Wilkes-Barre/Scranton center Joe Vitale, left, shoots as Norfolk’s Marc-Antoine Pouliot is in pursuit in the first game of the AHL East Division playoffs at Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre Township on Friday night.BILL TARUTIS photos/for go lackawanna
Eleven-year-old Aleah Ashton of Shavertown is decked out in a Penguins puck hat.
WILKES-BARRE TWP. – During the regular season, the Norfolk Admirals had the lead after the second period in 40 games.
They only lost one.
When the Admirals closed out the second period against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on Friday, they had a two-goal lead.
It was the last thing the Penguins wanted.
With goals from Mattias Ritola and Marc-Antoine Pouliot, the Admirals defeated the Penguins 2-1 to take Game 1 of the Calder Cup playoff series. The Admirals were backed by a 32-save effort from Dustin Tokarski and they held the Penguins scoreless on six power-play opportunities.
“Certain situations of the game we can be better and we will be better,” said Penguins captain Ryan Craig. “Tonight was a loss, but it’s one game in a seven-game series.”
Both teams played a balanced first period and each went 0-for-2 on the power play. While the Admirals didn’t create much pressure against goaltender Brad Thiessen, the Penguins tested Tokarski several times in the period.
And each time Tokarski held his ground, taking away an open net on a Chris Conner shot, making a blocker save on Brett Sterling in front and stuffing David Marshall on a breakaway.
The Admirals scored the crucial first goal of the game when Norfolk defenseman Troy Milam knocked Robert Bortuzzo off the puck in the neutral zone. Ritola collected the lose puck, raced into the Penguins zone and ripped a wrist shot from the top of the faceoff circle past Thiessen for a 1-0 lead.
Being down 1-0 wasn’t the start the Penguins envisioned.
“When you’re at home, in the first playoff game, you want the building to get into it and score that first goal,” said Craig.
Norfolk head coach Jon Cooper, however, got the start he was hoping for.
“Scoring the first goal was monumental,” he said. “When you get that lead, sometimes it changes the way teams play.”
• The Penguins and Norfolk played Game Two of their first-round Calder Cup playoff series Saturday in a game that was not completed at press time. See www.golackawanna.com/sports for coverage of Saturday’s game.
• The series moves to Norfolk for Games Three and Four Tuesday and Wednesday. Game Five, if necessary, is Friday in Norfolk.
• If the best-of-seven series extends beyond the fifth game, the action will return to the Mohegan Sun Arena. Game Six is scheduled for Saturday and Game Seven for April 25.
• The series winner advances to play the winner of the series between the Hershey Bears and Charlotte Checkers.