The Milwaukee Admirals have made an impressive push toward securing a spot in the American Hockey League’s Calder Cup Playoffs. The Nashville Predators’ top minor-league affiliate has won four of its last five games and, entering Friday’s action, sits in sixth in the Western Conference. As in the NHL, the top eight teams in each conference qualify for post-season play.
With three games remaining on Milwaukee’s regular season schedule, it’s going to be a tight finish. As of Thursday, just two points separated the fifth and eleventh spots. Thanks to tiebreakers and games in hand, the Admirals sit atop a group of five teams tied with 82 points. Milwaukee plays games on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and can clinch a spot in the playoffs if it earns four points in the standings. It is possible to clinch sooner though—as soon as Friday—through a combination of its own regulation win and losses by other teams.Chris Mueller
, Kyle Wilson
and Ryan Flynn
each chipped in three goals during the past five matches. Mueller, who leads the club in scoring, broke the 30-goal plateau—the first Admiral to do so since Rich Peverley in 2006-07—and now stands at 31 for the season.
For four days this week, goaltender Jeremy Smith
was in Nashville on a recall assignment from the Predators’ minor-league affiliate. Smith, who ranks second in the AHL in wins this season, took turns in the Nashville nets during practices to help rest Predators starter Pekka Rinne
a bit heading into the NHL playoffs.
On Tuesday, hours before the Admirals had a four-game win streak snapped in San Antonio, Smith shared his thoughts on what has keyed the Admirals’ late charge. “I think we’ve played a very well-rounded game,” he said. “We’ve scored goals. Our offense is clicking. We’re blocking shots. We’re sacrificing. We’re doing what it takes to win the games—the details. So we’ve put a good little run together but hopefully we can continue to find success.”
Smith, who turns 23 on Friday, also talked about the effect of losing forward Juuso Puustinen
for the remainder of the season after the Finnish prospect suffered a broken kneecap during an Admirals game in March. Puustinen (16 goals, 16 assists in 55 games) remains the sixth leading scorer on Milwaukee’s roster, and would have certainly been a helpful asset to have in the team’s quest to lock in a playoff spot.
“It’s unfortunate when a guy gets hurt,” Smith said. “It definitely is. It’s not fun to see a teammate and a good friend, to see him get injured and his season come to an end. But it’s not always the case where it’s like, ‘Oh, let’s throw in the towel.’ I think it’s more of an opportunity for guys to step up and grasp the challenge and thrive in the opportunity that they’re given. So maybe younger guys have the opportunity to step up and score big goals for us.”
As for Smith himself, he tried to soak in all he could during his brief time in Nashville.
“I think it’s good for me to get up here and see what it takes to prepare for an NHL series and the NHL playoffs,” he said. “I think it’s always good to get a call-up and get acclimated to the speed. I think this is just another good step toward becoming a full-time NHL goalie.”