.
Norfolk moves back into a tie for 2nd in the East Division at 70 points with Albany. The Rats are losing 4-2 late in the third period to Portland as of this posting. If that score holds up, all will be square with Albany holding 1 game in hand. Norfolk picked up 1 point on 4th place Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, which lost in a shootout to Hershey 2-1. They are now 7 points back of the Admirals with 3 games in hand. Norfolk also picks up 2 points on idle Adirondack, which is 10 points back with 3 games in hand. The Crunch are now 12 points back with 2 games in hand, but are on a 2 game losing streak and sub-.500 in their last 10 games. They're falling out of the mix quickly. Binghamton is being fitted for a toe tag. They're now 20 points behind the Admirals and not even 6 games in hand can save them.
In the crossover, the Atlantic's 5th and 6th place teams, Bridgeport and Providence, are idle, so Norfolk is now 7 points up on Bridgeport and 9 points up on Providence with the Sound Tigers holding 1 game in hand and the Bruins holding 3 games in hand. Hartford, which is tied in points with Providence, is down 3-1 to Lowell in the 2nd period as of this posting. They'll burn one of their 2 games in hand they hold over the Admirals, win, lose, or draw tonight. If the Admirals were to fall to 4th in the East Division, they would have to finish above the 5th place team in the Atlantic Division to make the postseason.
So, it was a critical weekend, and the Admirals got their minimum requisite 4 of 6 points and came 1 goal shy of really burying the Phantoms' playoff chances too. That leaves Norfolk in a very nice position schedule-wise for the rest of the season. The Admirals have just 5 games left on the road and 12 games left at the friendly confines of The Scope left on the schedule. That's a potentially huge advantage for the Admirals down the stretch. Compare that to Albany, which has just 7 home games left this season.
And, on a very nice note, the Admirals' win tonight places them at 19-13-3 this season on the road, so they've clinched a better than .500 road record. That's pretty impressive for a team that was 10 games under .500 away from Scope last year. Their 33 wins also ties their win total of all last year and they are just 5 points shy of their point total for all last season, too. The corner is being turned. It'll be interesting to see if the Admirals can finish off this run they're on and clinch home ice for the first round of the playoffs, and if they'll be able to utilize some of the Lightning's best prospects as ATO's once their junior seasons are over to help push the team over the top in the postseason.
Expect a couple of moves with the Lightning returning to work on Tuesday. Janus heading back down seems a certainty, and my money is on Parrish moving back up as well.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
Don Simek is so money in shootouts it's painful.
BNG- 2 (SO)
Dustin Tokarski allowed 2 goals on 37 shots and stopped 3 of 4 shooters to secure the shootout victory.
BNG Smith, (11) , 2:05 (SH)
NOR Bochenski, (21) (Simek, Tarkir), 7:53
BNG O'Brien, (5) , 16:05
NOR Jones, (7) (Simek, Lawrence), 2:05
NOR- Szczechura, Simek, Jones
Tokarski and Brandon Bochenski were the game's first and third stars.
Juraj Simek, the Don of the Presov Mafia, remained perfect in shootout attempts this season to go along with his pair of regulation helpers. His enforcer, Vladimir Mihalik, was +2 in the game. That pushes Mihalik's +/- for the month of February to +11 with one more game left this month. He's been +2 or better in 5 of 10 games in that span. Mihalik's career best season was a +9 set in his rookie season, and he is now at +8 so far this year.
Blair Jones scored his first goal since being reassigned from Tampa Bay and scored the clinching goal in the shootout session to send the paying faithful in Binghamton to their automobiles.
Mark Parrish missed tonight's game after getting nicked in the game against Adirondack. He is questionable for tomorrow, as is whether Interim Head Coach Leigh Mendelson will ride Tokarski for a third straight game, insert PTO Matt Lundin, or if the Lightning will FedEx Jaroslav Janus to Syracuse in time for the key 4-point matchup.
It was a critical win for Norfolk because almost all of their competition in the East Division playoff race won tonight. 2nd place Albany beat Manchester 5-2 to stay 2 points up on Norfolk with 1 game in hand. 4th place Wilkes-Barre/Scranton dismantled Providence 5-1 to stay 6 points back of Norfolk with 3 games in hand. 5th place Adirondack pulled out a 3-2 shootout win against Lowell to stay 8 points back of Norfolk with 2 games in hand. 6th place Syracuse was the only team that didn't keep pace. They fell 2-1 to Springfield and are now 10 points back of the Admirals with 3 games in hand. If Norfolk can beat the Crunch tomorrow afternoon, it may be the straw that breaks their back. Binghamton is done. They're 18 points back with 5 games in hand, but they're also 2-7-1 in their last 10 games. Which team needs a fork stuck in them? Bingo is their name-o.
In the crossover, Hershey beat 5th place Atlantic Division team Bridgeport like the Sound Tigers had stolen a large sum of money from Chocolate Town. The 9-2 spanking drops Bridgeport 5 points back of Norfolk. 6th place Providence falls 7 points back of Norfolk with 2 games in hand. They are now tied in points with Hartford, which lost 2-1 to Portland in overtime. Hartford has 1 game in hand on the Admirals. So, the Admirals did gain ground in the crossover. If Norfolk were to drop to 4th in the East Division, they must finish ahead of the 5th place team in the Atlantic to make the postseason.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
Another successful hit for the Presov Mafia.
Dustin Tokarski allowed 3 goals on 37 shots for the win.
NOR Fadden, (4) (Jones, Szczechura), 7:51
NOR Bochenski, (20) (Parrish, Wishart), 19:11
BNG Smith, (9) (Bass, Condra), 16:32
NOR Craig, (19) (Tyrell, Hall), 7:28
BNG O'Brien, (4) (St. Pierre, Hennessy), 8:54 (PP)
BNG Smith, (10) (Condra), 9:46
NOR Mihalik, (2) (Hall, Tyrell), 17:28
Vladimir Mihalik and Ryan Craig were the game's first and third stars. Mihalik, the Luca Brasi of the Presov Mafia, has 2 goals in his last 6 games after going 51 games without a marker. More to the point, though, Mihalik is +9 so far in the month of February with 4 games with a +2 rating or better.
Dana Tyrell posted his 4th multi-point game in the past 6 outings. Ty Wishart continued to inch toward the 30 point plateau with his 27th point of the season. Brandon Bochenski became the first Admiral to hit 20 goals this season, with Craig 1 back at 19.
It's a tribute to the veteran leadership of the team that they got the young players prepared and ready to go tonight, and congratulations to Interim Head Coach Leigh Mendelson on his first AHL victory.
The win is critical, as Norfolk is now tied for 2nd place in the East Division at 66 points with Albany with the Rats holding 1 game in hand. They extended their lead to 6 points over 4th place Wilkes-Barre/Scranton with the Pens having 2 games in hand and 10 points over 5th/6th place Adirondack and Syracuse with each of those teams also holding 2 games in hand. The win also might've been the final nail in Binghamton's coffin, as they are now 17 points behind Norfolk, and not even 5 games in hand seem likely to save them.
In the crossover, Bridgeport fell to Abbotsford in regulation tonight, so Norfolk opened a 3 point lead on the 5th place team in the Atlantic, and a 7 point lead on 6th/7th place Providence and Hartford with the Bruins and Pack holding 2 and 1 game in hand, respectively. If Norfolk were to fall to 4th in the East Division, they would need to finish ahead of the 5th place team in the Atlantic to make the postseason.
Now things get interesting starting Friday with the Admirals having back-to-back-to-back games. They can really damage Adirondack's chances in a big 4-point contest to start the marathon, followed by another game in Binghamton on Saturday, and then concluding with a game against Syracuse that could further winnow the field of playoff contenders in the East Division. If Norfolk were to win at least those two big 4-point games, they might be able to narrow the playoff field in the division down to 4 teams effectively fighting for 3 spots: Albany, Norfolk, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, and whoever ends up being the 5th place team in the Atlantic Division. Will Norfolk's coaching situation be sorted out in the next 45 or so hours? And, with Jaroslav Janus serving as practice netminder in Tampa, will PTO Matt Lundin have to make his AHL debut in one of the weekend's three contests?
Box score from TheAHL.com.