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Admirals Stat-urday, Playoff Edition: This Team Is Built For The Playoffs

The Norfolk Admirals put together three straight wins including a shut-out Wednesday night, knocking off the top team in the Eastern Conference and advancing to the second round of the Calder Cup Playoffs.

Maxime Sauve 2013-2014 Norfolk Admirals
Maxime Sauve 2013-2014 Norfolk Admirals
Courtesy John Wright/Norfolk Admirals

0 Norfolk goaltender John Gibson worked for a 1-0 overtime shutout Wednesday night in Game 3 of the first round series against the Manchester Monarchs (Los Angeles Kings).  Gibson is currently ranked second in the AHL among goalies with a 1.42 Goals Against Average and a .947 Save Percentage, making 108 saves on 114 shots in the four games played in the series.

1 Center Rickard Rakell, returned on loan for Friday's game at Scope, picked up an assist in his only appearance in the series.

2 Max Sauve scored  two Game-Winning Goals in back to back games Wednesday and Friday night including the only goal scored on Wednesday.  Sauve currently leads the league in shooting percentage with 66.7%, [Ed. Note: Sustainable. -CK] scoring two goals on three shots.  Chris Wagner was also huge with two points Friday night, a goal and the only assist on Sauve's game winner.

Defenseman Sami Vatanen, on loan from the Ducks to start the first round, contributed three assists in the four games played in the series.

The Admirals averaged just 27.50 shots-for per game (third worst in AHL) but gave up only  28.50 shots-against per game (fourth in AHL).

Despite being short-handed five times on Friday night, the Admirals allowed only one power play goal against.  Norfolk came out of the first round ranked second on the Penalty Kill--in four games Norfolk was short-handed 17 times but allowed only one goal, good enough for a 94.1% kill rate. 

6 Six different players chipped in goals for the Admirals in the first round--Max Sauve (2), Max Friberg (1), Nic Kerdiles (1), David Steckel (1), Chris Wagner (1), and William Karlsson (1).

Norfolk scored seven goals and allowed only six, averaging 1.75 Goals-For per game and 1.50 Goals-Against per game  (second in the AHL).

8 The Admirals entered the playoffs as the Eight Seed in the Eastern Conference.  The Series went four games, had two shut-outs, and one OT.  In the end Norfolk took the series with three straight wins, splitting the first two games on the road in Manchester and winning the next two at Norfolk Scope.

While nine different Admirals put up five or more shots on goal over the series, every player who made it in to a game registered at least one shot on goal.

--Round 1 is over and needed only four of the five games in the series.  Last weekend the Admirals split the first two road games against the Monarchs and won Wednesday and Friday night to send the Eastern Conference's #1 seeded team home packing.  They did it on the backs of their goaltender and their defensemen mostly, but credit has to be given to the entire team sticking to the system, especially in the 1-0 overtime win on Wednesday.  Said Captain Garnet Exelby after Friday's series clincher, "This team is built for the playoffs."  He couldn't be more right.

The Admirals are not built for speed or finesse, but they are built for size and grit, and they showed both this past week.  Wednesday night's second period saw the Admirals muster only one shot on goal to Manchester's 15, yet the period ended 0-0.  Why?  Because the Admirals did not give up any significant or quality scoring chances.  Norfolk failed several times to work the puck out of their zone, but time and again came out of the corners with the puck.  They held Manchester to the outside for the entire period and carried that style of play with them through Friday night's game, a sound defensive game that saw Monarchs' goals on the only two defensive lapses of the game.  In fact, my memory may be fading, but I don't remember a single odd-man rush on Friday night against the Admrials.  The third period of that game, time and time again, the Admirals made their stand in the red line and fought off every Manchester attempt to breach the zone.  It was playoff hockey.

There are many Admirals' fans who believe they have "suffered," being forced to watch the boring style of hockey Head Coach Trent Yawney has installed this year.  They feel that because the team isn't high-flying and scoring goals at will that the Admirals are not playing up to their potential, they the are being held back.  Some fans have even spoken as to the players "hatred" for the system.  I asked several players after Friday's game if the result of the first series was justification, if it was a vindication of the system.  To a man, every one of them said yes.  And to a man, no one cared about who their next opponent was as they all believed in each other and the system.  It is, after all, playoff hockey.

The Admirals fought their way in to the playoffs without John Gibson, without Devante Smith-Pelly, without Emerson Etem, without Rickard Rakell, and riding on the back of goalie Brad Thiessen, a goalie who didn't even start the year playing North American hockey.  They knocked off the best team in the Eastern Conference without 1/4 of the team's total goals because of guys like Max Sauve, Chris Wagner, and the outstanding play of John Gibson.  The playoffs aren't all about skill, or speed, or scoring.  It's about depth, character, pride, and a player's belief in himself, his teammates, and the system.  The Admirals now advance to Round 2 of the Calder Cup playoffs while all three division leaders are making tee times and thinking about what could have been.  And it's all because they played the first round like the played the last few weeks of the regular season, like it was playoff hockey.

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