The Milwaukee Admirals and Grand Rapids Griffins are very similar teams that always seem to push each other hard. That remained true last night with Game 1 of their opening round playoff series needing overtime. The Griffins would win 4-3 on the night to take a 1-0 lead in the best of five series but there is still plenty to like from what the Admirals did to start the 2017 AHL Calder Cup Playoffs.
When last night’s game was played at five-on-five it was hard to not like the work rate that the Admirals were delivering against the Griffins. It felt like that was a small rarity in the game when both sides weren’t working a power-play or penalty kill but the Admirals rolling their lines looked to hold their own alongside the Griffins.
The Admirals defense in particular was very good and forced most shots from out wide. The area that the Admirals will want to be aware of, should they continue forcing wide shots, is that the Griffins were smart enough to start putting low shots to the net and fighting for second and third chance opportunities around the net. It generated the best and most successful chaos for the Griffins offense and its on the Admirals to not only defend wide but at their net to clear out both sight lines and the rebound chances the Griffins are looking for.
If we could go back to the penalties for a moment. I’d be shocked if either team liked their games last night almost purely because of the amount of penalty troubles both put themselves into. It didn’t entirely make and break moments in the game – but it really could have should one of those power-plays uncorked more to the net and made the goaltenders work even harder. For the Admirals to give the AHL’s top power-play seven chances is a recipe for disaster. They need to play smart and keep the game at five-on-five.
~The Freddy Gaudreau Show~
Yes, it might hurt not having the Admirals top player in Pontus Åberg around for the Calder Cup Playoffs. I get that. However, Åberg 100% deserves to be where he is now competing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Plus, that absence for the Admirals creates competition and forces everyone else on the team to step their game up. The man to do just that last night was the forward scoring step-for-step with Åberg at the end of the regular season, Frédérick Gaudreau.
Since Åberg’s recall to the Nashville Predators his spot on the left wing of the Admirals top power-play unit has been given to Gaudreau with Justin Kirkland slotting in as the net front presence where Gaudreau was. It took the Admirals four seconds of their second power-play opportunity last night to get a Trevor Smith face-off win back to Alex Carrier and a pass off left wing for Gaudreau to swat like a guided missile past Jared Coreau.
The next two goals that the Admirals scored were great examples of Gaudreau’s best attributes: speed, intelligence, and skill. His ability to skate is fantastic and it put him in positions to fly on both the rush and breakaway for those two goals but what I appreciate so much is him knowing that he had numbers with him to pick out Petter Granberg and also the quickness in reading Joe Hicketts to blaze out from defending on a penalty kill to a shorthanded breakaway. He had the slick skill to get a pass to the tape of Granberg and beat Coreau on his breakaway. Gaudreau had a fantastic night and, rightfully so despite the loss for the Admirals, was named the last night’s First Star.
And, for perspective sake, the Admirals scoring three goals in a playoff game last night was the most that they have scored since 5/8/11 when the Admirals defeated the Houston Aeros 5-4 in overtime. The players who scored points on the opening goal of that game were Ryan Ellis (goal), Roman Josi (primary assist), and Ryan Thang (secondary assist).
Continuing perspective: Gaudreau scoring three points last night meant that he has already scored more points than anyone in last year’s playoff series against the Griffins by two points. Plus, Gaudreau matched the Admirals playoff leading scorer in 2014’s playoff run Bryan Rodney and surpassed 2013’s playoff leading scorer for the Admirals Zach Hamill who played in four games. And Gaudreau also matched 2012’s leading playoff scorer for the Admirals Kyle Wilson. You must go back to that 2011 AHL Calder Cup Playoffs that saw multiple Admirals scoring more than just three points in the playoffs with the help of having a long run.
Speaking of long runs. This streak that the Admirals have going on right now is a sad one. The last time the Admirals won a playoff game was during the 2013 AHL Calder Cup Playoffs and they accomplished that during Game 2 on 4/27/13 in a 2-0 shutout victory over the Texas Stars. They have now lost every playoff game since which includes being swept out of their previous two playoff entries in 2014 and 2016. The Admirals have lost nine consecutive playoff games.
During this run the Admirals have been outscored 30-11 and shutout twice. You have to go back to just prior to the Admirals last playoff win, Game 1 of their 2013 series against the Stars, to find the last time they were in an overtime game. This run has all come during the reign of Dean Evason as head coach of the Admirals. And that is unfortunate because I know how well respected by the players that he is and you can look no further than the Predators roster right now and see how his influence with the Admirals is so positive.
The Admirals playoff winless drought, for me, is one of sheer frustration. Many of the games slapped down in the losing streak haven’t been that bad or sloppy. There have been some rough ones, no doubt about that, but last night’s effort just wasn’t one of them. The Admirals last night showed some of the best fight and competitiveness that the Admirals have produced in the Calder Cup Playoffs in quite some time. There was a spark there that just didn’t ignite into an inferno. And both teams can say that.
There is still much to be done in this series. Neither the Admirals nor Griffins played to the best of their ability. Eventually that quality will shine through from one or both teams before this series is done. Game 1 simply planted the groundwork. Now it’s down to who can execute the best from this point forward that really decides the series.
How will Game 2 of this series for the Milwaukee Admirals be different? Do you feel that the Admirals are capable of taking a game in Grand Rapids and, at this stage, would you consider it highly important that they do so rather than having a possible Game 5 at the Van Andel Arena?
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