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Admirals Stat-urday, Playoff Edition: Round 2, Games 1-3

The loss of John Gibson was heralded by St. John's Ice Caps fans, but should they really be celebrating? Brad Thiessen, a veteran of 37 AHL playoff games prior to Saturday night, is no stranger to post-season pressure and could be every bit the spoiler John Gibson has been to this point.

Nic Kerdiles 2013-2014 Norfolk Admirals
Nic Kerdiles 2013-2014 Norfolk Admirals
Courtesy John Wright/Norfolk Admirals

Josh Manson scored his first professional playoff goal Saturday night.  Stefan Noesen, making both his Norfolk Scope and post-season debut after missing all but two regular season games also registered his first professional point.

2  Nic Kerdiles scored his second and third goals of the playoffs in Game One of the Second Round against the St. John's Ice Caps (Winnipeg Jets). He and Max Friberg currently lead the Admirals in points this post season with four.

3  Prior to being recalled, goalie John Gibson was 1-1 in the Second Round, allowing only three goals against on a total of 84 shots, good for a 1.50 Goals Against and .964 Save Percentage. 

4  After sitting for almost three weeks, the Admirals new Number One goaltender Brad Thiessen started his first 2014 playoff game Saturday night, surrendering four goals on 30 shots.  Thiessen, now with 38 playoff starts under his belt, had a combined .924 Save Percentage and  2.31 Save Percentage in the 37 playoff appearances prior to Saturday night.

5  Norfolk is ranked fifth in the post season on the penalty kill, having fallen down several places due to two power play goals against in Game Two and one more in Game Three last night.  Still, giving up only four total goals in seven post-season games on 32 short handed chances is pretty respectable.

6  To make room for Stefan Noesen, Center John Kurtz was scratched for the first time this post-season. Kurtz, appearing in the previous six games, scored his first of the post-season and the eventual game winner in the third period of Game One last Tuesday. Zack Stortini, not known for his offensive prowess, added an assist to the goal, his first point in this year's post-season.

7  Norfolk is ranked fifth in the post season in Goals Against.  In seven games, the Admirals have given up 14 goals, averaging 2.00 per game.  Eight of those goals have been scored in the three games of the second round against St. John's.

8  In a change-up from Games One and Two, eight total goals were scored Saturday night in Game Three of the series, surpassing the seven combined in the first two games.

Andre Petersson put up nine shots against St John's between Games One and Two and added three more last night to lead the Admirals in shots on goal this series, but has yet to find the back of the net on his own.  He did manage to put up assists on goals in Games One and Two and should eventually hit the twine with his increased minutes and time on the top power play unit.

10 The Admirals are averaging just over ten penalty minutes per game in the playoffs.  In seven games they've put up 71 PIMs, with 32 coming in the three games of this series.

--The Admirals went in to the post season knowing they would have to rely on the strength of their goaltending and defense, and this series against the St. John's Ice Caps has been no different.  John Gibson saw over 40 shots on goal in both Game One and Two and was up to the task, allowing  only one in the first and two in the second, and the Admirals came home from their nine-hour trip to St. John's having split the series, winning Game One 3-1 and losing Game two 2-1.

Game One on Tuesday produced five power plays for Norfolk and two for the Ice Caps though neither team could convert with the man-advantage.  Instead, goals from Nic Kerdiles and John Kurtz put the Admirals up 2-1, with another from Kerdiles late in the third in to an empty net would be all the offense Norfolk would need as Gibson turned aside 42 of 43 while at the other end Ice Caps' goalie Michael Hutchinson kicked out 23 of 25 Admirals shots.

Game Two Thursday night was all special teams with all three goals scored on the power play.  Norfolk's normally air-tight penalty kill allowed two goals just three minutes apart in the second period, and while Chris Wagner's second of the post season at the half-way mark of the third put the Admirals' back in the game.  Norfolk shooters couldn't solve Hutchinson despite putting 13 shots on goal that period.  Gibson kept the Admirals in it the entire game, this time knocking away 39 of 41.  Both teams shared a plane back from St. John's for a Game Three matchup at Norfolk Scope, where the Admirals would have three straight games at home in the 2-3-2 seven game series.

Game Three Saturday night featured a return to the net of Brad Thiessen, the "savior" of the Admirals' post-season chances.  Thiessen went 6-1-1 in the last nine games of the regular season to carry Norfolk in to the post season, and as Coach Yawney put it "If it weren't for Brad Thiessen at the end of the season, John Gibson would not have had a chance to play in the playoffs."

Goals from Max Friberg and Jesse Blacker less than two minutes apart put the Admirals up 2-1 going in to the second period and stood up through the middle frame, however the third period saw the wheels come off the Admirals' bus, all in the span of just two minutes.  St. John's was able to tie the game at two just 38 seconds in to the third period and added another eight minutes later to take a 3-2 lead.  Rookie defenseman Josh Manson, a steady presence on the blue line for the Admirals since his arrival from college, tied the game up a minute later at 3-3, but the Admirals had under a minute celebrate as perennial Admirals' killer Jerome Samson would pot the game winner.  St. John's iced the game with an empty-netter with just eight seconds left in the game.

What was different last night (aside from the eight goals scored) was the fan reaction to the St. John's goals.  In what has become a custom at Scope to blame the goalie for anything that gets past him, fans were uncharacteristically supportive of Thiessen (and rightly so).  He stood on his head and stopped everything he had a chance to stop including a late third period break-away given up by the pinching Admirals' defense desperate to tie up the game.  Thiessen took the blame for not being able to find the pucks in front of the screens, but in my opinion he stopped everything he saw and deserved no blame for any of the goals given up.  Once again Norfolk's usually tight penalty kill gave up another goal and the power play wasn't able to generate any offense despite four chances.

Unlike the end of the regular season when Thiessen wasn't rewarded for carrying the Admirals in to the post-season and saw John Gibson take over between the pipes, this team is now his to lead.  He can take his experience, his frustration, his anger, his desire in to the next game knowing the net is his, knowing he has a chance for revenge.  Thiessen is well known in the AHL and is widely heralded as the best "Option B" any team could have and quite honestly could be an "Option A" on any number of teams.

The issue at hand is which Admirals' team is going to show up the remainder of the series.  Will they push back on the penalty kill and seal up the holes, or will the Ice Caps continue to capitalize on the man-advantage?  Will the power play stop trying to be fancy and just put the puck on net, or will they squander their opportunities and suck momentum out of the game instead of adding to it?  This series is absolutely winnable with the core of the team and there is no place (or reason) to throw the excuse of recalls in to the argument.  Thiessen gives the Admirals just as good a chance to win as Gibson and so it's up to the skilled players to put the puck in the net, up to the shut down players to keep the Ice Caps out from in front of the net and keep play in St. John's end of the ice.  It worked for Norfolk in Round One and it's a recipe for success for Round Two as well.

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