NORFOLK, Va. – When you’re hot, so they say, you’re hot. And make no mistake: The Connecticut Whale are en fuego.
Cam Talbot was perfect after the first period as the Whale jumped out to an early series lead over Norfolk on Wednesday night.
After sweeping away their in-state archrivals, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, first-place finishers in the AHL’s Northeast Division, the Connecticut Whale drew first blood in their Eastern Conference semifinal series with the Norfolk Admirals—the top developmental team of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Andreas Thuresson scored the game-winner 2:53 into overtime to give the Whale a 3-2 victory before 3,223 fans at the Scope Arena in Norfolk, Va., on Wednesday night.
Norfolk got on the board first when Brandon’s Segal’s shot was partially blocked, but got through to Whale netminder Cam Talbot, who made a rare miscue and kicked it right back to the Admiral’s Ondrej Palat, who was camped in front of the crease. Palat buried one past Talbot from the left side to give Norfolk a 1-0 lead 5:43 into the game. Segal and Trevor Smith, who played four seasons in Bridgeport before finding his way to Norfolk (via Syracuse and Springfield) picked up helpers on Palat’s first marker of the 2012 postseason.
The Whale then struck like, well, lightening with two goals in 12 seconds about three minutes later. First it was Jonathan Audy-Marchessault who took a feed from Tim Erixon and wristed one at Admirals’ goalie Dustin Tokarski, who initially made the stop. Audy-Marchessault gained possession of the rebound, however, and lifted it past Tokarski to tie the game up at 1-1 8:18 into the period.
Mark Hrivik gave the Whale its first lead, taking a pass from Casey Wellman from the right boards and putting it past Tokarski to make it 2-1 Connecticut at the 8:30 mark. J.T. Miller, the 15th pick overall in the 2011 draft who played this season in junior hockey with the Plymouth (Mich.) Whalers of the OHL, not joining the Whale until the postseason, also picked up a helper—his first pro point—on Hrivik’s fifth goal of the playoffs.
Norfolk’s Pierre-Cedric Labrie knotted the game with help from Mark Barberio and Alex Killorn at the 17:07 mark, sending the teams into the locker room tied at two at the first intermission.
At which point defense and goaltending took over with Talbot stopping all 22 shots the Admirals took at him in the second and third periods, and Tokarski matching him with 19 shots, sending the game into OT. Throughout the rest of the game, the penalty kill units of both teams were outstanding. In the second period alone, the Whale killed off three Norfolk power plays and the Admirals killed off four Connecticut man-advantage shifts—including a 5-on-3 for a minute and three seconds.
In the extra period, however, it was Connecticut’s turn to come up big. The Whale took the only two shots in overtime, with Thuresson’s slapshot from the left side—first stopped by Tokarski, but then finding its way over the Norfolk netminder’s shoulder and past the goal line—proving to be the game-winner. Jordan Owens and Brendan Bell picked up helpers on the first overtime goal of Thuresson’s professional career.
Casey Wellmen set up Mark Hrivik in the first period, giving the Whale their first lead of the evening.
“Owie (Owens) was driving good to the net,” said Thuresson after the game. “I just shot it through his legs and through the defenseman’s legs, hopefully for a rebound for him or for ‘Bourqueie’ (Ryan Bourque, son of legendary Boston Bruins’ star Ray Bourque) driving the net, and it ended up going in. That’s what happens in playoffs.”
The two teams now prepare for battle in Game Two of the best-of-seven series on Friday night at the Scope. First puck drops at 7:30 p.m. and the game will be broadcast live on “The Rock” 106.9 WCCC-FM, and on www.ctwhale.com. In addition, a live video stream can be seen at www.ahllive.com. The Tavern Downtown, at 100 Allyn St. in Hartford, will host a special viewing party Friday night featuring the live video feed. Happy Hour specials ($1 off draft and bottled beers, $2 off mixed well drinks, $2 off house wines, $1 off shots, and $4 Whaler Ales—which include the customer keeping the glass) will be available. Appetizers will be out for Happy Hour from 5-7 p.m., and there will be $2 sliders starting at 7 p.m. In addition, there will also be raffles and handouts.
The series then switches to the XL Center in Hartford for Games Three and Four, (Sun., May 6 and Mon., May 7). Faceoff both nights will be 7 p.m. Monday night’s game will be televised live on CPTV Sports—the first postseason telecast for the franchise since 2004.
If a Game Five is necessary, it will be played at the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport next Wednesday, May 9, at 7 p.m. to make room for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus at the XL Center. Tickets for the two games in Hartford are now on sale at the XL Center box office, as well as on-ine at www.ctwhale.com and through TicketMaster Charge-by-phone at 1-800-745-3000. Ticket information for the possible Game 5 in Bridgeport will soon be available.