The Milwaukee Admirals won 5-4 on the road against the Grand Rapids Griffins at the Van Andel Arena on Saturday night.
It has finally happened. The Admirals have ended a two-year long skid of losing games on the road in Grand Rapids. It ends a spell spanning the playoffs and regular season of ten straight defeats for the Admirals on the road against the Griffins. Their last win came back on 1/31/15.
Tonight’s story was all about the line of Kevin Fiala, Trevor Smith, and Pontus Åberg. The trio were on the ice for four of the Admirals five goals scored tonight. Both Fiala and Åberg had multi-goal performances with the Swede netting a beauty that became the game-winner in the third period.
The Admirals got on the board early in the first period courtesy of Kevin Fiala’s fourth goal of the season. Fiala was making a pass from behind the net for Trevor Smith but it deflected off of defenseman Joe Hicketts, popped up in the air, and rolled down the back of netminder Jimmy Howard and in.
Following a tripping call against Conor Allen the Admirals would extend their first period lead with a power-play goal. Pontus Åberg was stationed low in the left wing circle and was trying to hit Smith with a pass on the back post. Much like Fiala’s goal the puck went in off a defender, this time Nathan Paetsch, rather than the tape of Smith’s stick. The goal was Åberg’s thirteenth goal of the season.
It didn’t take long after the Admirals power-play goal for the Griffins to get a response. Just 1:05 of ice-time later a shot from the left wing circle by Kyle Criscuolo flipped over the glove of Juuse Saros and so quick in and out of the net that the goal light never even came on. It was Criscuolo’s twelfth tally of the season.
With seconds remaining in the opening period the Admirals had an attacking zone face-off that proved the importance of playing until the horn sounds. Vladislav Kamenev won the draw, Justin Florek rifled a shot direct from the face-off win, and the shot deflected off the pads of Howard into the path of Frédérick Gaudreau who scored five-hole with 1.8 seconds remaining in the first period. It was Gaudreau’s tenth goal of the season and fourth scored inside of twenty-four hours.
The Griffins had some quality attacking pressure in the second period. As the game crossed the midway point they pulled back a goal to make it a 3-2 game. Matt Lorito delivered a beautiful pass from the right wing that hit Brian Lashoff as he rushed from defense to the back post. The tap in for Lashoff resulted in his third goal of the season.
It took the Admirals 1:09 of the third period to get their two-goal lead back. Smith was battling for a loose puck in front of the net which forced Howard to scramble out of position. The puck would kick loose and Fiala cradled it and then raced around the net to score a wrap-around for his second of the night and fifth of the season.
Just under two-minutes later the Griffins pushed right back. Tyler Bertuzzi snapped a stiff shot from the left wing wall that saw a deflection from Colin Campbell out in front of Saros. The Admirals bench was signaling that it might have gone in from a high stick. Unfortunately that isn’t reviewable in the AHL and Campbell recorded his fifth goal of the season.
Andrew O’Brien and Eric Tangradi became push-happy after a post-whistle scrum in front of the Admirals goal crease. The two were given roughing minors and ten seconds later the Admirals scored. Åberg stole a puck with lightning reflexes off of Paetsch and burned Mitch Callahan down the right wing before whipping a forehanded shot across the stick side of Howard for his second goal of the game and fourteenth of the season.
Alex Carrier would get called for interference near the ten minute mark of the third period. The Griffins would score on the power-play to cut the Admirals lead to 5-4. Ben Street hit a blast from the left point and the net front screening Tangradi put a stick to the puck as it snuck through Saros. The Admirals, as well as the young Finn in net, were insistent on goaltender interference on the part of Tangradi prior to the Street shot. The goal would stand and it was Tangradi’s fifth goal of the season.
There was just one minute remaining in regulation when O’Brien was attempting to chip a puck off the glass and out of the Admirals defensive zone. He ended up flipping his clearance over the glass and earned a delay of game penalty which game the Griffins a power-play chance to go with the empty net and extra attacker. That may have actually served the Admirals penalty kill will because they managed to get a few clearances and it helped see time expire. The Admirals would hold to a 5-4 win.
Considering the talent in net it was slightly surprising to see both Saros and Howard in a goal fest. Saros stopped 22/26 shots on goal while Howard stopped 24/29. The win for Saros was his twelfth win from fourteen starts in the AHL this season. In his AHL career Saros has won 78.8% of his fifty-two career starts.
The Admirals are now set for a return to home ice. They will start a three-game homestand on Tuesday night when the Cleveland Monsters turn up. Friday night the Admirals see the Rockford IceHogs and then on Saturday night the Chicago Wolves come back into the Admirals schedule.
Ramblings: Prior to tonight’s game the organization was pretty busy. Marek Mazanec and Juuse Saros traded places for the sixth time this season. The move was aimed at getting Saros time in net while Pekka Rinne holds fort briefly. Mike Ribeiro officially cleared waivers this afternoon and was promptly reassigned by the Nashville Predators to the Milwaukee Admirals. Ribeiro did not join the Admirals tonight in Grand Rapids but is expected to arrive and participate in practice Monday in Milwaukee. Prior to action tonight, the Predators then acquired Vern Fiddler from the New Jersey Devils in exchange for a fourth round draft pick in the 2017 NHL Draft. Tonight’s line combinations were: Fiala-Smith-Åberg, Florek-Kamenev-Gaudreau, Richard-Kirkland-White, Liambas-Army-Payerl, Oligny-Carrier, Murphy-Granberg, O’Brien-Dougherty. Tonight’s scratches were: Adam Pardy (upper-body), Rick Pinkston (healthy), Mike Ribeiro (reassigned this afternoon to team).
Thoughts on tonight’s game? How impressive and important of a result was this for the Milwaukee Admirals? Is this team, which is getting stronger as the Nashville Predators are getting healthier, ready for a big push?
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