NORFOLK, Va._Quintin Laing was the unlikely hero Friday in the Norfolk Admirals’ 2-1 defeat of the San Antonio Rampage before 2,822 at Norfolk Scope. The wing, who had scored only five goals all season, beat goaltender Chris Mason from a sharp angle 35 seconds into the third period, giving the Admirals a 2-0 lead in the teams’ best-of-five Western Conference quarterfinal series.
Laing was at first knocked down behind the Rampage net, but recovered to accept a Shawn Thornton pass and move out across the goal line into the bottom of the left circle. In a split second, Laing pivoted 180 degrees and went from facing up the sideboards to having a quick look at the net. And even as defender Mike Van Ryn charged him, the Admiral fired off a low shot that zipped through Mason’s legs.
“It’s a confidence-builder and the better you feel then the better you play, as long as you don’t overdo it,’’ said Norfolk’s Casey Hankinson, whose club can close out the Rampage with a victory Sunday in Game 3, which starts at 3 p.m. EDT, at San Antonio’s SBC Arena. “That’s why it’s fun winning games early in the playoffs and trying to extend that feeling as long as you can.’’
Admirals fans have had an awful lot of recent fun watching Laing, who was unavailable for postgame comment while being treated in the training room. The third-year pro has always been the quintessential mucker, but also scored twice in last week’s victory that clinched Norfolk’s second consecutive South Division title.
“In his first year he just wanted to make an impression but now he’s gaining more confidence with the puck,’’ said Admirals defenseman Johnathan Aitken. “He can protect the puck and he’s strong on his skates and defenseman can’t take him out.’’
San Antonio opened the scoring two minutes into the second period when Pierre Dagenais took a Jamie Rivers pass and flew down the right wing. Cutting to the bottom of the circle and with Norfolk’s Burke Henry moving across the ice at him, Dagenais fired a wrist shot over Michael Leighton’s glove and inside the far post.
Norfolk managed a 1-1 tie two minutes before the second intermission on a play that began with Laing digging the puck out of the right corner and feeding Ajay Baines in the nearby circle. Baines relayed the biscuit across to the left circle, from where pinching defenseman Todd Gill blasted a slap shot over Mason’s glove.
The “BLT’’ line of Baines, Laing and Thornton has perhaps been Norfolk’s best thus far in the series, despite not having the skill of some other Admirals’ trios. Hankinson said that’s because Laing’s bunch wear down opponents with relentless, physical play.
“When you’re a defenseman going back for the puck with those guys chasing you and you keep getting hit and hit, eventually you don’t want to go back for it anymore,’’ Hankinson said. “They’re key to our forechecking and the rest of us try to emulate those guys every shift. If they can do that every game, that’s as important as scoring any goals.’’
Notes: Matt Henderson, who suffered a Game 1 knee injury, has been diagnosed with a partial tear of a ligament in the joint and is expected to be out two to four weeks… Dmitri Tolkunov missed his second consecutive game, this one explained by the Admirals as because of a sore knee. With Henderson, Tolkunov and Garry Valk out of action, Norfolk was permitted to activate one of its “in-residence’’ players for Friday’s game and did so with wing Jeff Helperl…
Norfolk has a five-game home winning streak… The Admirals depart Norfolk around noon today for San Antonio. The trip involves busing to Baltimore-Washington International Airport and then taking a Southwest Airlines flight nonstop to San Antonio, where the players’ heads likely won’t hit the pillow until close to midnight local time… Hankinson set an Admirals’ franchise record for either the regular season or playoffs Thursday when he had 12 shots on goal in Game 1… Former ECHL Admirals star Rod Taylor has been released by Toledo, the fifth ECHL franchise to cut him loose in the last two seasons. The league’s career scoring leader signed with the Blades on March 22, had no points in two regular season games and had not dressed in the playoffs.
ADMIRALS 2, SAN ANTONIO 1
San Antonio 0 1 0_1
Admirals 0 1 1_2
First Period_No scoring. Penalties_Thompson (San), slashing, 1:23; Kolnik (San), delay of game, 2:01; Thornton (Nor), roughing, 13:00.
Second Period_1, San Antonio, Dagenais 2 (Rivers, Walsh), 1:57; 2, Admirals, Gill 1 (Baines, Laing), 17:38. Penalties_Yakubov (Nor), boarding, 5:35; Wilford (Nor), holding, 14:51.
Third Period_3, Admirals, Laing 1 (Thornton, Wilford), 0:35. Penalties_Thornton (Nor), slashing, 3:18; Moen (Nor), hooking, 9:28.
Shots on goal: San Antonio, 7-11-11_29; Admirals, 14-12-8_34. Goaltending: San Antonio, Mason, 0-2 (34 shots, 32 saves); Admirals, Leighton, 1-0 (29 shots, 28 saves). Power plays: San Antonio, 0-of-6; Admirals, 0-4. Penalties: San Antonio, 4-8 minutes; Admirals, 6-12. Officials: Jeff Smith (referee), Paul Carnathan, Scott Pomento. Time: 2:25. Tickets distributed: 2,822 (at Scope, 8,926).