The fate of the Milwaukee Admirals was out of their control last night. First, they needed to win against the Chicago Wolves. But, most importantly, they couldn’t see the Rockford IceHogs so much as earn a single point on the road against the Iowa Wild. It was tight rope walking and yet there were flashes last night in which it seemed it was all going to come good.
By the time the Admirals had to go empty net and extra attacker: the IceHogs were leading 4-3 in Iowa. By the time Harry Zolnierczyk scored with 29.6 seconds remaining in regulation to force overtime in Milwaukee: the IceHogs had scored an empty netter to cement their place into the 2018 AHL Calder Cup Playoffs and eliminate the Admirals from contention. It was a gut punch and it would be followed later on by the Admirals losing in a place they just haven’t done so much this season – in a shootout.
There is so much to take away from last night’s effort. It hurts to use the term now but that was a playoff style hockey game. The Wolves needed to win in order to edge closer to earning a second consecutive Central Division crown. The Admirals needed to win in order to give themselves a chance on the night to fight off elimination. What followed was a playoff style atmosphere with two sides playing a tight defensive game and now allowing much of anything offensively.
When you look back on the goals scored by the Wolves – it hurts. The first goal came on an awful bounce off the stick of Fred Allard and past the glove of Anders Lindbäck. The second goal was a bang-bang passing sequence on a power-play. And the third goal was fortunate bounce off a slightly misguided pass from T.J. Tynan that sent Teemu Pulkkinen on a better path between the circles for a shot – and that kid his a goal scoring wizard, always has been in the AHL, and didn’t miss the prime opportunity.
Those sting, sure, but once again the Admirals resolve is really impressive. The Wolves scored first last night and the Admirals had a response late in the second period to make sure they went into the second intermission tied 1-1. Then they managed to fall behind 3-1 -and- at that point you could have assumed the white flag had been raised on the season. Well, you could have.. and you would have been wrong.
The Admirals fought back so strongly at the end of the game. They’re up against the team that will likely win the Central Division title this season and pushed them from a 3-1 lead with just under five-minutes to play in regulation and all the way to a shootout. You cannot fault the Admirals drive or will to win last night. They had it. The contest was just so defensive, both teams were forced to work the length of the ice to generate offense, and quality scoring chances were minimal. The Admirals still pushed on until the end and the shootout loss is a 50-50 battle that they’ve now gone 11-2 in this season. So much as taking a point from a team that is that quality in a game where they were down 3-1 is something that would have felt empowering earlier in the season. Instead, with how the night needed to end, it feels blank. Which is a shame. Because the Admirals should still feel happy with the effort displayed in that contest.
It all of course, in a harsh way, turned out to be meaningless. The element of “control what you can control” did not apply to the IceHogs and they went out and fought their way to earning the fourth placed spot in the Central Division playoff picture. The moment they took the lead against the Wild with 4:46 remaining in regulation it was a signal of the end. The Wild were not scoring two goals to defeat the IceHogs within the parameters the Admirals needed them to – inside regulation. The empty netter scored for the IceHogs coming at the exact same time that the Admirals made it 3-3 only felt that much more helpless and deflating. Even if the Admirals won last night – they were being eliminated from the playoff picture. A season’s worth of ups-and-downs had finally cost them where it hurts the most.
After last night’s game I had the chance to speak with Milwaukee Admirals head coach Dean Evason as well as Frédérick Gaudreau and Trevor Smith. These were last night’s post-game interviews from the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena.
What did you think of last night’s game? How do you feel the Milwaukee Admirals 2017-18 season would have gone if the team assembled after the NHL Trade Deadline was what the Admirals were from the start of this season? What do you think cost the Admirals a run into the playoffs this season?
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