Admirals defeat WhaleMarch 10, 2012 - American Hockey League (AHL) Connecticut Whale
Connecticut youth hockey alumni Brian Leetch, who was raised in Cheshire and is a Hockey Hall of Famer, and Fairfield native Julie Chu, a three-time Olympian and all-time leading scorer in women's college hockey while at Harvard, fittingly got the special night started by dropping the ceremonial first puck.
Leetch, who spent most of an 18-year NHL career with the New York Rangers and ended it with the Boston Bruins, and Chu were then inducted during the first intermission of the Connecticut Whale's game with the Norfolk Admirals with former Hartford Whalers standouts Mike Liut, Pat Verbeek and Blaine Stoughton, the late William E. Barnes, a founder of the New England Whalers, and Hartford Wolf Pack/Whale icon Ken Gernander, who had to take a break from trying to guide his troops to a third consecutive victory against the AHL's No. 1 team.
But the torrid Norfolk Admirals spoiled the party, taking advantage of two rather fortuitous bounces to carve out a 3-1 victory, their AHL-high 14th in a row, before 6,314.
There were no late Whale histrionics on a night that ended with the teams milling around in center ice after the final horn sounded. The pushing and shoving came after an Admirals clearing attempt caromed off Whale defenseman Tim Erixon at the blueline to All-Star rookie Corey Conacher, who got the puck to Tyler Johnson for an empty-net goal with 41.5 seconds left.
On Friday night, the Whale pulled Chad Johnson for a sixth attacker, and Kris Newbury scored with 4.9 seconds left to send it to overtime, leading to a 4-3 shootout victory over the Northeast Division-leading Bridgeport Sound Tigers. But Jaroslav Janus, filling in for Dustin Tokarski, on recall to the parent Tampa Bay Lightning, stonewalled the Whale after Tyler Johnson won a faceoff from Kelsey Tessier back to Mike Kostka, whose 55-footer dipped past Chad Johnson on the glove side for the winner at 1:56 of the third period.
Janus stopped all nine shots he faced after Kostka scored to notch his sixth consecutive victory as the league-leading Admirals (41-18-1-2) swept the four-game season series with the Whale and retained an eight-point lead in the East Division over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, who beat the Sound Tigers 5-4 in a shootout Saturday night. The Whale fell two points behind the Sound Tigers.
"It was obviously a tough goal (by Kostka) to give up in a tight game, but it was kind of a weird shot that dropped at the end," said Chad Johnson, who is 9-4-0 in 14 starts in the last 16 games while allowing more than three goals only once. "It was a close game, but for the most part I thought we took it to them and did pretty well. But it comes down to one goal, and sometimes it's just a save or a bounce.
"When you're hot, you're hot. It's kind of like us last month when we found ways to win hockey games. They're getting bounces right now, their goalie is making saves, sometimes lucky saves, but it doesn't matter. They're finding ways to win, and you've got to do that when you win as many games as they have in a row."
The Whale (30-20-5-5) had been on an 11-3-1-0 run and won seven in a row at the XL Center to compile the AHL's best home winning percentage of .741 (17-4-2-4).
The Whale led after an evenly played first period on the eighth goal by Tommy Grant, who backhanded in the rebound of a shot by Scott Tanski at 8:11 after the fellow rookie wing's strong rush down right wing.
After neither team could convert on a power play early in the second period, the Admirals got their first fortunate bounce to tie it at 12:17. A bouncing puck went over the stick of Whale wing Andreas Thuresson to Alex Hutchings, who passed into the slot to Mike Angelidis for a one-timer that beat Johnson high to the glove side for his 14th goal.
Janus kept the Admirals ahead with 32.7 seconds left in the period when he made a spectacular glove save on Brendan Bell's laser from the left circle during the Whale's second power play.
Given that reprieve, the Admirals took the lead for good 1:56 into the third period as Tyler Johnson won a faceoff from Tessier back to Kostka, who scored his ninth goal from long range.
Johnson then got his glove on Tyler Johnson's bid off right wing on a 2-on-1 at 5:12. Moments later, Janus stopped a breakaway by All-Star Jonathan Audy-Marchessault, who punched the glass after being denied the 20th goal of his rookie season.
"I was trying to go five-hole, but (Janus) didn't even know he had the puck," Audy-Marchessault said. "I've just lost my confidence in shootouts, scored one all year. It's terrible, so I have to be more patient, move the goalie side to side or do something. I think I like panic when I have an opportunity like that. A guy like me should be more comfortable around the net."
Within two minutes of denying Audy-Marchessault's breakaway, Janus turned aside Tessier's bid from 25 feet in the slot and somehow stopped Bell's shot through a bevy of players. Then with the teams skating four aside, Chad Johnson kept the Whale in it when he stopped Tyler Johnson's breakaway with 5:58 left and All-Star Trevor Smith breaking in off left wing on a 2-on-1 with 4:12 to go.
But after Chad Johnson was pulled with 1:04 left, Tyler Johnson clinched it with his team-high 23rd goal.
"In general, we stacked up pretty well, but games are going to be that tight and decided by small margins, you have to be that much more diligent," Gernander said. "I think we made a couple of mistakes like the bad lineup on a faceoff that obviously cost us. While they got some bounces, that didn't ultimately decide the game.
"It was a good, close game, and there wasn't a lot of offensive opportunities. Their goalie played well, as did Johnson, and I thought we had a couple of chances where we missed the net. You can't be too fine. You don't want shoot like into his guts or his pillows (pads), but you do have to hit the net. I gave Tanski credit on the 3-on-1 where the pass had been taken away, and he takes the shot and Tommy Grant goes to the net for the rebound. That's hockey, too."
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