The Admirals won 9-1 against the Iowa Wild Friday night. Read that scoreline again a few times. I know I sure did.
“We sensed it yesterday,” said Milwaukee Admirals head coach Dean Evason regarding the team’s excitement level for this game. “Lots obviously built around Pekka being here. But yesterday our practice was real good. We really were passionate. We really practiced hard. Competed. Were intense. And I think that carried over.”
In Pekka Rinne’s return to Milwaukee he stopped sixteen of seventeen shots – only allowing a goal after a poor change after the team survived a five-minute penalty kill from a Mike Liambas boarding major.
“I’ll take that,” Pekka Rinne said of his game. “It’s a good way to come back. Guys really made it easy for me. I can’t remember when I’ve been in a game like that. It was a crazy game. A little bit of everything. There’s obviously a lot of goals, lot of scoring, and then the physical element that you don’t really see every day in the NHL. I had a good seat for that. Lot of chances to get a good fight.”
Without question, the real highlight tonight was the offense. In their previous four games the Admirals had only scored four goals. They managed to score four goals in back-to-back periods tonight. It was a shocking display from a team that, entering tonight, was also on a five game winless streak.
The fans were cheering on Pekka Rinne when he led the team out of the tunnel for the pre-game skate. They were loud when he led them out for pre-game introductions. And even louder when he was introduced as your man between the pipes. The building was rocking before the puck had dropped.
“That felt great,” said Rinne of the fan response. “I really appreciate it and, for sure, it made me feel welcome. Made me feel great. I had three good years here and I always thought that I had a good relationship with the fans. And I really appreciate their response.”
Before I go anywhere with the first period it is probably worth noting that the Admirals had only scored four goals in their last four games. So, what do they do with the house rocking? Score four goals in 17:17 of the first period.
After a delay of game penalty taken by Brett Bulmer, the Admirals and their woeful power-play took to the ice and did something that they haven’t done in two games: score with the man-advantage. A very patient play behind the net by Vinny Saponari led to a pass from behind Hannu Toivonen out to Colton Sissons. The result was a quick shot taken first time that found a hole through the recently released former Admiral netminder. It was Sissons twentieth goal of the season.
Then the domino started to fall with two very similar goals scored by Admirals defenseman. Joonas Jarvinen found himself all alone in the slot and took a slick feed from Taylor Beck and smashed it by Toivonen for his third goal of the season. Then Bryan Rodney managed to loop around the Wild, skate wide open on the left wing, and took a Miikka Salomaki pass first time for an easy tap in – his fourth goal of the season.
This was Toivonen’s first game in net for the Iowa Wild since joining them on a PTO contract that he signed shortly after his release from Milwaukee. He never looked settled in net and, more than three times, found himself flat on his back scrambling while the Ads circled the zone.
The fourth goal of the period for the Admirals came from a loose puck that fell before Toivonen. Austin Watson was Johnny-on-the-spot to tag it through for his fourteenth goal of the season – and a season high for goals scored in a period by the Admirals this season.
Season high for goals in a period with four goals in the first? Better match it. And the Admirals actually did. Having set that season high they equaled it in the second period to make it a bananers 8-0 hockey game through two frames.
After a faceoff win by Sissons, the puck traveled back to Joe Piskula whose wrist shot flew through massive amounts of traffic and in. I can’t imagine Toivonen ever saw the shot taken by Piskula – who scored his second goal of the season.
Then the first of many rough goings in the second period. Patrick Cehlin and former Admiral Jon Blum. The result of this fight led to Cehlin’s dismissal from the game due to his fight strap not being tied down – and his jersey coming off in the fight. According to Cehlin on Twitter following the game – it was a wardrobe malfunction. According to his coach, this should have been a no-brainer to the officials on the ice.
“There is no way that Patrick Cehlin cuts his tie-down,” exclaimed Evason. “He’s never been in a fight. They say that it came off too easy. Which is indication that they feel that we doctored it in some way. I don’t understand it.”
With the game set on a four-on-four, Jarvinen decided to match his season total for goals in a game with his second of the night. The typically “hanging back” defenseman held the puck to the backhand as he moved down the slot. He flipped that backhander on net – and Toivonen couldn’t get to it.
Scott Valentine was listed as a healthy scratch in favor of Anthony Bitetto last game. Tonight they decided to flip the two d-men and Valentine responded with his first goal of the season. The part-time winger, part-time defenseman swung down the right wing and whistled a shot to shelf to the far side post and in to make it a 7-0 game.
The game became less about hockey for the Wild from this point forward and more a matter of pride. Corbin Baldwin was an absolute pest for the Wild in this game. He had a booming hit on Saponari and began locking horns with anyone willing to do it. After getting after Jarvinen with a roughing call – Mike Liambas took exception and looked to step it up a notch against Baldwin with a fight. It wouldn’t be the last for Baldwin either – he fought Scott Ford later in the game as well.
The Admirals would finish up the second period by scoring their second power-play goal of the game. It was another juicy rebound off of a scrambling Toivonen that allowed Mark Van Guilder to deposit his tenth goal of the season.
Four goals in the first period. Four goals in the second period. Hannu Toivonen, allowing eight goals from twenty-five Admirals shots, needed a serious hug… and a new PTO for a different team. He was mercifully replaced prior to the start of the third period in favor of usual starter for the Wild, Johan Gustafsson.
A flashpoint took place in the third period when Liambas took a five-minute major for boarding after a massive hit in front of the Ads bench. There was a long delay to sort out all the penalties. Before you knew it, you guessed it, the Admirals scored another goal! No joke. Joonas Rask blazed down neutral ice and beat Gustafsson to the five hole for his second goal of the season and the Admirals ninth of the game.
The Ads survived the five-minute major for boarding with a shorthanded goal of their own but, just as it had expired, the Wild finally ended the shutout bid after 55:35 of play. The newly acquired Zach Miskovic fluttered a puck from the point that found a lane through traffic to beat Rinne. It’s Miskovic’s first goal of the season.
“It’s my fault on that,” said Evason. “We had seven forwards on our bench and we tried to wait to put a guy in the box. But, it’s totally my fault. After we scored – we tried to stop the play before they dropped the puck. Too late. It’s 100% my mistake. We should have had a guy out there.”
Pekka Rinne wasn’t tested all that often in this game, making sixteen saves from seventeen shots on goal, but because of that it may have been that much more impressive. When the puck is spinning around in the opposite zone for so long – the concentration levels and focus he displayed with some great saves when finally called upon were fantastic. After the game he said that he felt tired in the early goings of the game despite the minimal chances he faced. He settled back down. Allowed the lone goal during a bad change following the major penalty – and that was it.
Thoughts on tonight’s game? Where did this offense come from? How do you feel Pekka Rinne handled himself during limited pressure from the Iowa Wild? Can the Ads maintain this sort of effort heading into Sunday’s game or perhaps even longer?