Admirals Begin Playoff Run With A 3-2 Win
The Norfolk Admirals concluded the regular season on a pro-hockey record 28-game winning streak to finish the 2011-12 season with an AHL-best 113 points.
The Admirals didn't skip a beat in their playoff opener against the Manchester Monarchs on Friday night, winning 3-2 in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series at Norfolk Scope Arena.
Although the win won't count in terms of extending Norfolk's winning streak, it gives the Admirals a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five series and gets them off to a much-needed quick start in their opening-round series.
"These are the playoffs and it's a completely new game," Admirals forward Alexandre Picard said. "In the first playoff game, you're always nervous and sometimes make plays that you otherwise wouldn't. But it's great for us to just get that first win in the bag."
The backbone in Norfolk's 3-2 win was Jaroslav Janus, who stopped 27 of 29 shots while somewhat surprisingly starting in goal in favor of the AHL's regular-season wins leader Dustin Tokarski.
"I think we have two great goalies and that's an unbelievable luxury to have," Norfolk head coach Jon Cooper said. "Tokarski was feeling a little under the weather all week and Janus was fresher. I don't think it matters who is in the net for us because we have confidence that both guys can give us a chance to win every night."
For Janus, a third-year pro out of Slovakia, the win was the first professional playoff win of his career and his 16th straight victory dating back to the regular season. During Janus' 16-game winning streak, he has a 1.43 goals-against average and .944 save percentage.
As a team, the Admirals have now allowed just 11 goals during their past nine games, after they finished the regular season with the fewest goals-against in the Eastern Conference.
From an offensive standpoint, Alexandre Picard (1g, 1a) and Trevor Smith (1g, 1a) were the Admirals' top performers, as both players scored power-play goals in the second period's opening 3:39 to turn a modest 1-0 lead into a comfortable 3-0 lead and chase 2012 AHL All-Star goalie Jeff Zatkoff from Manchester's crease.
If there was any disappointment for the Admirals in Game 1, it was the fact that they allowed the Monarchs to score two third-period goals and turn what should have been a comfortable Norfolk win into nail biter that required a penalty kill in the game's final two minutes to seal the victory.
"I thought that we took penalties every time we got the play rolling in our favor," Cooper added. "We weren't as disciplined as we need to be in the third period and we're really lucky that we didn't get burnt."
Despite Manchester's spirited comeback attempt, the Admirals led for all but the game's opening 6:39 on Friday night.
The winner of this season's Eddie Shore Award as the AHL's top defenseman, Mark Barberio, gave Norfolk an early lead it never relinquished by ripping a shot over Zatkoff's glove hand from the right point, off of a clean faceoff win by Picard.
Although the Admirals bent under the Monarchs' furious third-period pressure which included two goals in the game's final 10:07, Norfolk never broke and picked up an important home-ice win to start the series.
"We only have two home games and this is a five-game series," Cooper added. "We want to be able to go up to Manchester next week and only have to win one game. We took care of business tonight, but we'll need a much better effort tomorrow if we want to go up 2-0."
The Admirals and Monarchs will have less than 24 hours to prepare for Game 2, as the teams are right back in action on Saturday night at 7:15 p.m.
Saturday's game will be the final contest of the series in Norfolk, as all three possible remaining games are scheduled to for Manchester's home ice next week.