Never in the 20-year history of the Lightning franchise has its lone AHL affiliate advanced in the Calder Cup Playoffs.
However, with Norfolk leading Manchester 2-1 in the teams’ best-of-five series, the Admirals have a chance to break that drought with a win tonight.
“Before last year, I don’t think a Lightning affiliate had ever made the playoffs,” said Admirals head coach Jon Cooper. “We climbed that first hurdle last season and we want to take it a step further this year. This organization has already taken a lot of steps, but if we could win tonight, it would be another definite step in the right direction.”
But while it’s hard to ignore the potential history at hand, the Manchester Monarchs are more than a formidable opponent, having snapped the Admirals’ 29-game winning streak in Game 2 and having hung tight into games throughout the series.
One major area where the Admirals have held a decided advantage over the Monarchs is in special teams.
Entering Game 4, Norfolk has successfully killed all 20 of Manchester’s power plays through three games, which is something that Monarchs assistant coach Scott Pellerin admits his team must improve upon to have a chance to avoid elimination.
“We worked on our power play this morning,” said Pellerin. “I think we’ve had opportunities, but just haven’t been able to score. I think Norfolk’s penalty-killing unit is very aggressive and they don’t give you much time and space. For us, it’ll come down to executing and getting more traffic in front of the net. Credit their coaching staff for getting the job done so far.”
Indications are that Dustin Tokarski will get the nod in goal tonight for the Admirals, while whispers around Verizon Wireless Arena on Friday morning say that Jeff Zatkoff will return to the crease for Manchester, after the 2012 AHL All-Star was pulled from Game 1 after allowing three goals on 13 shots.
Martin Jones had been the Monarchs’ starting goalie in both Game 2 and Game 3. Jones, a 2011 AHL All-Star, had stopped 56-of-58 shots in the series before Game 3, when he allowed four goals and was the losing goalie.
Manchester will also be without the services of enforcer Justin Johnson, who was suspended for one game as a result of three isolated slashing incidents against Admirals during pregame warmups before Game 3 on Wednesday.
For the Admirals, Mark Barberio was a full participant in the team’s morning skate and is expected to play tonight. Barberio had left Game 3 with an apparent injury, after Manchester’s Stefan Legein took a five-minute major boarding penalty against the Eddie Shore Award-winning defenseman midway through the third period.
Meanwhile, Tyler Johnson only participated in part of Norfolk’s morning skate on Friday. While Jon Cooper is keeping his lineup news tighter than Fort Knox, it doesn’t look like Johnson will play in Game 4. The 2012 AHL All-Rookie center hasn’t played since Game 1, when he left the ice with what’s being deemed an upper-body injury.
Wednesday, April 25
The Norfolk Admirals enter tonight’s Game 3 tied 1-1 in their best-of-five series with the Manchester Monarchs.
In addition to playing in a building they haven’t played in for the last 15 months, the Admirals are also in unfamiliar territory in that they’re faced with rebounding from a loss for the first time since early February.
“We’re a pretty mature team,” said Admirals head coach Jon Cooper. “As much as the loss stung on Saturday, we’ve already turned the page. We’re still 29-1 in our last 30 games and it’s hard to really beat the guys up too much for losing one game.”
However, despite his team’s good spirits, Cooper added that there’s still work for Norfolk to do to get back in the win column, given that the team has found itself shorthanded on 14 occasions through the series’ first two games.
“We’ve been a little bit of a streaky team taking penalties all year,” said Cooper. “From looking at the tape, there’s a bunch of the penalties that were called that I don’t think were really penalties. We’re playing a team that is trying to draw penalties and they don’t care how they do it. If the refs are going to call those kinds of penalties, we’re just going to have to be a lot smarter.”
In the Monarchs’ locker room, assistant coach Scott Pellerin says his team needs to continue to get contributions from its top players, including rookie forward Linden Vey, who scored two goals in Manchester’s Game 2 victory.
“Linden has played so well and been so consistent for us all year,” said Pellerin. “He’s one of those guys that finds open ice and makes plays. He scored two big goals for us in Game 2 and he’s a huge asset for us.”
Last season, Vey led the Western Hockey League with 116 points as a member of the Medicine Hat Tigers, narrowly edging out Norfolk’s Tyler Johnson, who compiled 115 points for the Spokane Chiefs.
Johnson’s 68 points with the Admirals this season were 25 more than Vey’s 43, however, Johnson has yet to score in this series, having left Game 1 on Friday with an undisclosed injury.
Johnson’s status is questionable for tonight’s game, while defenseman Radko Gudas is expected to be in the lineup after missing the series’ first two games with the flu.
Meanwhile, Jon Cooper has declared Dustin Tokarski as his starting goalie for Game 3. Tokarski has yet to play in the series after leading the AHL with 32 wins this season, with Jaroslav Janus having started the series’ first two games.
The site of Wednesday’s game, Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, N.H., is where Lightning forward Teddy Purcell played the entirety of his AHL career in 2007-08 and 2008-09. Playing for Manchester, Purcell compiled 83 points during the 2007-08 season, winning the same Red Garrett Memorial Award as the AHL’s rookie of the year that Norfolk’s Cory Conacher won this season.
Saturday, April 21
Just hours after the Admirals’ Game 1 win on Friday night, about half the team took to the ice for an optional morning skate on Saturday morning.
Fifteen Norfolk skaters participated in the morning skate, however, there were some notable absences.
Most notably, defenseman Radko Gudas
was only briefly seen at Norfolk Scope Arena in street clothes on Saturday morning. Gudas, one of the Lightning’s top defensive prospects, was held out of Game 1 with flu-like symptoms after missing just three games during the regular season. Gudas’ condition will be reassessed on Saturday afternoon and will be a gametime decision for tonight’s game.
Other Norfolk players who didn’t practice this morning were Scott Jackson
, Keith Aulie, Trevor Smith, Brandon Segal, Tyler Johnson
, Pierre-Cedric Labrie, Mike Angelidis and Jaroslav Janus
Although it wasn’t confirmed, Janus seems poised to get the start in Game 2 after stopping 27 of 29 shots on Friday night to claim his 16th straight victory.
The Monarchs wouldn’t confirm who’d be starting in goal for them on Saturday either. Both Martin Jones and Jeff Zatkoff faced a similar amount of shots in practice and left the ice at about the same time during the morning skate.
Common sense would dictate that Jones will get the start, given that he stopped all 19 shots he faced during a relief effort on Friday, after Zatkoff was pulled from the game after allowing three goals on 13 shots.
“Tonight, we need to do what we did in the third period last night,” said Monarchs assistant coach Scott Pellerin. “We know they’re a good team and earlier in the game, they moved the puck well and used body positioning to get a few goals on us. If we can battle for pucks how we did in the third period and not get out-positioned, we’ll have a much better chance tonight.”
While Manchester’s assistant coach’s message is for his team to build off of Friday’s final 10 minutes, Admirals assistant coach Mike Flanagan says his team needs to get back to playing how it did in the opening 50 minutes.
“We can’t let them back in the series like we let them back in the game last night,” said Flanagan. “Having good starts are always important, but tonight it’s important to get that team down early. But this time, we need to just keep scoring and making the lead bigger, while not drawing back once we have the lead.”
Saturday night’s contest is the final game scheduled for Norfolk’s home ice in the series, with all three possible remaining games slated to be played in New Hampshire next week.
An Admirals win tonight would give them a commanding 2-0 series lead and would mean that they’d just have to win once in Manchester to claim the best-of-five series. However, a Monarchs win would allow Manchester to return home on even footing and require Norfolk to get both remaining wins it needs to take the series on the road.
Friday, April 20
Leading up to the Admirals’ first playoff game against the Monarchs on Friday night at 7:30, the theme in both teams’ morning skates was a lack of familiarity with one another.
Norfolk and Manchester are the only pair of first-round opponents in the AHL which didn’t meet in the regular season. Only seven current Admirals were on the team the last time they faced the Monarchs on March 26, 2011. The Admirals and Monarchs met four times last season, winning two games apiece while each scoring 11 goals.
“There will definitely be a feeling out process,” said Admirals head coach Jon Cooper. “Watching video can only show you so much. There’s no substitute for getting in the trenches against a team and seeing how each of their lines play. We’ll know a lot more about Manchester after the first period tonight.”
In Monarchs camp, head coach Mark Morris says his team embraces its role as the underdog and needs to keep its game simple to chip away at the Admirals, one shift at a time.
“When you face a team that has the chemistry that Norfolk has, it’s a huge challenge,” said Morris. “They’re a pretty versatile team and have a lot of different wrinkles they can throw at you. It doesn’t change our strategy, but we’re going to have to be as sharp as we can be to try to come up with a gameplan to negate their offensive play. We have to be very respectful of their quickness and creativity.”
Admirals captain Mike Angelidis speaks with media in Norfolk.
Morris also indicated that he’s chosen to start 2012 AHL All-Star Jeff Zatkoff in goal for Game 1. However, neither Zatkoff or his backup, 2011 AHL All-Star Martin Jones, have played more than one game in a row since late March and Morris says it’s likely that both his goalies will have playing time in the series.
While Jon Cooper hasn’t confirmed his starting goalie for Friday night’s Game 1, Dustin Tokarski was the first Norfolk goalie off the ice in morning skate, which would make it seem that he’ll get the nod in tonight’s game.
Meanwhile, Norfolk captain Mike Angelidis skated alongside Michel Ouellet this morning and is expected to see his first game action since March 11.
The only player absent from the Admirals’ morning skate was defenseman Radko Gudas
, who has battled flu-like symptoms all week and is expected to be a gametime decision on Friday night.
Admirals morning line combinations:
Cory Conacher-Trevor Smith-Brandon SegalOndrej Palat
-Tyler Johnson-Richard Panik
Pierre-Cedric Labrie-Alexandre Picard-Alex Killorn
Michel Ouellet-Mike Angelidis
Philip-Michael Devos-Jon Kalinski Scott Jackson
Evan Oberg-Mark Barberio
Jean-Philippe Cote-Mike Kostka
Dustin Tokarski-Jaroslav Janus
The Admirals finished the regular season with a league-best 113 points and are attempting to become the 34th team in the AHL’s 76-year history to win the Calder Cup after posting the league’s best regular-season record.