CHANCE TO SEAL THE SERIES...
The Norfolk Admirals’ 1-0 overtime win in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Monday night was the Lightning affiliate’s fifth straight playoff win, dating back to a 4-0 victory over the Connecticut Whale in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Having won five consecutive games, the Admirals are now just five total wins away from winning the Calder Cup.
But before Norfolk can fulfill its championship dreams, it will first have to find a way to close out its third-round series against the St. John’s IceCaps.
The Admirals have four chances to secure the final win that would eliminate the IceCaps, with the first opportunity coming in Tuesday night’s Game 4 in St. John’s.
“You have to win four games and not three, and we know we haven’t accomplished anything yet,” said Admirals head coach Jon Cooper just minutes after Pierre-Cedric Labrie’s overtime goal won Game 3 on Monday. “If we’re fortunate enough to get another win, it’ll be something that this organization will always be able to look back at and be proud of.”
Although the Admirals advancing to the Calder Cup Finals would be an accomplishment for the entire Lightning organization, Norfolk knows that now is no time to congratulate itself, given that, as one of the most common hockey adages goes, “the last game in a series is the hardest to win.”
While the Admirals seek the single win they’ll need to take the series, the IceCaps are seeking just one win to prolong their season and allow Game 5 to be played in St. John’s on Saturday night.
“One game at a time, one period as a time, one shift at a time,” said IceCaps defenseman Brett Festerling. “I think it’s really cliché, but that’s what we’ve got to do.”
While Norfolk’s cliché de jour on Tuesday offered a precautionary tale about counting its championship eggs before they’ve hatched, and St. John’s’ cliché echoed the often-relayed message of taking things one shift at a time; IceCaps head coach Keith McCambridge had perhaps the most practical take on the series.
“I thought our overall game (Game 3) was the best game we’ve played in this series,” McCambridge said. “I know our team digs in and gives everything it has. If anybody can dig themselves out of this hole, it’s that character, that personnel right here.”
For the IceCaps to have a chance to dig themselves out of their 0-3 hole, they’ll first have to solve Dustin Tokarski, who has allowed only two goals in his last three games while riding a shutout streak of 99:46 into tonight’s Game 4.
“We’ve been really aggressive,” said Cooper. “I think we’re stopping most of their shots from even getting through. Good defense has a lot of layers to it and right now, it’s working well for us, from our goaltender on out.”
The IceCaps are expected to give Eddie Pasquale his 15th straight playoff start on Tuesday. Pasquale, owner of a 7-7 record in this year’s playoffs, was named Game 3’s first star and has stopped 61of 64 shots over the last two games, after allowing four goals and getting pulled midway through the Admirals’ 6-1 win in Game 1 last Thursday.
WESTERN CONFERENCE PLAYOFF WATCH...
The winner of the Admirals/IceCaps series will advance to the AHL’s Calder Cup Finals to meet with winner of the Oklahoma City Barons/Toronto Marlies Western Conference Finals series.
The second-seeded Marlies, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ top affiliate, used a 5-3 win on Monday afternoon to take a 2-1 series lead over the first-seeded Barons, who are the top affiliate of the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers.
The Barons and Marlies are next in action on Wednesday night at Ricoh Coliseum in Toronto.
Monday, May 21, 2012
SET FOR GAME 3 IN ST. JOHN'S...
With the Eastern Conference Finals shifting to St. John’s for Game 3 on Monday night, the hometown IceCaps are faced with a daunting task.
After winning the Atlantic Division by an 11-point margin, posting a wonderful 43-25-5-3 regular-season record and advancing through two playoff rounds in their inaugural AHL season; the IceCaps are in a position where if they don’t solve the Norfolk Admirals on Monday night, they’ll fall into a nearly insurmountable 0-3 hole in the teams’ best-of-seven series.
Because although nothing is ever a certainty in professional sports, it would be hard to imagine that the IceCaps would be able to rebound from falling into an 0-3 hole against an Admirals team that they’ve lost five of six matchups against this season, which has outscored its opponents 15-3 while winning each of its last four playoff games.
ROAD RULES APPLY...
“We held serve by winning our home games, so now we’re going to have to go win in a tough place on the road,” said Admirals head coach Jon Cooper following his team’s 3-1 win in Game 2 on Saturday. “We’re two games closer than they are, but there’s a lot of hockey to be played and it won’t be easy to go up to a place that sells out every night.”
But while the IceCaps’ home arena, Mile One Centre in St. John’s, will be the hardest road atmosphere that the Admirals have traveled into in this year’s playoffs, Norfolk’s recent road record suggests that it really doesn’t matter where the Admirals are playing these days.
Norfolk, owners of a 4-1 road record in the playoffs, has won 18 of its last 19 away games dating back to Feb. 5.
However, the Admirals’ road success extends even further back than Feb. 5, as Norfolk has only lost consecutive away games once this entire season (11/4-11/5).
Even with the both the series’ possible Game 6 and Game 7 scheduled to be played in Virginia, all the Admirals have to do to wrap up the series in St. John’s is avoid losing consecutive away games for the first time in six months. In fact, even just one Norfolk win in the next three games would guarantee that the Admirals would return home with a 3-2 series lead and two chances to advance to the Calder Cup Finals in front of their own fans.
“We know St. John’s is a good team,” said Admirals captain Mike Angelidis. “You don’t win as many games as they have this year by accident. We know they have a lot of pride and will give us a good game in front of their fans. We know that the series isn’t over and it isn’t going to be easy.”
While it would be out of character for this Admirals team to do anything except keep saying the right things and being respectful of their opponents, the fact of the matter is that the result of Game 3 will be very telling of how this series is going to unfold.
If the Admirals win, Norfolk would have four opportunities to win one game to advance to the Calder Cup Finals; if St. John’s wins, the IceCaps would take over the series’ momentum with a chance to draw even in Game 4 on Tuesday.
ABOUT THE VENUE...
Games 3-5 in the Eastern Conference Finals will be played at Mile One Centre in St. John’s, which is Lightning forward Teddy Purcell’s hometown that’s located in the Canadian province of Newfoundland & Labrador. While St. John’s is the newest AHL city with the IceCaps having been established just this season, the city itself is the oldest English-settled city on the North American continent (1497), located farther from Tampa than Los Angeles and further east than any municipality on the continent.
Saturday, May 19, 2012
READY FOR ROUND TWO...
Playoff series are filled with swing games where one team has the chance to take the decided advantage and the other has the opportunity to battle back from a deficit to get back on even footing.
The first swing game of the Norfolk Admirals’ best-of-seven Eastern Conference Finals series with the St. John’s IceCaps will take place on Saturday night, as Game 2 faces off at Norfolk Scope Arena at 8:00 p.m.
Coming off a convincing 6-1 win in Game 1, an Admirals win tonight would give Norfolk a huge 2-0 advantage as the series shifts to play three straight games in St. John’s next week.
And while the Admirals’ large margin of victory in Game 1 may make it seem that Norfolk taking over the series is just a formality; history has shown that this is hardly the case.
When Norfolk first faced goalie Eddie Pasquale and the IceCaps, on Nov. 18 in St. John’s, the Admirals thumped the IceCaps to the tune of a 6-2 winning score.
The very next night, the IceCaps smothered the Admirals and got a 3-1 win in Maritime Canada.
“We started talking about what happened in November earlier today,” said Admirals captain Mike Angelidis. “We had a good game last game, but we have to realize that they rebound from this type of stuff and that they’re a really good team. Last game was probably not their best game, so we know they’re going to bring it tonight.”
In Nov., St. John’s elected to insert goalie Peter Mannino into its net in favor of Pasquale to change its momentum. However, Mannino, the only IceCaps goalie to beat the Admirals this season, is no longer on St. John’s’ roster.
BETWEEN THE PIPES...
Should the IceCaps decide to change their starting goalie in Game 2, they’d have to give David Aebischer his first start in this year’s playoffs.
Aebischer, a 34-year-old veteran who became the Colorado Avalanche’s top goalie after Patrick Roy’s retirement nine years ago, relieved Pasquale midway through Game 1 and allowed two goals on 12 shots, after taking two straight losses in a two-game Admirals sweep of the IceCaps in Norfolk in March.
But since the IceCaps decided not to hold a morning skate on Saturday, it’s anybody’s guess who St. John’s head coach Keith McCambridge will decide to start in tonight’s game.
Although history would lean towards St. John’s giving Aebischer the start, conventional wisdom of “going with who got you where you are” would dictate that Pasquale would get another chance.
After all, despite the shellacking he sustained in Game 1, Pasquale, a goalie who earned his AHL roster spot this year after spending parts of last season with the ECHL’s Gwinnett Gladiators, had started every prior IceCaps playoff game this season, while compiling a league-best 346 playoff saves.
But whoever St. John’s starts in goal, the formula for the Admirals should be the same, since, like clockwork, they’ve dominated their playoff opponents when establishing a strong net-front presence and been handily defeated when they’ve been unable to get net-mouth traffic.
“Hockey in the playoffs is all about dirty areas,” Angelidis added. “You’re just not going to score many tic-tac-toe goals in the playoffs. No team at this point is going to give you easy opportunities and the goalies are just too good for us to have success without consistently getting guys in the blue paint.”
ADMIRALS LINEUP REPORT..
The only Norfolk regular that didn’t play in Game 1 on Thursday was rookie Alex Killorn. Although everybody around the Admirals is keeping tight lips on what caused Killorn to miss the series’ first game, the former Harvard University star who graduates college in five days was a full participant in this morning’s practice on a line with Alexandre Picard and Richard Panik.
Thursday, May 15, 2012
RESTED AND READY...
After nearly a week since their last game, the Norfolk Admirals resume their drive towards a Calder Cup by beginning their best-of-seven Eastern Conference Finals series against the Winnipeg Jets’ top affiliate, the St. John’s IceCaps, on Thursday night in Norfolk.
The last time the Admirals were in action, Richard Panik scored a dramatic overtime goal to eliminate the Connecticut Whale just moments after being struck in the face with a slap shot earlier in the night.
Panik’s goal, coupled with a third-period comeback that forced the overtime, gave Norfolk a tidal wave of momentum at the conclusion of the second round that it will seek to continue riding tonight, despite it having been six days since the Admirals’ last game.
“With this lay off, the guys are pretty eager to get back at it,” said Admirals head coach Jon Cooper. “When you go through two rounds of the playoffs, I don’t think there’s any motivation needed to pick up where we left off, though.”
In Thursday morning’s team skate, the Admirals had a completely healthy lineup, minus defenseman Richard Petiot who has missed most of the season and forward Eric Neilson, who wasn’t on the team’s Clear Day roster following a late-season surgery.
GETTING THE GO IN GOAL...
With the Admirals at nearly 100 percent health, the only lineup question that remains to be answered is who will start in goal tonight.
Norfolk’s two goalies, Dustin Tokarski and Jaroslav Janus, exited this morning’s practice at the same exact moment, which could possibly have been purposely orchestrated as a strategic maneuver to deke the IceCaps’ coaching staff that was sitting in the stands with pens in their hands.
Based on the amount of shots they each faced in practice, it appears that the Admirals will be going with Jaroslav Janus, who has stopped 52 of 53 shots over two starts since being inserted as Norfolk’s starting goalie following the team’s most recent loss in Game 4 against Connecticut.
Meanwhile, there was little uncertainty in IceCaps practice who’d be starting in goal tonight, as Eddie Pasquale has played every minute of every St. John’s playoff game so far.
“We’ve watched a lot of tape on Pasquale,” added Cooper. “He’s a big goalie that reminds me a lot of Talbot from Connecticut. He makes all the first saves, he’s big in the net and has good movement. We’re going to have to use the same strategies that we used against Talbot against Pasquale.”
During the regular season, Pasquale started only once against the Admirals, allowing six goals in a 6-2 Norfolk win in St. John’s on Nov. 18.
Pasquale took over as the IceCaps’ top goalie midway through the regular season by edging out former Colorado Avalanche netminder David Aebischer to become St. John’s’ number-one goalie.
Aebischer, a former two-time Swiss Olympian, started both games in a two-game series that the IceCaps and Admirals played in Virginia in March, when Norfolk got wins 21 and 22 of its pro-hockey record 28-game winning streak by taking consecutive 2-0 and 2-1 decisions.
“We had some injuries and callups in March,” said IceCaps head coach Keith McCambridge. “We’ll have some pieces in our lineup tonight that we didn’t have the last time we were in Norfolk. We think we played good hockey in the first round against Syracuse and got better in the second round against Wilkes-Barre. Right now, we’re happy where we’re at and focused on doing exactly what we have to do to keep getting better like we have.”