The St. John’s Ice Caps have turned their best-of-seven series with the Norfolk Admirals in the Eastern Conference Semi-Final into a best-of-five, after the Caps clawed back in Game Two on Wednesday night, evening the series with a 2-1 win.
The Ice Caps closed out the opening pair of contests in their series at home, the Mile One Centre, desperate for a win before heading to Virginia for three games.
The first period was dry on the score-board, with neither team any closer to a victory after 20 minutes, despite a combined 31 shots in the frame.
Just a minute into the second period, however, the Admirals took a bench-minor penalty for Too Many Men, and the Ice Caps’ lack-luster power-play went to work, with only two goals in 25 opportunities this post-season.
It would be the Caps’ rookie breaking the ice, as Josh Morrissey scored his first professional hockey goal with only 11 seconds left in the penalty, on a shot through traffic in-front of Admirals goaltender John Gibson.
The Admirals would find themselves back on the penalty-kill just 45 seconds later, as Matt Bailey’s blood-inducing high stick earned him an extended stay in the penalty box. A bad pass by Norfolk defenseman Nolan Yonkman wound up in the back of the Admirals’ net, as captain Jason Jaffray scored his first goal of the post-season off the neutral-zone turnover.
The Ice Caps would finish the second period in penalty trouble, with back-to-back calls on Morrissey and Ben Chiarot, but the Caps’ 9th-ranked penalty kill kept the two-goal advantage heading into the final period, with St. John’s leading in shots 29-20.
The Caps seemed poised to hold on to their 2-0 lead with momentum building in the third, but a penalty to Blair Riley gave the Admirals a wide-open door to cut the lead, and they did just that. Chris Wagner gave Norfolk some life with less than 10 minutes remaining, but it would be as close as the visitors would come. The Caps’ defense was strong throughout, and St. John’s picked up the 2-1 win.
St. John’s goaltender Michael Hutchinson was the game’s First Star after making 31 saves, and his counterpart Gibson finished with 41, surpassing the 40 margin for the second straight game.
The Caps’ power-play got a much-needed statistical boost with the two goals, after clipping along at an 8% rate before the Morrissey goal. The Admirals’ penalty-kill, which had only allowed one goal on 22 opportunities before Wednesday, has been the best unit in both the regular-season and playoffs.
Patrice Cormier commented on the win over the outstanding play of the Admirals’ goaltender:
“It’s good to finally get rewarded. He’s a hell of a good goalie, one of the best in the league along with Hutch , but we’ve been working hard. We deserve it.”
The Admirals were without one of their top guns on defense on Wednesday, and will be for some time, after Sami Vatanen was recalled to their parent club, the Anaheim Ducks.
Game Three of the series won’t be until Saturday, May 10th, from the Scope Arena in Norfolk. Game Four and Five will be on Monday and Tuesday, and if necessary, the two teams will return to Mile One for games six and seven.
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