Admirals sweep Marlies to capture Calder Cup
The Norfolk Admirals proved to be just as dominant in the Calder Cup playoffs as they were in the American Hockey League regular season.
Tyler Johnson and Mike Kostka each scored two goals to lead Norfolk to its first AHL championship after a convincing 6-1 win and a series sweep over the Toronto Marlies on Saturday.
Johnson had a four point-game, as did Cory Conacher with four assists.
"The gods were on our side tonight," Johnson said. "We played hard, got the bounces and it's just unbelievable to finish it out this way."
Alex Picard scored just six goals in 42 regular season games, but had nine in 18 games during the playoffs to take home playoff MVP honours.
"There's no words for it," Picard said. "It's just a great group of guys and we've been playing for this all season. It's just a dream come true.
"I had tough year with a lot of injuries. It took me a little bit to come back. But I look back at it and it's the best year of my life. ... We got the prize tonight."
Norfolk swept the series on its way to its first ever Calder Cup title in its 12-year history, capping off a remarkable and record-setting season.
In early February, the Admirals sat third in their division and were simply fighting for a playoff spot. But after a loss on Super Bowl Sunday to the Springfield Falcons, the Admirals went 43-3, which included a 28-game winning streak from February 10th until April 20 — a professional hockey league record.
"Everybody just started buying in," said defenceman Evan Oberg, who was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning — Norfolk's NHL parent club — at the 2011 trade deadline with Kostka. "We all knew we had the team to do it. When you follow the game plan and guys like this who compete every night, then good things are going to happen."
Richard Panik and Pierre-Cedric Labrie had the other goals for Norfolk.
Dustin Tokarski stopped 18 shots for his 12th win of the post-season.
"The guys got so much character, heart, discipline and passion for the game," said Tokarski, who finished the playoffs with a 1.46 goals-against average, a .944 save percentage and three shutouts. "It's been a wonderful year. I'm lucky to be on this team."
Mike Zigomanis had the lone goal for Toronto. Ben Scrivens made 27 saves in front of a sellout crowd at Ricoh Coliseum.
"It's not by accident Norfolk won all these games in a row," said Marlies head coach Dallas Eakins. "That is an excellent team that is not only skilled, but they check well and they're healthy."
The loss came two days after the Marlies came up short in a heartbreaking Game 3 on a fluke goal in overtime. Kostka scored on a dump-in that deflected off a stanchion and into the open Toronto goal on a delayed offside.
The next day, the AHL released a statement saying the officials made the incorrect call and the goal shouldn't have counted.
Despite the disappointment of being swept out of the final, Eakins praised his team for its season in which the Marlies won the North Division and finished second in the Western Conference before its playoff run to the Calder Cup final.
"I just want our guys to understand what kind of season they had," Eakins said. "It was an amazing season. They fought through adversity, bonded together and leaned on each other to have that expectation to win.
"We've really fostered and cultivated an expectation of winning here and I hope it rubs off on the rest of our organization."
In the playoffs, Norfolk went 15-3, defeating the Manchester Monarchs 3-1, the Connecticut Whale 4-2 and then sweeping the St. John's IceCaps and the Marlies to capture the Calder Cup.
"This was as tight a team as I've ever seen," said Norfolk head coach Jon Cooper. "When adversity ever tried to rear its ugly head, these guys shoved it away. It was an unbelievable group to be part of."
Just as in the first four games of the series, the Admirals scored first in what was a chippy opening period with 31 minutes in penalties.
Panik — a 2009 second-round pick of the Lightning — drove to the Marlies net and wristed a weak backhand shot toward the net that deflected off Marlies defenceman Juraj Mikus's skate and in past Scrivens 6:17 into the game.
Toronto tied it with 16.1 seconds left in the period on a long 5-on-3 power play with Panik given a five-minute major and game misconduct for elbowing. The Marlies worked it around the perimeter until Joe Colborne found Zigomanis, playing just his second game of the series, alone at the side of the net for an easy tap in.
It was the first goal Tokarski had allowed in 88 minutes 36 seconds after shutting out the Marlies 1-0 in Game 3. And it was just the second power-play goal for Toronto, which went 2-for-26 on the man advantage in the series.
Norfolk took the lead 4:26 into the second period on a delayed penalty call. Ondrej Palat dished from the behind the goal line to Game 3 overtime hero Kostka, who ripped a shot from the point past a screened Scrivens for his fifth of the playoffs.
The Admirals then made it a 3-1 game at 16:45. After Scrivens made a sensational sliding blocker save on Johnson off a one-timer, Johnson picked up the rebound behind the net and banked it off Scrivens' back and into the net.
Norfolk had a great chance to take a three-goal lead late in the period when Toronto took three straight minor penalties in the last two minutes to give the Admirals a long 5-on-3 power play. But Norfolk couldn't score.
However, the Admirals got that three-goal lead less than a minute into the third period on the power play. Kostka, a Toronto native, blasted a shot from the top of the circle high past Scrivens.
Johnson, an undrafted free agent signing by Tampa Bay in 2011, got his second of the game at 12:35 with Scrivens pulled for an extra attacker. Labrie then made it 6-1 Norfolk, snapping in a rebound past Scrivens into an open net.