Other than reveal Eddie Pasquale will indeed be back in the IceCaps’ net, St. John’s coach Keith McCambridge was typically tight-lipped about changes, if any, he will be making to his team’s lineup tonight.
Considering the outcome of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final Thursday night, a 6-1 rout by the Norfolk Admirals, something needs to happen when the series resumes 9:30 this evening (NL time, CJYQ 930AM).
The Admirals dominated from the drop of the puck in the series opener, giving every indication as to how and why they strung together a 28-game win streak to close the regular season, a pro hockey record run.
Norfolk came at the IceCaps in waves Thursday, forcing turnovers and creating scoring chance after scoring chance, chasing Pasquale from the St. John’s nets after allowing four goals on 21 shots.
And, oh yes, they were physical.
“We know they don’t fight a lot,” the Admirals’ Alexandre Picard told the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot newspaper back on March 30, a day after the Admirals beat the IceCaps 2-1 in Norfolk.
“They're almost last in the league in fighting majors. If you play them hard and finish your checks, they’re going to stop and be scared.
“A couple of times that happened, and they didn’t go into corners. When you go hard, guys like (Pierre-Cedric) Labrie and me, big bodies, it’s scary,” Picard told the paper.
“You know, it’s funny because we’ve had teams try to do that to us all year,” said the IceCaps’ Garth Murray. “All year, teams have come and tried to push us around and do whatever it takes, but no matter what they do, we always seem to answer back and not let it affect our game.
“So if that’s what they want to do, that’s fine. It doesn’t worry me at all what a guy like that would say.”
Murray and Picard, Norfolk’s leading scorer in the post-season, came together late in Thursday’s game, and the result was a 10-minute misconduct to both players.
Clearly, it was Murray — one of the few IceCaps who will consistently drop the gloves — who was the initiator, though he wasn’t biting when asked if it had to do with Picard’s comments to the media.
“I’m not getting into that. We all know what’s going on,” said the St. John’s assistant captain.
“It was a 6-1 hockey game and he was running around and hitting. If he thinks we’re going to let him do that, in a 6-1 game, more power to him.
“But playing hard and finishing your checks is part of the playoffs, as well as what I did. We’re going to stand up for ourselves.”
McCambridge acknowledges reading the newspaper story, but said he’s not one to post material on the bulletin board as a way of motivating the troops.
Instead, the St. John’s coach is more concerned with getting the IceCaps to a level of competing on an even keel with the Admirals, something that was missing Thursday.
“We have to ensure we play at a better level than what we did in Game 1,” he said. “That wasn’t good enough.”
Mid-way through the third period in Game 1, St. John’s forward Brock Trotter, the IceCaps’ leading scorer in the post season, tumbled into the boards awkwardly while trying to make a hit on Norfolk’s Radko Gudas.
Trotter was chasing Gudas as the Admirals defenceman skated back to retrieve the puck. Gudas faked left, and turned just as Trotter attempted to the make the hit and the IceCaps’ forward went into the boards, his head and shoulder appearing to take the brunt of the collision.
He lay on the ice for several minutes before heading to the locker room on his own steam.
Trotter reportedly felt OK Saturday morning, though he did not practice with the team at a suburban arena.
McCambridge chalked it up to it being a “maintenance” day for Trotter — Jason King and Brett Festerling also did not skate — and his availability for tonight is a — surprise! — “game-time decision.”
The loss of Trotter would be a big blow to a team already missing Spencer Machacek, seen hobbling around the team’s hotel Friday.
“We need to show up and execute better … simple,” said forward Aaron Gagnon, who has five goals and four helpers through a dozen playoff games.
“Maybe we were too used to playing a team like Wilkes-Barre (the IceCaps’ second-round opponent), a team that’s pretty straight forward dumping and chasing and getting pucks in deep.
“These guys (Admirals) are skilled, who can make plays off the rush. They’re not so much a team that gets it in and goes to work.
“But I think we gave them too much room. That’s where we need to be more aggressive.”
Both teams will share a charter flight back to St. John’s Saturday morning, where the series resumes with Games 3 and 4 Monday and Tuesday. If Game 5 is needed, it goes next Saturday. And should the series require a sixth and seventh game, those will be played back at The Scope Arena next Tuesday and Wednesday.
“You always want to get the split in the other team’s rink,” said Gagnon, “so given that, Game 2 is huge.
“Thursday certainly wasn’t our best showing, so we need to redeem ourselves. A win would give us a huge boost heading home.”
As a note of interest, Norfolk won three of four games from the IceCaps during the regular season. However, following a 6-2 Admirals wins back on Nov. 18 at Mile One Centre, the IceCaps rebounded with a 3-1 decision in the second game.
The IceCaps hope history, short as it is in this regard, repeats itself.
Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor.
He can be reached by email firstname.lastname@example.org