📝 by Patrick Williams
Now, the Milwaukee Admirals rest, and they do so after acquiring some early Calder Cup Playoff scars.
Following five demanding games against the Manitoba Moose in the teams’ Central Division semifinal series, the Admirals will have a bit of a reprieve before opening the best-of-five division finals against the Chicago Wolves on Saturday night.
Milwaukee outlasted Manitoba, 2-1, in Sunday afternoon’s winner-take-all game in Winnipeg, their third attempt to close out the series after taking Games 1 and 2 at home. And considering that now the powerhouse Wolves are looming, the Admirals will take the rest. Chicago swept Rockford in the Central Division’s other semifinal series, outscoring the IceHogs, 14-4.
“They’ve got three more rounds to go,” Admirals head coach Karl Taylor told broadcaster Aaron Sims following the win. “They can enjoy that [win]. We’re traveling home, and we’re excited to get back home.”
Milwaukee had a major addition in Game 5 with defenseman Matt Tennyson returning to the lineup after missing the previous two games due to injury. Adding an 11-year pro in Tennyson helped a Milwaukee blue line that was also missing veteran Alex Biega since Game 2.
“What can you say?” Taylor asked. “You’ve got a guy like Matt Tennyson… and he’s fighting through an injury. You want to talk about leadership. That’s someone setting the standard for our group.
“[Tennyson] was a stable force, but very inspirational with how he went about his business, how hard he was trying to get back into the series. And he obviously wants to keep playing hockey for as long as he can in Milwaukee this season.”
After four games in which Manitoba controlled most of the play, the Moose quickly realized that this was a much different opponent Sunday afternoon.
“They were at a different level, I think, in the first period than they’ve been and maybe caught us off-guard a little bit,” Moose head coach Mark Morrison acknowledged.
Considering the dangerous Wolves stand between the Admirals and the Western Conference Finals, Taylor and assistant coaches Scott Ford and Greg Rallo will have plenty to worry about, as any coaches do at this time of year.
That said, the Admirals also have plenty of reason for optimism, even against a Wolves team whose 50-16-5-5 regular-season record topped the AHL. After losing the first seven meetings between the teams this season, the Admirals rebounded to capture five of the last seven.
And they have one of the top goaltenders in the AHL in Connor Ingram, who played a league-high 55 games in the regular season and went 30-17-7 with a 2.70 goals-against average and .915 save percentage. After turning heads in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with the Nashville Predators, Ingram returned to the Admirals before Game 3.
For Game 3, Taylor stayed with Devin Cooley, who had frustrated the Moose by stopping 83 of 86 shots in the first two games of the series. After a 5-2 Manitoba win in Game 3, Taylor returned to his workhorse, Ingram. In Game 4, Manitoba bombarded Ingram with 44 shots and scored seven times.
But following a quiet first period of Game 5 in which he saw only four shots, Ingram held the Admirals in a game in which they were outshot in the final two periods, 24-8.
So after finally pushing past the stubborn Moose, finding a way to solve Chicago is a problem that plenty of head coaches would love to have as the calendar moves into mid-May.
“We’ll reboot,” Taylor said, “and we’ll worry about what’s coming next in a day or so.”
Patrick Williams has been on the American Hockey League beat for nearly two decades for outlets including NHL.com, Sportsnet, TSN, The Hockey News, SiriusXM NHL Network Radio and SLAM! Sports, and is currently the co-host of The Hockey News On The ‘A’ podcast. He was the recipient of the AHL’s James H. Ellery Memorial Award for his outstanding coverage of the league in 2016.