The Admirals needed a point Sunday to secure the eighth and final postseason spot in the Western Conference. They got two with a 3-0 victory in what was likely the last AHL game played by the Rivermen in Peoria.
Milwaukee ended up winning seven of its last eight regular season games, and it needed every one of those victories to make the playoffs for an 11th straight season.
Coach Dean Evason said he didn’t have to tell his team what Sunday’s game meant and what was at stake. Throughout the contest the Ads maintained the same level of calm control that had led to a 2-0 win the night before, and a 14-4-1 record in their previous 19 games.
Magnus Hellberg picked up first-star honors with 19 saves in his second shutout in as many days, all while collecting his fourth straight win and finishing the season 22-13 overall in net.
12:33 into the contest, Mattias Ekholm put the Ads up 1-0 on their second power play chance. The red light didn’t come on after Ekholm’s shot from the right circle bounced up and in off Mike McKenna’s shoulder, but the referee saw it all the way. Upon video review the goal stood.
Peoria pushed for the equalizer in the final five minutes of the period, but Hellberg and the Milwaukee defense stood tall. Daniel Bang provided a bit of foreshadowing, getting behind the Peoria defense in the final seconds, but his shot was stopped by McKenna.
The Ads built momentum at the start of the second period with eight unanswered shots, and at 10:34 Bang got another break and finished.
Taking a long pass from Joonas Jarvinen, Bang used his left arm to hold off David Shields and his right to steer the puck to the front of the net. After shaking Shields, he deked backhand and beat McKenna for the 2-0 lead.
Zach Budish gave the Ads a three-score cushion with the first professional goal of his career. After Ekholm fired a shot from the point, McKenna left a fat rebound for Budish who backhanded the puck in.
Evason said his team would need to be tight defensively and avoid getting into a “track meet” with the Rivermen.
The result was a great overall performance on the backcheck as Peoria couldn’t generate any effective odd-man rushes. On top of that, Hellberg took a more conservative approach in net, freezing way more pucks than he attempted to play.
These elements were most present in the last 20 minutes, where despite allowing Peoria its only two power play chances of the game, the Admirals held the Rivermen to just four shots.
The Ads got two third-period PP opportunities of their own, one coming with 2:19 to play, and they used them to keep the pressure on McKenna down to the final minutes.
With little margin for error or room for lackadaisical play, the Ads stayed focused throughout and never let the Rivermen into the game.
A 3-0 Oklahoma City win over Houston set Milwaukee up against the top-seeded Texas Stars in the first round. Games one and two will be this Friday and Saturday at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
The Ads beat Texas in the playoffs two seasons ago, but went 0-1-1 against the Stars this season losing 3-1 on the road on Oct. 24, and losing 2-1 in OT in Milwaukee on Dec. 5.
The Ads finished the season with a 41-28-4-3 record (89 points) placing them second in the Midwest Division. They ended up with the best record in the Midwest against divisional opponents at 28-13-1-2.
Hellberg’s sixth shutout was the second-most by an Admirals goalie in an AHL season.
Well Roundtable, the postseason push is finished, and the Ads pulled it off facing a slew of obstacles in the form of call-ups and injuries.
What kept this team in it? How impressive is an 11th straight postseason showing in today’s AHL?
What similarities and differences do you notice between this team and last season’s team that also qualified for the playoffs on the last day?
How much does this momentum help Milwaukee against Texas?