NORFOLK, Va._The Norfolk Admirals won their playoff opener Thursday, defeating the San Antonio Rampage 4-3 in overtime. The victory, before an ecstatic crowd of 1,652, gave Norfolk a 1-0 lead in the teams’ best-of-five Western Conference quarterfinal series, which resumes with Game 2 tonight at Scope.
The Admirals, seeded third in the conference, twice rallied from deficits against the sixth-seeded Rampage before Peter White’s deflection of a Casey Hankinson shot ended the game 17 minutes into overtime.
The deciding play began with White, who had not scored in 16 previous games since returning to Norfolk from the Philadelphia Phantoms, pulling a draw in the San Antonio end back to teammate Todd Gill at the right point.
Gill maintained composure even as San Antonio’s Paul Elliott charged out at him, finding Hankinson with a short pass near the top of the right circle. Hankinson wheeled and fired towards the net, but before the shot could reach goaltender Chris Mason, White batted the rubber down and through the netminder’s legs.
“It was chest-high so he was standing up and not expecting the puck to go down,’’ White said. “It was a perfect shot to tip.’’
San Antonio scored on its first rush, just 33 seconds into the game. Mike Green’s shot from the right sideboards was stopped by Norfolk goaltender Craig Andersson at the near post, but Eric Beaudoin beat Admiral Ajay Baines across the slot to the rebound and fired it over Andersson’s glove.
Norfolk rallied for a 1-1 tie less than three minutes later on a power play when Brett McLean flipped home the rebound of a Gill shot from the center point.
The Admirals took a 2-1 lead into the first intermission after notching another power-play goal. Igor Korolev scooted out of the right corner, between the near goal post and defender Kyle Rossiter, and tucked the puck through Mason’s legs.
San Antonio struck twice in the second period and headed into the third with a 3-2 lead. The Rampage’s first goal of the stanza came in the seventh minute when Byron Ritchie popped in his own rebound to finish a breakaway. The puck hopped over an Admiral’s stick in center ice to set up the short dash.
San Antonio’s third goal came two minutes before the second intermission when Pierre Dagenais polished off a 2-on-1 rush set up when Norfolk defender Burke Henry fell backwards at his own blueline.
Henry atoned for his gaffe six minutes into the third period, producing a 3-3 tie with yet another power play goal. The defenseman picked the upper corner at the near post, firing over Mason’s blocker shoulder from the left circle.
San Antonio squandered a golden chance to win with two minutes remaining in regulation time when Dagenais had the puck and time to shoot it from the low slot. But his effort clanged off the crossbar.
The Admirals missed two prime opportunities of their own in overtime, one an open net that Igor Radulov couldn’t hit and the other a short breakaway by Quintin Laing. But neither of those mattered after White bested Mason with Norfolk’s 47th and final shot.
“It was a quick play, a faceoff win and a shot and game over,” said Henry, whose team plays Game 3 on Sunday in San Antonio and Game 4 there Tuesday if necessary. “But we had the momentum in overtime and you only need a little of it at the right time in the playoffs.”
Notes: Norfolk lost Matt Henderson, possibly for the series, when the wing collided with Sean Gagnon in the fourth minute and suffered an injured left knee. Henderson said he will undergo an MRI today to determine the injury’s severity… San Antonio finished the game without Jeff Toms, Jim Campbell and Serge Payer, who are three of its top four scorers. Toms departed in the second period with what a San Antonio staffer guessed was a bad back, Campbell was a healthy scratch and Payer has a hurt ankle. The Rampage were also missing All-Star defenseman Filip Novak (ankle) and former first-round NHL draft pick Denis Shvidki (knee)…
Dmitri Tolkunov was scratched for Norfolk, his first absence from action since returning from summer ankle surgery on Dec. 27… Numerous Admirals have bleached their hair for the playoffs, including McLean, Laing, Marty Wilford, Ajay Baines, Louie DeBrusk, Igor Radulov, Michael Leighton and Johanathan Aitken… AHL president Dave Andrews presented the Admirals with the Frank Mathers trophy in an on-ice, pregame ceremony. The trophy commemorates Norfolk’s South Division title… Among those crammed into the Scope press box Thursday were Jim Gary, a sports psychologist who works with the Chicago Blackhawks and their prospects, and Marshall Johnston, the Blackhawks’ director of player evaluation. Brent Flahr, director of hockey operations for the Florida Panthers, was also in attendance to see his club’s prospects play for the Rampage.
ADMIRALS 4, RAMPAGE 3
San Antonio 1 2 0 0_3
Admirals 2 1 0 1_4
First Period_1, San Antonio, Beaudoin 1 (Green, Gove), 0:33; 2, Admirals, McLean 1 (Gill, Henry), 3:18, pp; 3, Admirals, Korolev 1 (McLean, Gill), 10:42, pp.
Second Period_4, San Antonio, Ritchie 1 (unassisted), 6:55; 5, San Antonio, Dagenais 1 (Green), 17:43.
Third Period_6, Admirals, Henry 1 (McLean, Radulov), 6:01, pp.
Overtime_7, Admirals, White 1 (Hankinson, Gill), 17:07.
Shots on goal: San Antonio, 9-10-6-10_35; Admirals, 11-6-17-13_47. Goaltending: San Antonio, Mason, 0-1 (47 shots, 43 saves); Admirals, Andersson, 1-0 (35 shots, 32 saves). Power plays: San Antonio, 0-of-4; Admirals, 3-6. Penalties: San Antonio, 4-8 minutes; Admirals, 6-12. Officials: Jeff Smith (referee), Paul Carnathan, Scott Pomento. Time: 3:03. Tickets distributed: 1,652 (at Scope, 8,926).