THIESSEN THWARTS ADMIRALS, PENGUINS CLAIM THIRD PLACE
NORFOLK, Virginia – Brad Thiessen turned aside 31 shots, and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins scored all three ways in the third period en route to a 3-0 win over the Norfolk Admirals on Wednesday night at Scope Arena.
With emotions spilling over from the St. Patrick’s Day battle between the clubs, Penguins winger Jesse Boulerice and Admirals scrapper Mitch Fritz dropped the gloves just 1:45 into the game. Fritz, eligible to play after serving a two-game suspension, traded a few punches with Boulerice to energize the crowd. Both teams went on to battle through the period with the penalty killers having to stand tall. The Admirals had two chances denied, while the Penguins were stopped on their only opportunity of the opening 20 minutes. Thiessen and rookie opponent Dustin Tokarski were perfect on twelve shots each.
The Admirals would earn two more man-advantage chances in the second, but again were held at bay. The period was a bit more tranquil by comparison, with each team denied on eight shots each.
The turning point in the game came just before the halfway point of the third, when Penguins captain Wyatt Smith was called for delay of game. On the ensuing kill, defenseman Steve Wagner was able to clear the puck past a line of Admirals, and found Chris Conner alone at center ice. Steering the puck around a linesman, Conner came in with a backhand deke and beat Tokarski at 9:56 for his 20th goal of the season and the 10th shorthanded goal scored by the Penguins.
Nick Johnson would give the Penguins a big insurance goal at 15:46 by sliding a puck in off of a net-front battle, aided by Mark Letestu. Shortly afterward another delay of game penalty was called, this time on Admirals blueliner Nick St. Pierre. Ben Lovejoy would turn from center ice, carry the puck over the Admirals blue line and let a wrister fly past Tokarski’s glove hand for the power play strike. Lovejoy’s 9th goal of the season gave the Penguins the 3-0 lead, to which they held on until the final horn.
Thiessen’s third shutout of the season improved his record to 10-11-1 in 23 appearances. Tokarski fell to 23-20-3, stopping 31 of 34 Penguins shots. The Penguins were 5-for-5 on the penalty kill and 1-for-4 on their power play.
The win helped the Penguins vault into sole possession of third place in the East Division, the last guaranteed playoff position. Bridgeport defeated Syracuse by a 5-2 score, and coupled with the Admirals’ loss, have taken over fourth place in the East Division with the crossover scenario from the Atlantic Division’s fifth place spot.
The two teams will meet for a critical rematch on Friday night at Scope, with faceoff set for 7:15 pm. After a Saturday battle at Hershey, the Penguins return home for a 3:05 pm faceoff with the Worcester Sharks.
NOTES: The Penguins have won three consecutive games against the Admirals and evened the ten-game season series at four games each… For the second time this season, the Penguins scored “for the cycle” in the same period, tallying shorthanded, at even strength, and on the power play… The Penguins extended their unbeaten streak to eight games, going 6-0-1-1 in that time frame… the Penguins won for just the first time this season at Scope Arena.