The Norfolk Admirals entered Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals on Friday night with the task of recovering from a Game 1 loss that came as a result of a flukey overtime goal.
The Admirals responded to the adversity by getting a 4-1 win over the Connecticut Whale on Friday night at Norfolk Scope Arena, tying the teams' best-of-seven series at one win apiece.
"We came out with a lot of jump tonight," said Admirals head coach Jon Cooper. "After the last game, we needed to take a step back to reflect. I was really happy with how we found our legs again tonight after the last game. It was a hard-nosed game at times and it wasn't a Picasso, but it was definitely a good win and we'll take it."
On a night that Norfolk outshot Connecticut 40-28, four different Admirals scored goals, including the team's top two goal scorers from the regular season, Cory Conacher and Tyler Johnson, who each contributed their first goals of the playoffs.
"I wasn't that worried about Johnson, since he hasn't played much in the playoffs," said Cooper. "But Conacher needed one. Not only did he score, but the shot he made was a real goal scorer's goal. You could see him getting his mojo back after his goal which is great, because we're going to need him to keep scoring."
Pierre-Cedric Labrie and the Admirals bounced back for a 4-1 victory in game 2.
Alex Killorn and Mike Kostka were Norfolk's two other goal scorers, with Killorn upping his playoff scoring numbers to eight points (2g, 6a) in six games and Kostka finishing with both a goal and an assist on the night.
"Killorn is big, he's strong, he can skate and he isn't afraid to go anywhere on the ice," said Cooper. "When he came to us, all he needed was experience to catch up and see what the pace of the game was like. Now, he's definitely all caught up."
Killorn's goal opened the game's scoring three minutes into the first period and Kostka's tally made the score 2-0 Admirals late in the first period, giving Norfolk a lead it never relinquished all night despite Connecticut's Andre Deveaux scoring a second-period power-play goal which momentarily shrunk the Admirals' lead to one.
"When we got the second goal, I was happy," said Cooper. "A lot of people always say that a two-goal lead is the hardest one to protect. But I'd much rather have a two-goal lead than a one-goal lead. They inched closer, but it was big when we got that two-goal lead back entering the third period."
Although the Whale still only trailed by one into the latter stages of the second period, Dustin Tokarski held Connecticut at bay, rebounding from his first loss in three months in Game 1 by putting forth arguably his best performance of the playoffs. Tokarski improved to 3-1 in the playoffs and was named the game's first star, finishing the night with 27 saves on 28 shots.
"Tik (Tokarski) is such a gamer," said Cooper. "After giving up the overtime goal on Wednesday, he came back tonight and just made save after save. You want guys like him who are winners on your team and we definitely wouldn't have won tonight without him."
Tokarski's counterpart, Cam Talbot, allowed four goals on 40 shots and took his first loss of the playoffs for the Whale, who had their four-game playoff winning streak snapped in defeat.
"We know exactly what it's like to get on a roll," added Cooper. "When you get on a roll, you start getting more confident. Hopefully we burst their bubble a little bit tonight."
But while Friday's Game 2 went to the Admirals by a convincing score, the game was hardly won without resistance. The teams combined for 84 penalty minutes in what was Norfolk's nastiest game in this year's playoffs, thus setting the stage for what looks to be an all-out war of an Eastern Conference Semifinals series.
"That team is going to play us hard," said Cooper. "They have good goaltending and are balanced all the way through their lineup, much like we are. I expect this series could be a long one."
With the teams having split two games in Norfolk, the series will shift to play its next three games in Connecticut, starting with Game 3 on Sunday night in Hartford.
Game 4 of the series will be held on Monday night in Hartford, with next Wednesday's Game 5 taking place at a neutral site in Bridgeport, CT. due to a scheduling conflict in the Whale's home arena.
"The road is fun for us," said Tyler Johnson. "Our team is really close. We have great chemistry and it's fun when we get to be with each other more whenever we're on the road. Our chemistry makes us feel comfortable that we'll be able to go on the road and get wins."