Whale top Admirals, tie series at 2-2
In hockey, momentum can be fickle.
Just as the Admirals had seemed to claim the series' momentum by winning consecutive games to take a 2-1 series lead, the Whale came back on Monday and got a 4-1 win in Game 4 to tie the best-of-seven Eastern Conference Semifinals at two wins apiece.
"Well, they scored more than we did," said Admirals head coach Jon Cooper. "They did what they had to do to win. They converted on their opportunities and I thought we made a push to tie it, but their goalie stood tall."
Without doubt, the Whale player that was the biggest reason for the series' latest momentum swing was goalie Cam Talbot. Talbot, the AHL goalie with the highest playoff save percentage, rebounded from allowing four goals in each of the last two games by stopping 19 of the 20 shots he faced in Game 4.
"They pack it in pretty well defensively," added Cooper. "They have a good goaltender that stands tall. As much as we didn't let him see pucks last night, he saw a lot more pucks tonight. We had our chances, though."
Talbot's only blemish was a third-period goal by Richard Panik that at the time, shrunk the Whale's lead to 2-1 with 12:18 remaining in regulation.
From an Admirals standpoint, Panik's goal, his first of the playoffs, was the high point of the night, given that the Lightning's second-round draft pick from 2009 broke a seven-game playoff pointless streak with his goal on which he displayed the electrifying talent for which he was drafted.
Panik's goal came when the rookie Slovakian right wing led a solo rush against two Connecticut defensemen and squeezed a snap shot between Talbot's blocker and the crossbar, from just beyond the top of the left faceoff circle.
"Panik has one of the best shots in the league," said Cooper. "Hopefully that goal will give him confidence because we need more of him doing that."
Alex Killorn chipped the puck out of the defensive zone onto Panik's stick on the play, giving Killorn an assist that ties him with Alexandre Picard for the team's playoff scoring lead with 10 points, while also giving Killorn a seven-game point-scoring streak (3g, 7a).
"Killorn and (Alexandre) Picard were both on the ice for our goal," said Cooper. "They're both doing a lot of good things and have been great the whole playoffs. But we need to get more guys besides them going, too."
Despite Panik's goal, the Whale controlled the game's tempo for most of the night, with Connecticut getting the advantage on the scoreboard when Jonathan Audy-Marchessault scored in the last minute of the first period to give the home team a 1-0 lead.
Scott Tanski scored the eventual game-winning goal 3:56 into the second period, with the Whale's other two markers coming when Casey Wellman scored his third goal in the last two games to give Connecticut a 3-1 lead late in the third period, and when Kris Newbury added a late empty-net goal.
"It's hard when you get yourself down by two in the playoffs," said Admirals captain Mike Angelidis. "We got a goal back, but we can't keep getting down early. That allows them to stop taking chances and just shut it down."
Dustin Tokarski, the AHL's leader in goalie wins this season, finished with 20 saves in Game 4, while taking just his second loss in his last 19 starts.
"They were smart tonight," added Angelidis. "We didn't make it hard enough on them. They dug deep and their third and fourth-line guys played well and scored a goal. We're going to have to play a lot harder against them physically if we're going to win this series."
With the series tied 2-2, the teams will travel to play Game 5 in a neutral-site venue in Bridgeport, CT. on Wednesday, given that circus will be taking over Hartford's XL Center later this week.
Wednesday's Game 5 will be the final game of the series played in the state of Connecticut, with Game 6 and a possible Game 7 slated to be played in Norfolk this weekend.
"We're not going to dwell on this game," added Angelidis. "That won' help us. We just have to refocus and be ready to play the full 60 minutes on Wednesday."