Starting a stretch where three straight games in their Eastern Conference Semifinals series would be played on the road, the Norfolk Admirals' sentiment entering Sunday night's Game 3 in Hartford was that they weren't worried about their ability to get a win on the Whale's home ice.
The Admirals' pregame sentiment proved to be prophetic in Game 3, as Norfolk got a 4-3 win over the Connecticut Whale to run its road winning streak to 16 straight victories, while also taking claim to a 2-1 advantage in the best-of-seven series.
"We went on the road early in the season and really bonded," said Admirals captain Mike Angelidis. "We take long bus trips on the sleeper bus and being together so much makes us a close team. I think we're so comfortable on the road because we're such a tight-knit group."
The key to Sunday night's Admirals win was a dominant second period in which Norfolk scored three straight goals to take a 4-2 lead through 40 minutes. The Admirals' three-goal second period erased a 2-1 lead that the Whale held through one period, with Connecticut's advantage coming as the result of a disputed goal on which it appeared that Andre Deveaux used a distinct kicking motion to score and snap a 1-1 tie.
"I thought it was kicked in by somebody," said Admirals head coach Jon Cooper. "But from where I was standing, it looked like it might have even been kicked in by our own guy. There were a lot of guys going to the net and that could have gone in off of anybody. It was hard to see, so I don't fault the refs."
One of the Admirals' highest scorers in the playoffs, Alex Killorn, scored a power-play goal 11:31 into the second period to eliminate the Whale's lead, giving the former 2007 Lightning draft pick nine points (3g, 6a) in seven playoff games.
Trevor Smith gave the Admirals the lead 45 seconds after Killorn's game-tying goal, parking himself in front of the net and deflecting a Mark Barberio point shot past Cam Talbot.
Mike Angelidis, the Admirals' captain, then boosted Norfolk's lead to 4-2 by shrugging off a check and stuffing home a rebound from point-blank range with just under three minutes left in the second period.
"Just look at the goals we scored in that second period," said Cooper. "Talbot couldn't see any of them. We kept getting a bunch of guys in the blue paint and if you make it hard for a goalie to see a puck, you have a much better chance of scoring."
Despite the Admirals having the better of the play in the third period, Casey Wellman, the Connecticut skater who opened the night's scoring, fired a slap shot past Tokarski to draw the Whale back to within one of the Admirals early in the third period.
However, Tokarski held the fort for the Admirals down the stretch of the third period, finishing with 27 saves on 30 shots to improve his record to 4-1 in the playoffs.
"They were really pressing," said Angelidis. "Obviously, they are going to throw everything they have at us in the third. They were dumping pucks in, going good and their changes were good. We just kept trying to chip pucks out as best we could to help Tik (Tokarski) out."
An Admiral who particularly helped out Tokarski was Ondrej Palat. Often praised by Jon Cooper for his strong penalty-killing abilities, Palat also scored a goal on the night, using a spurt of speed to give himself a shorthanded breakaway on which he beat Talbot with a tricky forehand-to-backhand deke to tie the game at 1-1 in the first period.
"They're a good team, but they take some risks on the power play," said Cooper. "We had some good jump in our legs on the PK tonight. We had two breakaways back-to-back. Tyler Johnson tried the same move and didn't score and Palat tried the same move and did score."
If Palat's goal came as a result of a move that had just been tried, the Admirals will try to duplicate many of the same things which made them successful in Game 3 when they play Game 4 tomorrow night.
"We know we're going to have to come out even harder tomorrow," added Angelidis. "These guys don't want to go down 3-1 in the series, so they're going to lay it all on the line. We're going to have to be prepared to come out from the get-go."