The Milwaukee Admirals advanced to the Western Divisional Finals of the AHL Calder Cup Playoffs with a 5-1 victory of the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks to win the series 4-3. The team is loaded with top prospects from the Nashville Predators organization.
Lead by 24-year-old right wing Darren Haydar, who has scored five goals and garnered eleven points in the first round, the team picked up momentum after a heartbreaking 3-1 loss in Cincinnati put them down three games to one. Haydar and linemate 23-year-old left wing Simon Gamache (4 goals, 6 assists) combined for six goals in the next two games to elevate the Admirals to the second round.
“I thought Haydar and Gamache were real good together: smart, clever, made great plays, just tremendous patience,” commented Admirals Head Coach Claude Noel.
Top prospect 20-year-old right wing Scottie Upshall missed two games due to injury following a hat trick in Game 2, but has also played exceptionally, especially on the forecheck.
“It’s nice to just put the puck in the net and feel good about your game,“ Upshall said after his hat trick, “More importantly to feel good about to feel good about how you’re fitting into the team and how well the team’s playing. To play on a winning hockey club, a club that has had some success this year. It’s a great feeling and I’m proud to be here.”
The turning point in the Admirals playoff season might well have been a penalty kill however. With the score of game six a tight 3-2 midway through the second period both veterans Jay Henderson and Vernon Fiddler were called for penalties to give Cincinnati a full two minute two-man advantage. Within seconds of the drop of the puck, defenseman Greg Zannon snapped his stick and was forced to play without for nearly the entire power play. During that shift, Zannon along with partner Curtis Murphy and center Wyatt Smith were able to keep the play away from Admirals goaltender Wade Flaherty.
“It certainly was the turning point in a big game for us. It was one of the key defensive kills for us this year,” said Noel. Twenty-four seconds after the penalties expired, Darren Haydar buried a pass from Gamache past Ducks prospect goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov.
“Fiddler created all the open space, give him more credit than Gamache and myself,” said Haydar of the pivotal game-winning goal. “It’s definitely a momentum boost. It’s what we needed at the time. We killed the penalty, got the momentum boost, and took advantage of it.”
“We needed to elevate our game emotionally, in that sixth game,” said Noel after the victory on Saturday to advance to face the Chicago Wolves in the next round, “we needed to get our speed going and use our speed more. I felt that really turned things around for us. You can’t turn over the puck against us.”
Up next for the Admirals, the arch-rival Chicago Wolves. “Well, Chicago’s got tremendous tradition,” said Noel, “they know how to win, and they’ve won in the past. They expect to win. They were only a couple of points behind us in the regular season, both teams are skilled, both teams can hurt you. I think it’ll make for a really great series. The one thing you know you’ve going to get in that series is a lot of emotion, probably bad emotion, but I think that will be good, it raises the stakes. It will make for a good series.”