MILWAUKEE - The Admirals ended their five-game home stand on a high note Friday night with a decisive 4-1 victory over the Peoria Rivermen. With the pair of wins Milwaukee notched over the past two days, the Admirals now lead the season series against the Rivermen 3-2. The victory also increases the teams win streak to three, and marks the fifth straight win for starting goaltender Jeremy Smith.
The Rivermen gave goaltender Jake Allen the night off in favor of starting backup netminder Mike McKenna. Prior to being assigned to the Rivermen in mid-September, McKenna played with seven other AHL teams, including one game with the Milwaukee Admirals. Although he never played a game with them, McKenna was a 6th round draft pick of the Nashville Predators back in 2002 while he was still tending goal at St. Lawrence University. He may not have registered a single game with the NHL team he was drafted by, but the 29-year old St. Louis, Missouri native McKenna has 17 NHL games under his belt, playing 15 games with the Tampa Bay Lightning back during the 2008-2009 season, and two games with the New Jersey Devils during the 2010-2011 campaign.
The game certainly had the crowd on its feet during the last seven minutes of the opening period. The Admirals scored twice in just :14, and then the teams immediately followed up with 26 minutes worth of penalties. Defenseman Ryan Ellis put Milwaukee on the board for the second time in as many nights with a slap shot from the top of the near circle. The team took a two-goal lead just :14 later when Cam Reid's spin-o-rama pass was chipped in by leading rookie scorer forward Austin Watson for his 10th of the season.
After a brief bask in the glow of a two-goal lead, the Admirals found themselves tangling with the Rivermen to rack up a total of 26 penalty minutes, including four fighting majors, in just :46. The unlikely pair of forwards Ben Ryan and Peoria's Stefan Della Rovere dropped the gloves shortly after Milwaukee's second goal. It was followed up by a battle of the heavy weights, as Michael Latta squared off against Chris Bruton, who both lead their respective teams in penalty minutes. A small squabble broke out behind the Admirals net to add six minutes worth of roughing calls that resulted in a Rivermen power-play during the last five minutes of the game. Seeing Latta fight is nothing new to Admirals fans, but never before have we seen forward Ryan drop the gloves. When asked about it, he put emphasis on standing up for your team moreso than the fighting itself.
"We're not known as a fighting team, there's no question about it, but when teams come in and try to intimidate us, it'll give any one of us a reason to drop the gloves with we have to. He (Della Rovere) fights a lot more than I do, I think that was my first time, but being in a fight just shows we are willing to stand up for our teammates."
A somewhat quiet second period ended with a quiet goal from rookie Austin Watson to mark his second tally of the night. Juuso Puustinen sent a pass behind the goal line to an awaiting Watson, who somehow managed to bank the puck off McKenna's pad.
Rivermen forward Derek Nesbitt put one on the board in the final minutes of regulation, but Admirals forward Kevin Henderson was quick to take back the three goal lead.
Although he didn't have a goal to his credit, forward Juuso Puustinen earned himself third star of the game. Puustinen was on the ice for both Watson goals, the second of which he was credited an assist. The Puustinen-Watson-Reid line was sharp tonight, and Puustinen's play didn't go unnoticed by Evason, who made mention of the line specifically in the post-game press conference.
When asked about the new-found chemistry with linemates Austin Watson and Michael Latta, Puustinen credited the strides to his relationship with his teammates off the ice, as well as his recovery from an injury sustained last season.
"I think we have a great chemistry. We get along off the ice really well, and I think it reflects on the ice also. It's just been a lot of fun playing with those guys and my body is feeling better all the time, as I'm recovering from a pretty big injury, but it's getting better all the time. It's easier to be a part of the game now than it was a couple months ago."
Milwaukee finishes off their three-in-three with a game tomorrow night in Rockford. Theyll return to home ice next Thursday, opening up the 2013 leg of the season with a 7:00pm game against the Chicago Wolves.
Other News & Notes...
- Forward Adam Cracknell, who scored the lone goal for the Rivermen last night, was out of the lineup tonight with a leg injury. He left the game sometime during the third period during last nights 2-1 loss and never returned. With the flu bug making its way around the Peoria locker room, it was speculated that perhaps that is what took him out of the game, but Peoria Journal Star beat writer Dave Enimian confirmed Cracknell's injury just before tonight's game started.
- Defenseman Mattias Ekholm sustained a foot injury during Thursday nights 2-1 win over Peoria, and was out of the lineup for the first time this season Friday night. When asked about his status at the post-game press conference, coach Evason said that Ekholm will be back, but not any time soon.
- The Arrowhead Warhawks won the Admirals Cup Friday afternoon, beating the Cedarburg Bulldogs 3-2. To read more about the game, as well as the two-day tournament, click here.