By Robin Short
Telegram Sports Editor—Norfolk, Va.
It was a much better effort put forth by the St. John’s IceCaps Saturday, but the result was the same and now the surging Norfolk Admirals carry a two-game lead to St. John’s in the American Hockey League’s Eastern Conference final.
Alexandre Picard scored twice, including an empty-netter, and Richard Panik had the other goal as the Admirals downed the IceCaps 3-1 in Game 2 of the series before 6,249 at The Scope Arena.
John Albert had the lone St. John’s goal.
The Calder Cup playoff series resumes Monday night at Mile One Centre with Game 2 going 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. If a Game 5 is required, it will be played next Saturday night in St. John’s.
It was a different IceCaps team than the one that was outplayed every which way in the series-opener Thursday night, a 6-1 Norfolk victory.
And while there was a positive to take from that, coach Keith McCambridge also acknowledged the fact his team must start getting pucks by Admirals goalie Dustin Tokarski, who has allowed two goals on 61 shots in the two games.
“Definitely, there are some positives from tonight’s game,” he said. “This is a good team we are playing, good on their home ice, but we feel we’re strong at home during playoffs also.
“But we have to try and get more pucks behind the goaltender. We knew this was going to be a tight-checking series, we knew our opponent was going to be strong and they are all that.”
After closing out the regular season on a 28-game win streak, Norfolk is now 9-3 in the playoffs.
Game 2 looked as if it was going to be a repeat of the opener when Panik scored on Norfolk’s first shot, a one-timer from just inside the blueline that beat Eddie Pasquale 51 seconds after the opening faceoff.
Pasquale had been pulled in the second period Thursday night after surrendering four goals on 17 shots.
“Any time you’re scored on the first shift, it’s mentally tough to turn that page and get back to where you need to be,” McCambridge said.
“Especially with the emotion of the guys. They really wanted this game. You could feel it in the dressing room so to have that start, it’s an uphill battle to try and dig out of that. That goal definitely put us on our heels.”
Shortly after the Panik goal, the Admirals hit a pair of posts and it appeared another rout was in the offing.
But Pasquale settled in, and made some big saves, including foiling Alex Killorn on a breakaway with just under six minutes left and the Admirals clinging to a one-goal lead.
“I owed it to the team,” he said. “I thought I let them down in Game 1 so I wanted to come out strong.”
“I thought Pasquale was outstanding the first 16 minutes, or it might have been a different game,” said Admirals coach Jon Cooper.
With Norfolk leading 1-0 after 20 minutes, Albert tied the game 1:51 into the second when he banged in a loose puck after Tokarski failed to cover it in the crease.
It stood that way until the 15:38 mark, when Picard potted the winner. Mike Kostka’s shot from the point was wide of the net on the short side, hit the end boards and rebounded out to Picard who promptly knocked the puck into the net for his seventh goal of the playoffs.
An empty-netter with 53 seconds left sealed it for Norfolk.
“As the game pushed forward, we did a lot of good things,” McCambridge said. “We generated some chances, but we have to do a better job of getting to the second and third chance opportunities in front of their net to look for the rebound.
“But their goaltender hasn’t given up many.”
McCambridge juggled his lineup a little, inserting Mark Scheifele and Eric O’Dell, making his first playoff start, for Kevin Clark and Marco Rosa. Arturs Kulda also returned to the lineup, but the IceCaps were without veteran rearguard Brett Festerling.
“He’s injured,” said McCambridge. “He’s a big part of our back end, just as we missed Kulda the other night.”
The teams will share a charter back to St. John’s Sunday, arriving in Newfoundland about 3 p.m.