NORFOLK, Va._Moments after the pinball game masquerading as a hockey showdown between the Norfolk Admirals and Hershey Bears concluded Wednesday, Norfolk coach Trent Yawney leaned back against a Scope wall in wonder.
“Halfway through the first period, I looked over at one of their coaches and we started laughing,’’ Yawney said moments after his team defeated the Bears 7-4 to clinch the Western Conference’s No. 3 playoff seed and its second consecutive South Division title. “It was truly bizarre.’’
That Norfolk won after trailing 2-0 and 4-2 was strange enough. But the fashion in which it pulled out the victory was astounding. Owners of the AHL’s third-best defense, the Admirals engaged in an uncharacteristic run-and-gun battle they won by scoring the final five goals.
“It had pretty much everything that you don’t want to see as a coach but do as a fan,’’ Yawney said with a laugh. “Breakaways, guys left alone in front of the net to score, hitting, fights, you name it. I’m going to watch the videotape of this one later with a couple of beers.’’
Norfolk’s start was enough to drive any coach to drink. The Admirals allowed Hershey to score with its first shot, just 55 seconds into the game, and then extend its lead to 2-0 in the sixth minute on a soft goal from the bottom of the left circle.
Less than two minutes later, the game was tied 2-2 after Norfolk grinders Ajay Baines and Quintin Laing scored 24 seconds apart. But the Bears went up 4-2 with tallies in the 11th and 14th minutes, the latter play coming on their 17th shot.
“You get running around and try to do too much and that’s when things break down,’’ said Norfolk defenseman Marty Wilford, whose team had scored one or no goals in 11 of its previous 21 contests.
What happened next broke the Bears’ will. Norfolk struck for not one, but two shorthanded goals in a 26-second span of the same shift, sending an announced crowd of 4,254 into hysterics.
“It built us so much momentum,’’ said Laing, who scored the first of the shorties, followed by another from Brett McLean. “They had a chance to go up 5-2 and then we tie it in about 30 seconds.’’
Said teammate Shawn Thornton: “Our whole bench was jumping up and down. Lainger’s a warrior who comes at you every night and it was great to see it pay off for him.’’
The Admirals put an exclamation point on their comeback when precision passing with a two-man advantage led to a Mike Peluso tap-in goal and a 5-4 lead 52 seconds before the first intermission.
From there, Norfolk won going away, backed by the outstanding play of goaltender Craig Andersson, who rebounded to make 37 saves. Wilford blasted in a second-period slap shot and McLean got his second goal of the night with nine minutes remaining. The Admirals departed the Scope ice to a standing ovation.
“Every time you start a season you want to be the best in your division and a lot of things have to go your way for that to happen,’’ said Yawney, whose club can clinch the title outright by earning at least a point in any of its last three games this weekend. “The work that went into this one says a lot about the character in our dressing room.’’
Notes: The Admirals close the regular with two games at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and one at Hershey this weekend… Yawney credited a fight instigated by Thornton with Norfolk down 2-0 for igniting the Admirals’ first rally… The game’s 11 goals and nine in a period are both Admirals’ franchise records. Norfolk’s five goals in a period and its two shorthanded goals tied a franchise record. And the teams’ 74 combined shots fell one short of a franchise record.
Forwards Igor Radulov and Igor Korolev were sent down from the parent Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday. Both are on the Admirals’ playoff roster… Travis Moen was the only member of the Admirals’ active roster not to dress Wednesday. Also on the sidelines were “in-residence’’ players Louie DeBrusk, Jeff Helperl and Brandin Cote…
Hershey captain Brent Thompson, an opponent Admirals fans love to hate, was a healthy scratch for the seventh time in the last nine games. Bears insiders said Thompson has played poorly and with a penchant for taking bad penalties… Jay Sharrers, Wednesday’s referee, worked Tuesday’s NHL game between Washington and Florida…
The AHL announced dual winners for its Fred T. Hunt award on Wednesday. Portland’s Chris Ferraro and Manchester’s Eric Healey share the award, which is presented to the players who best exemplify sportsmanship, determination and dedication to hockey. Ferraro returned to action this season after losing his wife to cancer and Healey has returned from a severe wrist laceration in 2000 to lead the league in goals…
ADMIRALS 7, HERSHEY 4
Hershey 4 0 0_4
Admirals 5 1 1_7
First Period_1, Hershey, Busenburg 5 (MacLean, Stephens), 0:55; 2, Hershey, Brule 18 (Freer, Clark), 5:15; 3, Admirals, Baines 8 (Gill, McLean), 6:42; 4, Admirals, Laing 4 (Baines), 7:06; 5, Hershey, Richardson 4 (Bertrand, Brule), 10:23; 6, Hershey, Stephens 17 (Muir, Busenburg), 13:45, pp; 7, Admirals, Laing 5 (unassisted), 16:06, sh; 8, Admirals, McLean 23 (Henry), 16:32, sh; 9, Admirals, Peluso 24 (White, Wilford), 19:08, pp, .
Second Period_10, Admirals, Wilford 13 (Peluso, White), 12:59, pp.
Third Period_11, Admirals, Hankinson 27 (McLean, Henderson), 10:53.
Shots on goal: Hershey, 19-12-10_41; Admirals, 15-12-6_33. Goaltending: Hershey, Sauve, 25-20-12 (33 shots, 26 saves); Admirals, Andersson, 15-9-4 (41 shots, 37 saves). Power plays: Hershey, 1-of-5; Admirals, 2-6. Penalties: Hershey, 10-28 minutes; Admirals, 10-31. Records: Hershey, 34-27-14-2; Admirals, 37-24-11-5. Officials: Jay Sharrers (referee), Paul Carnathan, John Sheiry. Time: 2:17. Tickets distributed: 4,254 (at Scope, 8,926).