IceCaps put Norfolk on brink in AHL conference semifinal
St. John's strikes early, coasts to 5-1 Game 4 win
St. John's can sit back and relax for a while if it can win Game 5 of its American Hockey League Eastern Conference semifinal series Tuesday in Norfolk.
The IceCaps got first-period goals by Carl Klingberg and Jason Jaffray in coasting to a 5-1 win Monday over the Admirals and hold a 3-1 lead in their best-of-seven semifinal series.
St. John's added goals from Jerome Samson and Eric O'Dell in the second period and another by O'Dell in the third, moving into position to win the series Tuesday and advance to the Eastern final while Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Providence decide the other finalist.
That series is tied 1-1 with Game 3 set for Wednesday.
"We talked about having a killer instinct at the start of the playoffs," said Jaffray, the St. John's captain. "If you get a chance to finish off a team, you've got to jump all over them. We've got a chance [Tuesday].
"As much as we enjoy playing in front of our home fans at Mile One Centre, any chance to send a team packing is a huge opportunity."
St. John's, which finished fourth in the East during the regular season, is the highest-seeded team left in the conference after all three division winner - Manchester, Binghamton and Springfield - were ousted in the opening round.
The IceCaps' goals Monday looked familiar.
Klingberg set up shop in front of the Admiral net, screening goalie Brad Thiessen in position to tip in a shot from the blue line by Josh Morrissey to earn a 1-0 lead with only 4:11 played in the opening period. The play replicated one that earned St. John's two goals only two nights earlier in Game 3.
Jaffray's goal came when he was at the net to tip in a shot by Morrissey with 14:39 played.
"You've got to make it tough on any goalie you play against," Jaffray said. "Any scouting report is going to say get traffic, put rebounds upstairs and get the dirty goals. We've got a lot of them in the last couple of games."
The antidote to St. John's scoring from in front of the net is clear.
"We're just not blocking enough shots," Norfolk coach Trent Yawney said of the IceCaps getting the puck to the net in the first place. "The bottom line is that they blocked more shots than we did. When they've got people standing in front of the net, and we're not filling shooting lanes, we're not doing a good enough job."
Jaffray's goal was the IceCaps' fourth with a man advantage in the past three games. It was scored against what was the AHL's best penalty-killing unit during the regular season, but one which has struggled during the playoffs.
Samson scored from the right faceoff circle to make it 3-1. He had the winning goal in Game 3 from the same spot.
O'Dell's first goal came when he managed to nudge the puck through a seven-player pileup in the crease that included Thiessen. O'Dell's second goal was easier, scored after Thiessen rejected a shot by Jaffray, but left the puck on the doorstep. O'Dell skated past, stopped and reached back to tap it into the net.
St. John's goalie Michael Hutchinson gave up only a second-period goal to Norfolk's Andre Petersson, while turning away 28 shots for the win. Thiessen made 23 saves in defeat.
"A lot of teams have come back from 3-1 deficits and have this playoff year," Yawney insisted of his players. "They can be a part of that group, or they can be part of the group that says they've had enough. We'll see [Tuesday]. But I'm not giving up."
That's something St. John's expects after its first really easy game of the playoffs.
"We're expecting a huge push from them," Jaffray said. "They're playing for their season."
The IceCaps are playing for a little extra rest.