Coming off a 3-1 series victory over the Albany Devils, the St. John’s IceCaps face off against the eighth-seeded Norfolk Admirals (NHL affiliate of the Anaheim Ducks) in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference Semifinals. Like the Devils, the Admirals are yet another opponent the IceCaps did not face in the regular season.
St. John’s enters the series as the highest remaining seed in the Eastern Conference after the Manchester Monarchs (1), Springfield Falcons (2) and Binghamton Senators (3) were all upset in the first round. The Admirals bested the Monarchs in four games, becoming the first team to knock off a reg.-season conference champion in the first round since Iowa ousted Omaha in 2007.
While the clubs did not meet in 2013-14, they have an extensive history dating back to the IceCaps’ inception in 2011-12. St. John’s went 2-1-0-1 vs. Norfolk in 2012-13 and owns a 3-4-0-1 record all-time. The two teams also met in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2012, with Norfolk (then the affiliate for the Tampa Bay Lightning) sweeping St. John’s in four straight, including a pair of shutout victories at Mile One Centre.
Admirals winger Norm Ezekiel played nine games with the IceCaps in 2012-13, collecting 23 penalty minutes and a -3 plus/minus rating. He has yet to suit up in a game this postseason.
Backup goaltender Brad Thiessen was the starter for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in 2012 when they faced the IceCaps in the Eastern Conference Semifinals that St. John’s won in seven games.
Goaltending has been a strength for both teams in the regular season and the playoffs. Michael Hutchinson was stellar in the opening round for St. John’s, stopping 118-of-124 shots through four games (1.51 GAA, .952 SV%) and allowing one goal or fewer in all three wins. That performance came on the heels of a terrific regular season, when he went 17-5-1 with a 2.30 GAA and .923 SV% with three shutouts.
John Gibson was equally as impressive for the Admirals, winning three-of-four while only allowing six goals on 114 shots for a 1.42 GAA and.947 SV%. In the regular season, Gibson played 45 games, going 21-17-4 with a 2.34 GAA, .919 SV% and five shutouts.
While the IceCaps have their full roster available, the Admirals are missing several key players who are currently in Anaheim helping the parent club on its Stanley Cup run. Leading goal scorers Emerson Etem (24 goals, 54 points in 50 games) and Devante Smith-Pelly (team-high 27 goals in 55 games) may not be available to Norfolk for the series.
The IceCaps power play struggled for the final month of the season and that trend continued in the first round versus Albany, as they went just 2-for-19 (10.5%).The penalty kill, ranked ninth in the regular season, allowed four goals on 21 opportunities (81.0%) in the opening round and has killed off all 10 shorthanded situations in its last two games.
The Admirals scored once on 10 chances in their opening round series versus Manchester after finishing the regular season with the 22nd ranked power play. Norfolk boasted the AHL’s top penalty killing unit in the regular season (88.1%) and ranks second overall this playoffs at 94.1% (16-for-17).
Andrew Gordon’s hat trick in Game 4 was the second of his career in the playoffs and first in IceCaps postseason history. His four points are tied for tops on the team with defenceman Zach Redmond, who notched an assist in all four opening round games.
For Norfolk, forward Maxime Sauve has scored the game-winning goal in back-to-back games. Defenceman Sami Vatanen leads the club with three points – all assists – in four games.