As if coming up against the AHL’s number one team in the Calder Cup playoffs wasn’t enough, the Norfolk Admirals faced the challenge of losing two of their valuable offensive players to call-ups. The parent club, Tampa Bay Lightning, placed an emergency call-up for forwards Blair Jones and Mattias Ritola. The Lightning is down at least two players, one with an injury and one, Steve Downey, on a one-game suspension for a hit on Pittsburgh defenseman Ben Lovejoy.
Although the offensive depth of the Admirals is solid, with at least 20 goals scored in the 2010-11 season by 5 players, the undeniable chemistry and talent of Jones and Ritola leaves a hole in the Admirals lines. Reassessing and rearranging to accommodate those changes can make a difference in the team structure.
The task would seem simple with scoring champions Marc-Antoine Pouliot, Johan Harju, Paul Szczechura and Mike Angelidis on the ice. However, Angelidis is out with an injury and Szczechura was injured in the first period last night, needing the help of teammates to get off the ice to the locker room. Captain Chris Durno left the ice after just one shift and was not seen again. So now the challenge deepens.
Frustration was mounting among the fans as it seemed that one call after another was heaped onto the plagued Admirals. Johan Harju was called on two different occasions for slashing, seemingly one after the other. The Admirals handled those two penalty kills with strong defensive play and earned the respect among fans that they so deserved.
The Penguins earned another power play midway through the third period that resulted in their win of game 3. Pierre-Cedric Labrie was called on a double minor, resulting in a 4-minute advantage for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Stefano Giliati scored the lone goal for Norfolk from a Mathieu Roy rebound. Penguins goaltender Brad Thiessen was spot-on as usual, making 28 saves. Admirals net-minder Dustin Tokarski was solid in net, making 23 saves, but took the game loss. Once again, the young goaltender’s calm demeanor held out and he faced the challenges alongside his teammates.
The crowd was enthusiastic and supportive as the Admirals fought a hard-hitting, exhilarating game. The team played their hearts out but, in the end, gave up a heartbreaker to the Penguins.
Playoff action continues tonight at the Scope with a 7:15 start and Friday night with a 7:30 start. For more information, visit the Norfolk Admirals website.