Do the Milwaukee Admirals miss the services of Pontus Åberg? No. Do the referees in charge of the series matter? No. Do the calls being made in this series go firmly against the Admirals? No. Do the Admirals trail the Grand Rapids Griffins after the first leg of the best of five series? Yes, and they are one more defeat from a third successive playoff exit by way of sweep and eleven consecutive playoff defeats.
Anyone who has followed this year’s Admirals closely can say that the team is a special one. There is a great balance of quality leadership and great young talent all meshed together. When all pieces to the puzzle come together the Admirals can be a devastating team to play against through their high speed and skill level as well as being physical on defense with great goaltending to support it.
The Admirals are not down 2-0 to the Griffins in this opening round best of five series because of any one specific loss of those great attributes. There have been times when Marek Mazanec has really shouldered the weight in net. There have been smart defensive reads that have been very disruptive against Griffins attacks. And the Admirals offense has shown moments where they can be relentless.
Why the Admirals aren’t making a dent on the Griffins comes down to momentary lapses in all of those great attributes not coming good as well as the Admirals doing the number one thing that they couldn’t allow the Griffins to do in this series in order for them to have success. The Griffins are under the Admirals skin.
With any divisional match-up there are great rivalries founded on the constant battles held throughout a season. While there is great turn-over in the AHL many divisional rivalries can really last out down to how strong the affiliate clubs are for so long. That’s what the Admirals and Griffins has been with the Nashville Predators and Detroit Red Wings both scouting, drafting, and developing so well for so long. In part, this rivalry comes mainly down to sheer dominance and having the say of who is superior. The other part comes from something the Griffins excel in: talking, talking, and more talking.
Whether it be Tyler Bertuzzi, Mitch Callahan, Colin Campbell, Joe Hicketts, or Dylan McIlrath – the Griffins talk a ton after a whistle, in scrums, at face-offs, and around the bench. That nature of their team has been blatant since the 2015-16 season. It worked then. It works now. And the Admirals play up to it by disregarding what it is they do well to play into the Griffins antics.
As all of the talking gets played up what the Griffins get to do is allow their skill players and veterans to dictate and pace the game. The Admirals are fighting a different battle on the ice and losing the most important one. The style in which the Griffins play, to me, is never one that will win a Calder Cup because a far more heads-up and mature team will come in, ignore the talking, and play their own game much like the Lake Erie Monsters did a season ago. The Admirals need to be that team. But they aren’t right now. They are letting the Griffins pull their strings time and time again.
The great news that shouldn’t be lost one bit by how the first two games of the series played out is this: the Admirals host Game 3 on Wednesday night at 7:00 PM CDT. This series isn’t over. The Admirals are still as special of a team as everyone knows that they are and can be. They just need to smooth out a few areas of their game and -most importantly- kill the talking with deafening silence. The Admirals chirp back at the Griffins banter needs to be voiced by the scoreboard and the fans at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena.
For the Admirals to put everything together and take Game 3 provides them the exact same atmosphere, ability, and opportunity in Game 4 on home ice. That is when this series sees pressure sway but that can only truly happen if the Admirals let go of the talking, let go of the post-whistle run ins, and stick to their strengths. The Admirals are still alive in this series. It is on them to keep it that way on Wednesday night.
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