The Norfolk Admirals entered Game 3 of their first-round series on Wednesday night looking to rebound from their first loss in two months.
Thanks to a quick-strike offense that gave Norfolk a lead less than a minute into the first period, the Admirals used a 5-2 win to take a 2-1 lead in their best-of-five series with the Manchester Monarchs.
“I really like what I saw in the first five minutes,” said Admirals head coach Jon Cooper. “It was important for us to get the lead. And to get the lead by two was important because I didn’t think a one-goal lead was going to be enough.”
Following a Brandon Segal goal at the 36-second mark of the first period, Pierre-Cedric Labrie scored the first professional playoff goal of his career 7:40 into the first period, giving Norfolk a lead it hung onto despite the Monarchs pulling to within one goal on two occasions.
Segal added a second goal into an empty net to finish the night’s scoring, while Norfolk’s two other goals were scored by Philip-Michael Devos and Alexandre Picard.
The goal scored by Picard, Norfolk’s leader in the series with four goals, made the score 4-2 late in the third period, during a five-minute Admirals power play which came as a result of a late hit by Stefan Legein that sent Eddie Shore Award-winning defenseman Mark Barberio head-first into the boards.
“Legein is one of those guys who plays on the edge,” said Cooper. “Sometimes that works out for him and sometimes it doesn’t. I know Legein has to play on an edge, but that hit was a tough one. Mark was up celebrating with his teammates after the game, so I think he’s going to be OK.”
Although he didn’t score a goal on Wednesday, Trevor Smith was also a vital offensive contributor, chipping in three assists that now give him five points (1g, 4a) through the series’ first three games.
Smith also played an integral role on the Admirals’ penalty kill, which went 6-of-6 on Wednesday to improve to a perfect 20-of-20 in the series.
“Smith was a big part of our penalty kill,” said Cooper. “Smith, Segal, Angelidis and Palat; all those guys played an important role on our penalty kill and it was one of the main reasons we won tonight.”
Dustin Tokarski made 25 saves on 27 shots to get the win in his first start of the series, after Jaroslav Janus went 1-1 in the series’ first two games last weekend in Virginia.
“Dustin is our last line of defense,” Cooper said. “We didn’t break down a lot tonight. But when we did, we broke down in a big way and Tokarski was there every time to bail us out.”
Another bright spot for the Admirals was defenseman Radko Gudas’ return to the lineup. Gudas, a bruising defenseman in the mold of Darius Kasparaitis, had missed the first two games of the series with the flu.
“I was really happy with how Gudas played,” remarked Cooper. “He’s always a warrior and guys know when he’s on the ice. Whenever he’s in the lineup, our whole team stands a little bit taller.”
While Norfolk was able to welcome Gudas’ return to the lineup, 2012 AHL All-Rookie center Tyler Johnson missed his second straight game with an undisclosed injury. When Johnson will return to the lineup is uncertain, however, head coach Jon Cooper said his condition isn’t serious.
“Johnson should be back soon,” said Cooper. “I can’t say exactly when. He does have an injury, but it isn’t serious and he should be back soon.”
The next possible chance for Johnson to return to the lineup will be for Game 4 this Friday, when the Admirals attempt to close out the Monarchs and advance to the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
“We know that winning the games to close a team out are the toughest in the series,” added Cooper. “When you close out a team quick, you get to rest and don’t have to use up energy to play another game. Winning on Friday is important to us for a lot of reasons. But we know this series isn’t even close to over.”