Saturday, 21 April 2012

The Streak Is Over

If you've been keeping tabs on hockey outside the NHL, the AHL Calder Cup Playoffs began this past week. The developmental league for the NHL saw one of its teams start the playoffs with a ridiculous streak intact as the Norfolk Admirals, the AHL affiliate of the Tampa Bay Lightning, kicked off the playoffs at home riding a 28-game winning streak. In short, the team hasn't lost in regulation, overtime, or the shootout in two months! Norfolk is the favorite to win the Eastern Conference title with this sort of success, but one team has decided to end the streak and make the Calder Cup Playoffs a little more interesting by winning Game Two of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series.

Game One on Friday night in Norfolk saw the Admirals jump out to a familiar start: a 3-0 with just 20 minutes to play. It looked like the 29th-straight victory by this squad would come fairly easily as the Manchester Monarchs, the AHL affiliate of the Los Angeles Kings, had barely put up a fight to that point. After all, the Admirals had held Manchester without a shot for more than 10 minutes during the second period, so it seemed that the writing was on the wall as the Admirals were simply toying with the Monarchs.

The third period, however, saw the Monarchs turn the game around in a big way. After looking out of sorts in the first two periods, the third period was all Manchester as the momentum of this series seemed to change. Stefan Legein and Marc-Andre Cliche found holes through Admirals goaltender Jaroslav Janus, and the Admirals hung on to kill off four minutes of powerplay time to secure the Game One victory by a 3-2 score. But if there was any doubt that the streak could be in jeopardy, the Monarchs showed that the Admirals might fall sooner than later.

In Game Two tonight, the two teams battled to a 2-2 deadlock through forty minutes, but, like Friday's tilt, it was was all Manchester in the final frame. Robbie Czarnik scored just 5:28 into the third period to give Manchester the 3-2 lead, and Linden Vey and Andy Andreoff rounded out the scoring for Manchester as the Monarchs took Game Two by a 5-2 score. More importantly, though, they ended the Admirals' 29-game winning streak, and this series suddenly was a best-of-three.

"It is gratifying to watch our players celebrate this momentous win," said Monarchs head coach Mark Morris. "Ending the Norfolk winning streak should help our team gain confidence moving deeper into the series. The Admirals run was no small feat and they deserve credit for their accomplishments. They are an explosive team, but we proved they are beatable. The Scope was rocking with their rowdy fans. I am hoping our Monarchs faithful can show Norfolk how much we enjoy our hockey in New Hampshire!"

I have to agree with Morris. The Monarchs capitalized on turnovers, got great goaltending from Martin Jones who stopped 37 shots, and killed penalties with reckless abandon as Norfolk finished the game oh-fer-five. In short, Manchester played against Norfolk in Game Two much like their NHL affiliate has been in their series against Vancouver. Martin Jones will be the trivia answer to the question "what goaltender ended Norfolk's record-setting winning streak", and that's a pretty cool accomplishment.

To give you some perspective on how remarkable this win streak was, consider that Norfolk finished the season with a 55-18-1-2 record. Here's how things have gone down in Norfolk this season, with a heavy emphasis on the 29-game winning streak:
  • The Admirals hadn't lost since February 5 until tonight.
  • Eric Neilson hasn't shaved since the win streak started, and may not get to if he continues the superstitious route in the playoffs.
  • Cory Conacher - the Dudley (Red) Garrett Memorial Award as the AHL's Rookie-of-the-Year, the Les Cunningham Award winner as the AHL MVP, and the Willie Marshall Award as the top goal scorer in the AHL this season - hasn't had his hair cut since the streak started.
  • As an addendum to the above point, Conacher's 39 goals and Texas' Matt Fraser's 37 goals make them the first rookies in the 76-year history of the AHL ever to finish 1-2 in goal-scoring.
  • Conacher and teammate Tyler Johnson finished the season as the top-two scorers for the Admirals. Both players are rookies.
  • Goaltender Dustin Tokarski, who went 32-11-0 and led the league in victories, did not play in a single shootout this season.
  • Tokarski and Jaroslav Janus were the only two goaltenders of record during Norfolk's streak.
  • Head coach Jon Cooper - the Louis A.R. Pieri Memorial Award as the AHL's best coach - hasn't washed his undershirt he wears under his shirt and tie since the streak started.
  • Norfolk’s 13 straight road wins and 28 road wins for the season both tie AHL records, and their 28 straight games with at least one point in the standings is one better than the Cleveland Barons’ 21-0-6 run to end the 1947-48 season.
  • Norfolk won more games on their record-setting winning streak than they did in the other 48 games they played that saw they win 27 times.
  • Norfolk's 3-1 victory, and 24th in the streak, over the Binghamton Senators on April 6 snapped the 1984-85 Baltimore Skipjacks’ record for most consecutive non-shootout wins of 16.
  • Of the 29 wins they strung together, only two went past regulation time. They defeated Syracuse in a shootout on February 18 and Binghamton in overtime on April 14.
  • Norfolk tied the 1972-73 Cincinnati Swords for the fourth-best record in AHL history this season, behind only the 1992-93 Binghamton Rangers (.775), the 2009-10 Hershey Bears (.769) and the 1998-99 Providence Bruins (.750).
  • In the 29 games they won, the Admirals outscored their opponents 110-44.
  • In nine of the 29 games, they won by a one-goal margin.
  • In 12 of the 29 games, they gave up two or more goals.
  • In four of the 29 games, they recorded a shutout.
  • During the streak, Norfolk defeated Wilkes-Barre/Scranton four times, Albany four times, Adirondack three times, Charlotte three times, and Albany three times.
  • During the streak, Norfolk did not play Manchester until the playoffs began.

The series continues Wednesday night, April 25, at 7:00pm at the Verizon Wireless Arena in a pivotal Game Three. Manchester has the last win, so they'll look to make it at least a two-game winning streak against the team that set the North American professional hockey record for consecutive wins. Norfolk, of course, wants to try to start a new winning streak and move in the playoffs, so they'll need to bounce back after seeing their record-setting win streak snapped. It should be another great game between Norfolk and Manchester!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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