The Admirals won 5-1 against the Charlotte Checkers Friday night. They have now won five straight games and are powering into the playoffs playing the best hockey they have played all season.
“We have four lines that could be -maybe- other teams first lines,” said Taylor Beck. “If we play four lines like we’re going to and just keep rolling – the way we’re playing right now we’re peaking at the right time for playoffs for sure.”
A line combination that proved to be really successful for the Admirals was reunited tonight: Francis Wathier, Mark Van Guilder, and Austin Watson. In the late goings of the first period Watson continued his recent goal scoring surge with his twenty-second goal of the season. The Ads were jamming the net and a loose puck made its way to Wathier in front of netminder John Muse. Rather than take a shot – Wathier lightly passed behind the net to put Watson on a wrap around where he would come out on the other side and whip a wrister home for the game’s opening goal.
“It was certainly fun up front,” said Milwaukee Admirals head coach Dean Evason of the forward group tonight. “We planned on kind of checking and doing what we’re going to do to start the playoffs. And then we just started rolling the lines. I’d be hard pressed to find a number one line on our group right now.”
Miikka Salomaki reached the twenty-goal plateau in the second period. He received a beauty of a pass from Mathieu Tousignant that found him on the tape. Tousignant was stationed in the right wing pocket, fired a pass through traffic, and Salomaki popped it home.
Then some bouncy fun times going the Admirals way. A skipping puck went from behind the net to the front of Muse in net. Filip Forsberg was in the right place to swat in the loose puck for his fifteenth goal of the season. Picking up an assist on that play was Calle Jarnkrok – which extends his AHL point streak to six games – all of which came with the Admirals since his trade from the Detroit Red Wings organization.
The final regular season home game may have provided us with the goal of the season out of the Admirals. Taylor Beck took a pass heading towards neutral ice from Bryan Rodney. The rest was all down to Beck. He undressed Rasmus Rissanen, was in on goal, and cut back to the near post on the forehand to beat Muse for his seventeenth goal of the season. It was just a stunning individual effort from Beck.
With plenty going against them, and the ice practically tilted in the Admirals favor, the Checkers tallied a goal with eleven-seconds remaining in the second period to make it a 4-1 game. Zach Boychuk’s shot on Marek Mazanec was spilled out into net front traffic. The final decisive touch to beat Mazanec would come from defenseman Ryan Murphy for his second goal of the season.
The last time Anthony Bitetto scored a goal was on 12/29/13 in Iowa. Why not break the drought in the regular season home finale? Forsberg was gaining the attention of the Checkers while on the puck from the left wing. He found Bitetto racing in from the point, fed him, and the New Yorker carried down the slot before letting the wrist shot fly for his eleventh goal of the season.
“We’ve got a good team,” said Anthony Bitetto. “I said that a couple of weeks ago. I believe that we have something special and it’s starting to show.”
The game would finish at the 5-1 scoreline with Mazanec continuing to shine for the Admirals. He stopped twenty-nine of thirty shots on goal en route to his eighteenth win of the season and fourth in a row. Not a bad way to follow up a night where you receive your CCM/AHL Player of the Week award before puck drop.
“He’s competing,” said Evason of Mazanec’s recent performances. “He’s competing. He’s fresh. A lot like our group. They’ve continued to develop and learn throughout the season and get better. [Mazanec] is hopefully peaking at the right time going into the playoffs.”
Ramblings: Mark Van Guilder returned to the lineup after missing six games due to a lower-body injury. In truth, this is the roster and line combinations I expect to see in the playoffs… Beck-Sissons-Moser, Forsberg-Jarnkrok-Cehlin, Wathier-Van Guilder-Watson, Salomaki-Tousignant-Saponari. Tonight’s scratches were… Diaby, Vainonen, Pendenza, Pimm, Liambas, Roussel, and Rask. Of the scratch list only Liambas was due to injury. With the loss tonight – the Charlotte Checkers are officially eliminated from the playoffs.
Thoughts on tonight’s win? Is this team getting on fire at the right time of the season? What is this team’s top line? Does it matter who the Admirals play in the first round of the playoffs?