NORFOLK, Va. Although they were hoping to avoid it, the Norfolk Admirals will hit the road again next week. That much was decided Friday at Scope, when the visiting Houston Aeros posted a 3-2 victory and evened the teams’ best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal series at two games apiece before a disappointed crowd of 3,125.
What could prove to be a pivotal Game 5 is slated for 4 p.m. on Sunday at Scope, followed by Game 6 at 8 p.m., EDT, Wednesday at the Compaq Center in Houston and Game 7 at the same time and location if it’s needed. The matchup has boiled down to a best-of-three series, with Houston holding the home ice advantage.
“We wanted to go up 3-1 in the series and put their backs against the wall but we didn’t come up with even close to the effort we needed to do that” said Norfolk’s Brett McLean, who played the last two seasons with Houston. “Only half our team played the way we have to play and when we play on Sunday we can’t go back to that.”
Houston led 1-0 in the first period and 2-1 in the second before Norfolk’s Casey Hankinson tied the game on his second goal of the night with 10 minutes remaining. But the Aeros notched the winner less than three minutes later when Hnat Domenichelli’s low shot from the right circle and through a crowd eluded goaltender Craig Andersson.
“I just threw it at the net and I think he was screened” said Domenichelli, whose club held a 40-24 shot advantage. “I came out of the corner and off the wall, tried to use the defenseman as a screen and I think it went in either short side or five hole on him.”
Andersson and the Admirals as a whole were shaky in the first period. But the 21-year-old netminder was magnificent the rest of the way and repeatedly saved Norfolk.
“Andy’s the only reason it was that close,” McLean said. “We just lost the battles. Normally when the puck’s at our blue line we’re going to get it out. But they were hungrier and the score shouldn’t have been a lot worse for us than 3-2.”
Houston was twice denied during 5-on-3 power plays and finished 1-of-6 with the man advantage. But Norfolk’s catch-up efforts were hindered by the necessity of penalty killing.
“There were a couple chances in the game where we had the momentum and then we had penalty trouble and it took us out of our rhythm,” said Norfolk coach Trent Yawney. “We did a good job of killing for the most part but eventually we paid for it.”
Norfolk was outshot 10-5 in the first period and extremely fortunate to trail by only 1-0 at the first intermission. Houston cranked up both its forecheck and overall intensity from Game 3 and harassed the Admirals into frequent turnovers, many in their own end.
The Aeros got their goal in the fourth minute when Travis Roche skated in from the left point, around defenders Ajay Baines and Quintin Laing and drew Marty Wilford and Steve McCarthy to him in the slot. A quick backhand pass to the right post followed, with Mark Cullen tapping the puck home.
Norfolk responded with a markedly better effort in the second period and pulled even at 1-1 with a power-play goal in stanza’s eighth minute. Peter White, camped on the right sideboards, fed Hankinson at the right post and the wing scooted to the top of the crease before lifting the puck inside the left post.
Houston went up 2-1 on a power-play goal 51 seconds before the second intermission. The chance was set up after referee Wes McCauley whistled McLean for tripping on what appeared to be a clean shoulder check. Two minutes later, Houston’s Rickard Wallin banked in a shot from below the goal line off a defender’s skate and the inside of Andersson’s leg.
Hankinson scored again 10 minutes through the third period, cruising down the slot and lunging to redirect in a Marty Wilford shot from the right point. That it wasn’t enough was evident in a silent Norfolk locker room a few minutes later.
“We didn’t have our best game tonight but we’re not going to panic about it because this series is seven games and this team’s always bounced back” Yawney said. “The playoffs are full of momentum shifts and the teams that handle them the best are going to be the most successful.”
The ongoing silent auction to benefit Konstantin Gavrilov, the former youth coach of Admirals defenseman Dmitri Tolkunov who died last October, has partially moved online. The autographed sticks can be bid upon on the Scope concourse during Game 5, but the signed NHL game jerseys of Pittsburgh’s Mario Lemieux, Vancouver’s Henrik Sedin, Los Angeles’ Jason Allison and Chicago’s Alex Zhamnov will be up for bid throughout May at www.norfolkadmirals.com.
Steve Poapst, the former ECHL and AHL Admirals defenseman now with the Chicago Blackhawks, signed autographs on the Scope concourse during the second intermission.
A slew of NHL scouts attended the game, including Paul Holmgren and Ron Hextall of the Philadelphia Flyers, Brad Maxwell of the New York Islanders, Dave Brown of the New York Rangers and Wayne Mundey of the St. Louis Blues. A contingent from the Chicago Blackhawks, the Admirals’ parent club, includes assistant general manager Nick Beverley, director of player evaluation Marshall Johnston, director of pro scouting Joe Yannetti and special assistant to the general manager Stan Bowman.
Glenn Patrick, coach of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins the last four seasons, was fired Friday by his brother Craig, general manager of the parent Pittsburgh Penguins. Glenn Patrick led the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins to a 36-32-7-5 record this season and had a 115-152-38-15 in four seasons. The Penguins were eliminated from the playoffs by Grand Rapids in the conference quarterfinals. It was not immediately known if Glenn Patrick would remain with the Penguins organization.
HOUSTON 3 ADMIRALS 2
Houston 1 1 1_3
Admirals 0 1 1_2
First Period_1, Houston, M. Cullen 1 (Roche), 3:18.
Shots on goal: Houston, 10-18-12=40; Admirals, 5-10-9=24
Goaltending: Houston, Holmqvist, 5-2 (24 shots, 2 saves); Admirals, Andersson, 2-2 (40 shots, 37 saves)
Power plays: Houston, 1-of-6; Admirals, 2-5
Penalties: Houston, 6-12 minutes; Admirals, 7-14
Officials: Wes McCauley (referee), Paul Carnathan, Scott Pomento
Tickets distributed: 3,125 (at Scope, 8,926)
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