HERSHEY, Pa._The eyes of Texas, at least those interested in AHL hockey, will soon be upon the Norfolk Admirals, who assured themselves of a return to the Lone Star State with a 2-0 loss to the Hershey Bears in their regular season finale.
Norfolk’s defeat, coupled with a San Antonio victory a little later in the evening, locked third-seeded Norfolk and the sixth-seeded Rampage into a best-of-five Western Conference quarterfinal that’s expected to begin Thursday night at Scope.
Game 2 would be Friday in Norfolk, followed by Game 3 in San Antonio on April 13. If necessary, Game 4 would also be in Texas on April 15 and Game 5 at Scope on either April 18 or 19. This scenario has not been officially announced, but Norfolk general manager Al MacIsaac said he believes the contests will line up that way barring any late changes.
Norfolk was 1-3 against San Antonio in the regular season, splitting a pair of games at the SBC Center. And if the Admirals are to have any hope of getting past the Rampage, they’ll have to shed the lethargy that dogged them Sunday.
“We’re going to kind of let this one sink in,’’ said Norfolk captain Ajay Baines, whose club finished 0-2-1 on a season-ending road trip. “Nobody enjoyed what happened tonight and we’re going to remember it come Thursday.’’
Admirals coach Trent Yawney felt starting goaltender Craig Andersson had little to gain from further play after Hershey took a 1-0 lead in the 29th minute and on its 18th shot. Norfolk had just eight shots at the time.
“I didn’t want to leave him in there with the display that was being put forth in front of him,’’ said Yawney, who replaced Andersson with ECHL callup Sebastien LaPlante. “Craig was awesome so I rewarded him with some rest. There was no way I was going to leave him in there, it wasn’t fair to him.’’
LaPlante, who stopped 12 of 13 shots in just his second AHL appearance of the season, said he was so nervous his legs would barely support him at first. But he did his job even as his teammates didn’t do theirs.
“It’s tough to play when you’ve already got your playoff position clinched but what disappointed me is we tried to play a game we’re not capable of playing,’’ Yawney said. “We tried to play the same one that gets us in trouble all the time.’’
That would be the one where Norfolk takes too many penalties, commits turnovers by the bushel and forgets that dump-and-chase is the style that’s earned it consecutive South Division titles. The Admirals (37-26-12-5) handed Hershey seven power plays Sunday and had two players, defensemen Dmitri Tolkunov and Burke Henry, ejected by referee Harry Dumas.
“We didn’t get anything established offensively because we got into penalty trouble almost right from the start,’’ said Baines, whose team was outshot 7-2 in the third period and 31-17 in the game. “That’s why we spent so much time in our zone.’’
Hershey, which enjoyed 20 minutes of power-play time, got its first goal after taking four shots in about four seconds from the right side of the Admirals zone. The Bears, who travel to take on the Chicago Wolves later this week, closed the scoring a minute into the third period when Steve Moore fired over LaPlante’s shoulder.
Afterwards, in a gloomy visitors’ locker room, wing Mike Peluso shrugged when asked to gauge the setback’s magnitude.
“You want to build momentum going into the playoffs and that’s not what we’ve done, but this could be a good reminder of how we don’t want to play,’’ he said. “We’ve been pretty good at bouncing back all season, so we’ll see what happens now.’’
Notes: The shutout was the sixth suffered by Norfolk this season and the second in its last three games… A pair of former Admirals tangled in Philadelphia on Friday, when the Phantoms’ Mike Siklenka delivered a gloved punch to the face of the Bears’ Jeff Paul, fracturing an orbital bone and causing sinus damage to the defenseman. Siklenka received a match penalty and will likely receive a league suspension. Paul is scheduled for surgery Wednesday and will be out at least three weeks.
HERSHEY 2, ADMIRALS 0
Admirals 0 0 0_0
Hershey 0 1 1_2
First Period_No scoring.
Second Period_1, Hershey, Freer 21 (Bertrand, Busenburg), 8:21.
Third Period_2, Hershey, Moore 10 (Clark), 1:25.
Shots on goal: Admirals, 8-7-2_17; Hershey, 10-14-7_31. Goaltending: Admirals, Andersson, 15-11-5 (18 shots, 17 saves), LaPlante (13 shots, 12 saves); Hershey, Sauve, 26-20-12 (17 shots, 17 saves). Power plays: Admirals, 0-of-4; Hershey, 0-7. Penalties: Admirals, 12-54 minutes; Hershey, 7-17. Records: Admirals, 37-26-12-5; Hershey, 36-27-14-3. Officials: Harry Dumas (referee), Leo Boylan, Robert Goodman. Time: 2:20. Tickets distributed: 7,343 (at Giant Center, 10,500).