Entering Game 2 of the Calder Cup Finals, the Norfolk Admirals were riding a remarkable seven-game playoff winning streak where they outscored their opponents at a rate of 23-4.
The Admirals built on both impressive marks on Saturday night, blitzing the Toronto Marlies by getting a 4-2 win at Norfolk Scope Arena and taking a 2-0 edge in the best-of-seven Calder Cup Finals series.
“This was a much tougher game than last night,” said Admirals head coach Jon Cooper. “Toronto gave us a real push tonight. But getting two wins at home puts the pressure squarely on them. What we’ve done in the series’ first two games has given them no margin for error for the rest of the series.”
Norfolk’s latest win was paced by a deluge where it scored three straight goals to break open a game that was tied 1-1 late in the second period, staking itself to a comfortable lead that it took to the final buzzer despite a Marlies goal in the game’s final minute.
The AHL’s leader in playoff scoring, Alexandre Picard, started the surge which led the Admirals to victory by depositing the rebound of an Evan Oberg point shot past Marlies goalie Ben Scrivens at 15:17 of the second period.
For Picard, a former Columbus Blue Jacket first-round draft pick (2004), the goal was his league-best 16th point (9g, 7a) in this year’s Calder Cup Playoffs.
Brandon Segal and Trevor Smith followed up Picard’s goal by scoring two straight third-period goals to extend Norfolk’s lead to 4-1, with Segal’s goal proving to be the game-winner and Smith’s goal giving him 15 playoff points (5g, 10a) and the AHL’s second-highest playoff point total behind his teammate, Alexandre Picard.
“Smith is one of those quiet players that doesn’t do anything great, but does everything well,” said Cooper. “He isn’t blessed with great speed, but he gets to the puck before everybody else. He doesn’t have the hardest shot, but he finds ways to get them in the net. He’s just a solid two-way player. Plus, he has a big heart.”
Other key offensive contributors for the Admirals were former Marlie Keith Aulie (2a), team captain Mike Angelidis (2a) and one of the Lightning’s highest-touted forward prospects, Richard Panik (1g, 1a).
Panik’s Game 2 performance earned him second-star honors on a night when he opened the game’s scoring by leading a spectacular solo rush up the right-wing boards that resulted in him blowing past Marlies defenseman Mark Fraser and firing a shot that avoided a wayward poke-check attempt by Ben Scrivens.
“Panik is such a big-time talent,” said Cooper. “His goal tonight was a big-time goal. I thought him scoring in the way he did really got us going tonight, and got our crowd into it.”
Panik’s goal was one of four that Toronto goalie Ben Scrivens allowed on the 32 shots he faced, while Dustin Tokarski stopped 30 of the 32 shots he faced, having only given up a first-period power-play goal to Joe Colborne and a late third-period goal to defenseman Juraj Mikus.
Tokarski’s sixth straight win improved his record to 10-2 in this playoff year, giving himself a 1.63 goals-against average and .940 save percentage that lead all AHL playoff goaltenders.
“We have guys out there doing anything and giving everything in the defensive end,” said Tokarski. “The guys block shots and clear stuff out. And if anybody on the other team even touches me, we have guys stepping up to shove them out of the way. Our defensemen make life much easier for me. It’s really special to be a goalie on this type of team.”
Now that the Admirals have taken care of business by winning the series’ first two games on home ice, they’ll depart for their final road trip of the season, playing the first of potentially three straight games at a Ricoh Coliseum that will become the first venue in the hockey-mad city of Toronto to host a professional-hockey championship-series game since 1967.
“It’s going to be a difficult environment,” added Tokarski. “But we have the veterans who will show the way. We just have to play a hard, simple game and not over-think it. If we keep it simple up there, we’ll be fine.”
After Game 3 on Thursday night, Game 4 will be played in Toronto next Saturday, with the series’ potential Game 5 slated to be played in Toronto next Sunday.
If the Marlies can win two of the three games in Toronto, the series would return to play both Game 6 and Game 7 in Norfolk. If Toronto can’t win two of the next three games, the Admirals will be crowned as 2012’s Calder Cup champions.